A few weeks ago we started talking about the mental immune system. In part one, we got the boring elements out of the way (eating health food, exercising regularly, and sleeping enough). Today, I want to focus on: connection.
I have found genuine connection to be vital for my mental health because it is grounding. For me, there are three areas of connection.
- What makes you happy? It took me a while to get this, but there is a difference between what you see making other people happy and what I actually enjoy doing. I can get really inspired whenever I see someone else love training for a race in cute running gear, killing it at water color painting, or traveling to multiple countries during the summer. That doesn’t mean I would enjoy that. I don’t like running even if I buy new leggings. I don’t have the patience or passion to become good at painting (the instructor and 10 middle-aged women in the water color class I took can attest to this). And I’m a homebody. A yearly to bi-yearly vacation to some place in nature, even the same place every year, does it for me. I hate packing and crowds and not being in my cozy bed.
- What makes you feel alive? I’ve been able to narrow this down to just a few things, which allows me to consciously make time for them. I love anything flower-related (growing, photographing, arranging), writing obviously, and learning new languages. I also love long walks in nature.
- What brings out of side of you that your current situation neglects? Whenever I worked at a computer all day, I did more floral stuff, because I was less in touch with that side of me. Now that I’m on my feet with kids all day, I make more of a point to get in touch with my writing side. I still do the other hobbies, but by making sure I’m getting in touch with all of me, I feel more whole.
- When are you most honest with yourself? I am most honest with myself when I’m journaling or contemplating life in the shower. For you, it could be in drawing, in recording yourself, in talking out loud to yourself in the car (except at the stoplights because you don’t want that stranger you’ll never see again to think you’re crazy). Try to take time at least once a week to be honest with yourself without judgment. Unless the shower is where you’re honest–you might want to do that a little more frequently.
- What part of yourself do you really appreciate? If it’s your creativity, do something creative! If it’s your problem-solving, do a logic problem or solve some other sort of problem! If it’s your green thumb, garden! If it’s your computer skills, do some hacking and expose the shadow government! Whatever it is you love about yourself, do that thing. Hang out with the side of yourself you think is cool.
- How many meaningful relationships do you realistically have room for right now? I don’t have room for a lot. One of my best friends keeps in touch with, like, everyone she’s ever been close to (it seems) or connected with. She loves it and it gives her energy. Not me. I don’t have the social energy to keep up that many relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cutting people completely out left and right. But I’m not going out of my way to maintain them. I can’t. But I can prioritize my and my husband’s family and a handful of close friends.
- Do you prefer one-on-one, small groups, or big gatherings? I think you can guess where I fall. Big gatherings! I love the noise, small talk, and constant stimulation! The social anxiety is a high! 🙂 But yeah, for me one-on-one with someone I can genuinely connect with and small groups of people I truly click with are where I feel most connected.
- How frequently do you need to socialize? This varies so much from person to person and the type of socialization affects it as well. I can only really handle one, sometimes two in-person, hang outs in a week, with people other than my husband (or parents/brother when we lived in close proximity). My husband doesn’t count, because, not to be mushy, but being with him is usually better than being alone (Everyone who’s been married more than two years is going, “Yeah, sis, that’s gonna wear off.”). A phone date or two with family or close friends is perfect for me. Otherwise, keeping up with daily or weekly snap chatting or texts does the trick. You could be completely different. You could need to socialize every day or only bi-weekly. Do you.
- Where do you feel most like yourself? Besides the small group factor, I feel most like myself when I’m having a deep conversation, being nonsensical, serving others, or spending time with people who are kind of outcasts in society or lonely. What that looks like for me right now is refugee families and an elderly woman who takes the flower arrangements I make off my hands because if they stay at my house, they die, dry, and remain on various surfaces looking gross. Before said woman retired, she was a social worker and I hung out with her and her tag-along friend who was a homeless ex-felon (I might have left out a detail or two at the time, Dad. Oops sorry love you). Maybe for you that’s with your gamer friends or pals in your sorority or a religious or political group. I think I’ve given you enough ideas to get the ball rolling. The point is, connect with others in a way where you will feel connected and not like you’re going through the motions.
- What is your love language? My top two are touch and quality time. This is why cuddling up on the couch with my husband makes me feel so connected to him. You can take the test here. It’s not just for romantic love, but how you show and receive all types of love. This could help you figure out how you’ll feel most connected to others. If your love language is acts of service, making something for someone and showing them how it works is a good way to start. Or, volunteering together. If your love language is words of affirmation, maybe writing a letter about or talking to someone in person about the things you love most about them will be nice. If you’re too lazy to read about the love languages (been there), take a moment to reflect on when you feel most in tune with others and do more of that.
WITH THE SPIRITUAL
I went back and forth with what to title this section. I don’t mean religiously spiritual, though I think that would fit here, but rather getting in tune with something bigger than yourself or basking in things you find sacred and meaningful. Doing so can help us gain perspective and direction.
- What makes you feel in awe of life, of the universe? Maybe it’s being in nature reading about space, or getting lost in art.
- Where do you feel most still? Mindfulness and meditation are “in” right now so there’s so many meditation apps out there. One of my friends recently recommended the Calm app and others find stillness in prayer. For me, I feel most still when I know the stillness will be over. Let me explain. I used to try to sit down and be spiritual but would immediately get antsy. I tried setting an alarm but then all I could think about was when the alarm was going to startle me. Obviously, this kept me from relaxing. Now I have tea time. I get a hot cup of tea and go sit in a dark closet (it’s the least stimulating–aka distracting–place in my home. This is particularly helpful when I’m trying to get to the bottom of tricky emotions or anxieties) or at my desk looking out the window. The thing I like about the tea is it gives me something to do while still being relatively still and it gives the activity a set end that isn’t a blaring alarm. When the cup is empty, the session is optionally over. The time it takes for the tea to cool down (after I’ve burned my tongue by trying to drink it too soon) and drink it is just about the right amount of time before I lose focus.
- What helps you see the bigger picture? It could be meditation, yoga, or some other form of mindfulness that helps you put down thoughts that are “urgent” so you can see how much more there is to life or where you’re going.
- What do you find sacred? I like to take time to reflect on sacred moments I’m experiencing or have experienced lately. Places where I saw love, healing, justice, growth, etc.
- When do you feel most caught up in deep joy? It could be gardening, hiking, knitting, cooking, service, a religious activity. It could be washing windows for all I care! But wherever you lose yourself, go there. One of those places for me is a dance party at home where no one can watch me, just getting caught up in the music.
- What makes your heart the angriest or saddest? Counter intuitive questions perhaps, but where we feel these things are often the places we have the most room for internal growth or for getting involved in making the world a better place, gaining a sense of purpose. Maybe domestic violence really gets you torn up. That could be an indication searching out a way to be involved with the local shelter or organization would be a good outlet for meaning in your life.
Well, on that note… I hope these questions gave you a thing or two on which to reflect (I feel so fancy when I go out of my way to not end on a preposition) and how to connect (rhyming). Like I said, making sure I connect with myself, others, and meaning keeps me grounded. Those connections are roots preventing me from getting washed away whenever life gets rainy. Have you found a similar effect? I would love to hear about it and how you connect to any of the three (or additional aspects I didn’t consider).
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