Our recent study (in partnership with Huawei AppGallery and Headspace) identified that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed than ever before since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. The data, gathered from 2000 British adults gave us a good insight into how stress, anxiety and the restrictions on our daily lives have negatively affected the mental health of the nation.
Humans are social creatures and having meaningful and positive connections with family and friends is crucial to our wellbeing. Yet the past eighteen months have not only ushered in unprecedented challenges, uncertainty, and fear, they have also subjected us to enforced physical and social isolation just when we most needed the support of others. Now, as restrictions across the UK ease, and we are finally able to return to some sort of ‘normality’, we need to reconsider our pre-pandemic relationships with family, friends, and the wider communities in which we live. During the next few weeks, we will explore how we can nurture and rebuild these relationships by focusing on three interlinked themes: Togetherness, Social Intelligence (SQ), and Social Cohesion. We will also be sharing tips and advice on how we can rebuild our togetherness.
Togetherness refers to the connections we have with others and the affection we feel for them. In fact, it’s taken a pandemic for most of us to realise just how interconnected we are. Alone, we become fixated on our own problems, and our mental health suffers. Conversely, when we connect with others, our focus shifts and our mental health improves. In short, we are stronger together than apart. Think about it like this. If you try to snap a pencil in two, it’s easily done. But if you put a rubber band around several pencils and try to snap them, it’s almost impossible. Humans are much the same – without others around us we are easily ‘broken’ when exposed to adverse circumstances; surrounded by the care and support of others, we are better able to withstand life’s ups and downs.
Social Intelligence – SQ
SQ is concerned with our capacity for self-awareness and awareness of others. If we have good SQ, we can interact appropriately with others, in any given situation, whilst remaining true to our inner self. We aren’t born with SQ but develop it by learning from the successes and failures we experience as we interact with others. Having good SQ matters, not only because it equips us to manage our social interactions, but also because research links higher levels of SQ with better mental health.
Social cohesion refers to the connection and unity felt by community members who share a common interest. A socially cohesive group works together for the benefit of its members, creating a sense of belonging by advocating inclusion and promoting trust. For example, the neighbourhood or street in which we live can be a socially cohesive environment. Living in such a neighbourhood is particularly important to older residents who may be socially isolated due to declining health, lack of mobility, or access to transport. But caring about the welfare of others, and having that care reciprocated, has a positive effect on the wellbeing of everyone within a community, not just the most vulnerable. Indeed, ‘social cohesion positively impacts the strength of relationships and social participation in, as well as collective attachment to, the neighbourhood, and is thus expected to enhance individuals’ wellbeing’.
The most crucial thing for us to reclaim our humanity in this time of polarity is to find unity through the power of community. Let’s move beyond this period of isolation and disconnection because we are #bettertogether.
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