For Mental Health Awareness Month, Gladstone’s in-house therapist, Jillian Goldstein, shares how connecting socially with your colleagues can improve your well-being and your long-term health.
Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each May to raise awareness of the importance of mental health by prioritizing our own well-being, and supporting those around us who are experiencing challenges.
One in three Americans are experiencing loneliness and isolation, and young adults are disproportionately more affected than older adults. The US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, MD, recently announced that the US is in a loneliness and isolation epidemic, and has rolled out an advisory to address these issues.
The experience of loneliness comes at great health costs, akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People impacted by loneliness and isolation are at greater risk for cardiovascular issues, dementia, diabetes, premature death, anxiety, depression, and suicide—but strengthening social connections greatly reduces these risks.
Loneliness is the experience of feeling disconnected, not having someone to share your highs and lows with, not feeling understood by another, or feeling disconnected from a larger community. There are three types of loneliness—intimate, relational, and collective. Intimate loneliness happens when one is lacking a deeper connection with their spouse or loved one. Relational loneliness is when a person is without meaningful and connected friendships. And collective loneliness involves the need for a sense of community (e.g. work colleagues, teams, school clubs, volunteer groups).
Humans need these different types of connections for their well-being and health. It can be helpful to take a moment to identify which of the three types of loneliness you are currently experiencing and struggling with—this will help you identify what changes you can make to address these gaps.
So what does this have to do with Gladstone? What role can we play as work colleagues to address the issues of disconnection and loneliness?
We spend most of our waking hours at work, so our work environment matters a great deal to our well-being. And how we relate and invest in one another matters to our health. Gladstone’s population is diverse, international, young, and transient, and many are experiencing loneliness. It can take a while to adjust to a new city or country, let alone develop deep and meaningful connections.
Gladstonians—like people in many other scientific organizations—are working so hard that it can be easy to deprioritize calling your family and friends back home, making time to chat with your labmate, or carving out time on the weekend to have fun and foster social connections. But in order to continue living a well-balanced and healthy life, it’s important to invest and prioritize your social needs.
Here are a few simple ways to improve your social connections at work.
Check out what your workplace has to offer in terms of social channels. Platforms like Slack and virtual message boards can help you connect with like-minded people. Your workplace may also host employee resource groups, which are employee-led groups that foster inclusivity among colleagues who share a characteristic or interest.
It’s natural to fall into the cycle of putting your head down to focus on your own projects, setting out to conquer your endless to-do list, or scrolling on social media whenever you have downtime.
Instead, what if you said “Hi” to a coworker in real life and chatted for a few minutes before starting your day, asked a colleague for a 5-minute walk between tasks, or started a monthly dinner club with your team? You’re hardwired for social connections—so prioritizing real-life interactions, from small gestures to meaningful conversations, can greatly improve your mood.
It can be hard to break out of the cycle of feeling lonely and the negative thoughts that accompany loneliness. It’s common for fears to arise and to make excuses for not reaching out to someone.
The challenge is to do the opposite—reach out. Your fears are most likely unfounded, and you may be pleasantly surprised how quickly your mood can improve by taking a chance to talk to someone, socialize, and strengthen your connections.