By Jyoti Chauhan

Social interactions are important for your mind, body and soul. When we begin school we are taught how important communication and playing with others is. We are taught to use our words and not our fists when trying to communicate. To not snatch toys from other children but to ask nicely. To be kind. To make sure we invite everyone to play and invite everyone to our birthday parties. Inclusion is important in these interactions because no-one wants to feel like they don’t belong, like they’re unwanted or to feel isolated. The importance of this is ingrained in us when we are very young but sometimes that doesn’t continue into further education. We’ve all been the outcast or witnessed people being the outcast of a social group and it’s a horrible, isolating feeling. In fact, this behaviour should outgrow us yet I’ve found that a lot of work places are very similar to the familiar schoolyard territory.  We are taught social skills to learn how to communicate well with others, to make friends and to nurture our emotional development. Hopefully these social interactions help us connect with others and cultivate our empathy. I believe that education and empathy are the two things that could truly change our society for the better and social connections are a huge part of that. The ability to have a conversation or a connection with someone who is different from you. Listening to someone who has a different story to tell may change your whole outlook on something. It may invoke a sense of compassion in you that you never realised that you had. You might unlearn damaging, harmful behaviour that you didn’t realise you needed to.

Social connections are so important in life – whether it be talking to people every day or checking in with people every once in a while. My brother works in the customer service department at an energy company and speaks to a lot of elderly people. Sometimes they want to stay on the phone after their query is resolved and have a conversation because they haven’t had the chance to interact with anyone in a long time. Sadly I think this is a reoccurring theme in some elderly communities and shows how crucial social interaction is in life. They long for a conversation with a stranger at the other end of the phone because they haven’t had the opportunity to converse in such a long time. A chance that many of us take for granted because we are surrounded by, and sometimes overwhelmed, by the different ways we can communicate with people.

It’s never been easier to keep in contact with your loved ones because the technology we have is so readily available. This opens up so many different ways to communicate whether it be a video call, a text, a comment on a picture or tagging someone in a post you think they might enjoy. It is so important to take a break from people and social media every once in a while. However, opening up to someone and releasing a burden or a weight off your shoulders is helpful to alleviate stress and will hopefully have a positive impact on your mental health. Good conversations help people feel less isolated and less lonely. It helps to know that you’re not alone in how you feel or the trauma you’ve experienced or the struggles you’ve faced. Shared experiences make for great bonding and powerful displays of vulnerability.

These social connections can come from deep, personal shared experiences or from something as simple as having read the same book or watched the same film. Shared interests are a great way of becoming more connected with others. From creating a book or a film club with your friends or sharing recipes and making them for each other. Going for runs together or bike rides or playing sports together or learning a new skill together are a great ways of connecting whilst doing something you enjoy. Technology helps so much in this aspect – Meet Up is a great app for meeting others who share your interests. When I was abroad Meet Up was incredibly useful and the variety was amazing. Going to a painting class/exercise class/any kind of class is also a great way to connect with others. Sometimes it can be scary going by yourself but the thought is always more intimidating than the reality, and isn’t it important we step  out of our comfort zones?

The idea that social connections are as important to our survival as shelter and food is an interesting one. There is a difference between surviving life and living life. Some people don’t have the privilege to truly live and thrive in life but if we do, then creating social connections is a vital part of it. Sharing your triumphs and your failures, sharing your interests and your ideas. Being surrounded by people who truly understand you and really listen to you when you talk – the feeling of belonging is a strong one which we all crave. The feeling of freedom and comfort of just being able to be yourself – its impact is priceless.

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