As with many mornings, I recently began my day walking my dog. A perfect walk length for us is the local coffee shop. The exercise is good for both of us and for me I can definitely feel the reduction in my stress levels on walk days.
While waiting for our coffee I could feel the eyes (and smile) of a dog lover watching me pat my dog. Of course, there is an unwritten bond between ‘dog people’ and we quickly began chatting about our furry friends and their antics… and vet bills!
As I walked home, I felt an extra lightness in my step as I got to bask in the lovely feeling of a moment of shared connection with another person.
Why connection is important
When we consider our most basic human needs, connection comes soon after shelter, safety and food. Feeling connected to others actually decreases our risks of anxiety and depression and improves our overall wellbeing1.
Inversely, higher levels of social isolation have been shown to increase mortality to a greater degree than smoking, obesity or physical inactivity2.
Different types of connection
When we think of connection, we often think of the number of connections we have in daily life and perhaps even online. While personal relationships and friends are a significant part of our connection with others, so too are the casual and incidental moments where we spontaneously engage with another person. This is the reason that people often feel greater wellbeing and connection in neighbourhoods that are easily walkable3.
My casual conversation with a fellow dog person improved my mood and made me more likely to say hello to the people going past on my way home from the café. When I returned to my street, I saw a neighbour and rather than simply waving, I was bolstered with a sense of friendliness and had a good chat (which also resulted in a recommendation for a good builder).
Connection in the online space is similar. The number of ‘friends’ one has accrued typically has no relationship with our sense of feeling connected, rather the quality of the interactions4.
The rules of positive connections online are the same as those in real life – rather than scrolling by, making positive and friendly comments to others and sharing experiences typically increases our shared sense of feeling connected.
For final thoughts, it can’t be put better than by Gina Bellman “I love those connections that make this big old world feel like a little village”.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Social isolation and loneliness. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 09 April 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/social-isolation-and-loneliness
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25663external icon
- O’Campo P, Salmon C & Burke J. (2009). Neighbourhoods and mental well-being: what are the pathways?. Health & place, 15(1), 56-68.
- Pollet TV, Roberts SG & Dunbar RI. (2011). Use of social network sites and instant messaging does not lead to increased offline social network size, or to emotionally closer relationships with offline network members. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(4), 253-258.
About Dr Karen Hallam
Dr Hallam is the Principal Clinical Psychologist at Northcote Consulting and the Mental Health Advisor for Moving Mindz. Karen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org