Looking for ways to improve your mental health? Start with your relationships.
“Social wellness” refers to the quality of relationships we have with others. When people think of health it is typically in an individual frame of reference but the truth is relationship health is a major domain that makes up our total health.
Take these 11 tips into consideration to get your relationships in better shape.
- Make social connections. Find a way to spend time and connect with others. Join a fitness class and make it a habit to introduce yourself. Take time to schedule your social interactions into your calendar, making it more likely that you will catch up with that friend. Be open with your friends that you’d like to spend more time with them. Volunteer to be in charge of finding a convenient time and place to meet up.
- Learn how to apologize when you are wrong. If you are like me, you were not taught how to say sorry directly. Do not underestimate the almost spiritual nature a true, “I am sorry, I was wrong” statement can feel. Do not apologize to fix things but apologize to take ownership of your behavior and acknowledge the impact it made on someone else.
- Get real with your toxic friend. I watched a TikTok recently in which an influencer discussed her approach to “demoting” a friend is to create distance in a slow and passive way. This is quite the opposite strategy I would suggest as a relationship therapist because leaving things undone does not feel good for anyone. Instead, speak up and get honest. Let them know you were affected by their behavior and what you need out of the friendship has changed.
- Learn how to listen. There is a reason that active listening is such a simple yet powerful tool in therapy but you don’t need to be a therapist to do it. Good listening requires two components: 1.) A focused and mindful presence and 2.) Reflection
Next time a friend needs to share something important with you, practice putting your phone away, orienting your body toward them and matching your body language to theirs.
- Next, listen for feeling statements. If your friend says, “That felt like a nightmare and I was really scared” practice repeating the feelings they told you: “I hear that you felt like you were in a nightmare and that was really scary”. To take it to the next level, invite your friend to let you know what they need. I have found that many people just want to be heard, they do not want advice so give your friend the option. You can ask “Is it helpful for me to just listen or do you want some more direct feedback?”
- Attend group therapy. Struggling with relating to people or feeling isolated? Consider enrolling in group therapy which is a special type of therapy in which a small group of people meet with a professional therapist to work together on common problems. Consistent research says that group therapy is just as effective as individual therapy, and at times more effective. Group therapy is particularly helpful in supporting social wellness by reducing feelings of isolation, developing community and improving interpersonal relationship patterns. If that isn’t enough to get you to go, it can be more affordable than individual therapy too! Use Frame as your resource to start this exploration and discuss with your therapist if attending group therapy is right for you.
- Set that boundary you know you need to. Boundaries are what create your life and they are essential to developing better social relationships by setting clear expectations. Set the scene by asking to talk then state your needs calmly and repeat them if you have to. [Not sure where to begin with boundary setting? We’re here to help!]
- Learn how to ask for help in a clear and productive way. The fact is, we need each other when we are stressed. Opening up when you’re having a difficult time can build closeness in a relationship. Practice reaching out and letting others know that you have been struggling. Make it clear what you are doing about it and then ask for small and manageable help such as a quick phone call or suggestions on books to read.
Don’t forget that living in a pandemic has people feeling burned out so learning how to talk about your problems is essential, too. Learn the difference between emotional dumping and authentic reaching out. If you need a friend’s help to decompress, check in with your friend first and ask this: “I really need to vent, do you have space for that right now?” Now could also be a valuable time to explore therapy.
- De-triangle yourself from conflict. Always getting stuck in the middle and don’t know how to make an exit? You’re not alone because this is a common relationship problem. People naturally pull others in when their relationship feels stressed or unstable. However, getting pulled in can leave you feeling stressed about choosing a side and anxious about solving the problem that was not yours to begin with. Next time your family member calls you to vent about a conflict with someone else, practice gentle redirection by asking, “Have you considered bringing this up to them instead of me?”
- Get connected to a community and join others with similar passions. As we get older, making friends can feel a bit elusive and awkward. Where do I find friends? The answer is most people are thinking the same thing but need a central place to gather. Consider joining a book club, attend workshops or conferences on topics that interest you, or host something for your neighborhood. Finding the right people is important so stay vulnerable and authentic about who you are and what you’d like out of the community.
- Do something for someone who matters to you. Contributing to someone else’s well-being feels naturally reinforcing because it keeps our relationships close and gives our self esteem a boost. Try doing something for someone that may need some extra help or acknowledgment. Buy a bottle of champagne for a friend that just closed on their house. Send flowers to your grandma with a handwritten note. Small things like this make people in your life feel seen and valued.
About the Author: Dr. Natalie Zaragoza is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Orange County, CA. She owns an emotionally-focused and somatic-based private practice and is a part time professor. Follow Natalie for more content @drnataliezaragoza