Caroline's blog: Connections
With Mental Health Awareness Week looming, I’ve been thinking about one small concept I believe has a massive impact on our mental wellbeing. Conveniently, it’s one we can easily track in ourselves and take steps to improve where necessary – namely, the power of connection. By connection I don’t mean the size of our social media footprint, or the number of Facebook likes on our holiday snaps, but rather that strong interpersonal sense of purpose and meaning that comes through relationship and shared goals.
The power of connection is clear to me each Friday when I do the school run. I suspect it’s a reason why occasional school runs are so attractive to working parents. At drop off, I enjoy the affinity with the other parents also trying to get themselves and their kids to the right place at the right time with the right gear – no mean feat! I then love those pick-ups when my tots spot me and sprint over to hug, re-connect and share the excitements of their day. Children seem to understand connection – my son frequently tells me we’re a team and sings me his favourite song from the Lego Movie – “everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team.”
I think the theme of connection also runs deeper – when I rock up to my local amateur orchestra, I get a greater sense of wellbeing by playing as part of a large group as opposed to sitting by myself at home practising; and whilst gym trips are great, they rarely compare with the buzz and camaraderie of a regular group exercise class. A quick online search shows numerous studies supporting the view that as humans we are wired to connect at a meaningful level with other people and with what we do. A psychiatrist made the headlines last week by advocating peer relationships and choir membership as means of combatting stress – in other words, the professionals are also promoting connection and shared purpose as a means of improving mental health. That’s got to beat popping pills.
As a recent convert to the rollercoaster ride otherwise known as supporting AFC Bournemouth, I have been fascinated to see the power of connection in a football context. Certainly, there are mental health benefits through the mindfulness and exhilaration of following live sport. There is the sense of connection that supporters display both to “their” team and to each other through dressing in their team’s colours and visiting the same drinking establishments before matches. There is also the connection that players display to their club - in how many contexts other than a post-match interview would a young lad be put on the spot by the world’s media and respond professionally whilst taking collective responsibility for the outcome and actions of their team? Perhaps the politicians have something to learn here!
I recently read a book about Pep Guardiola’s time transforming the fortunes of Barcelona FC – in his first season he tracked the reactions of the subs when their team scored. Some players, although on the bench, felt such a connection with their team that they jumped up and celebrated the goal. Other subs didn’t. Not one of the subs who stayed seated remained with the club the following season. This links with research into performance culture which shows that companies with engaged employees are significantly more profitable. It seems a sense of connection not only brings greater mental wellbeing, but also the added benefits of greater engagement and success.
Many mental health problems are preceded by a general sense that something isn’t right. If you’ve got that feeling, maybe it’s time to look at your family, social and professional connections and see whether an investment in any of them might improve your mental wellbeing. Sometimes even the smallest effort can pay dividends. Conversely, are you aware of any others in your network who, for whatever reason, seem to have become a bit disconnected? Mental Health Awareness Week might mark a good opportunity to reach out, re-connect and encourage them.
Caroline is the proud mum of an 8 year old Disney Princess and a 6 year old Superhero. She is also a senior associate in the pensions team at a magic circle law firm where she tries to balances work and family life by mixing office and home-based working for four days over five days each week.