Connection. It is defined as a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else. But I experience it deeper than that although I recognize that connection is very much on a continuum. I am a little connected to some and deeply connected to others however connection to me is very much about being “seen” or “known” by someone else. There is such a special vulnerability to it and I believe we all want to feel connected.
This becomes so meaningful to me today because I recently returned from my first experience of being on the Appalachian Trail with some people in my life who I knew very well, some a little bit, and others I had not met before. There were nine of us to cover 40+ miles of very difficult terrain and five of us had never done anything like this before in our lives so as one could imagine it was filled with excitement, apprehension, and hesitation. On the trail we spent most of the day hiking and shared so many things about ourselves and our lives. We encouraged each other, got snarky with each other, cried with each other, and laughed until we hurt. There was nothing else to interfere. No distractions. Just us ladies and the earth. And all I kept thinking about was this was something that I wanted more of. Yes, hiking for sure but this type of connection. It is something I believe we all desperately want and need.
From my work as a counselor in many different facets (schools, private practice offices, inpatient psychiatric facilities), I hear over and over about how people want to be heard, to be listened to. The want to feel connected. They want to be seen and known. And we desperately want to feel loved unconditionally. I find it concerning that we are spending more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media (new study by market-research group Nelson) as well as receiving on average 46 app push notifications throughout our day. In addition, on average Americans send and receive 94 text messages daily and also send 34 emails daily and receive 88 emails per day (textrequest.com). This information was very shocking to me despite knowing that we are very much engaged with technology. And while these seem to be “ways” to connect with others, we feel more isolated and alone than ever before. Mental health issues are rising in our country and our relationships are crumbling. We are missing out on what happens when we sit together, or in our case, walk together through life experiences. We are not feeling “seen” and “heard” and our kids are not either.
From my experience out on the Appalachian Trail, what I can certainly share with you is how important it is to physically be present with others. In addition, I believe spending time with those who are positive in our lives and encourage us to be our best selves while removing those in our lives who are toxic is so beneficial to our overall well-being. When we are developing a relationship with someone, we are able to drop the walls and allow ourselves to share and be vulnerable and the connection that results is life changing. Our kids are no different, they desperately need this as well. Here are some suggestions I have for reducing all of the distractions in our lives (some I am planning to implement myself!):
1) Create morning and evening routines that do not include any sort of media for an hour upon awakening and going to sleep.
2) Schedule a weekly date with someone in your life and meet outside of either of your homes and leave your cell phones off.
3) Eat dinner at the table with your loved ones and make it a no phone / no tv zone.
4) Turn off notifications during your sleeping hours.
5) Create a policy for yourself that when others begin talking to you, you put your phone down and make eye contact until the discussion is over.
6) And, of course, a walk in the woods with someone you cherish.
Perhaps these may seem like simple suggestions but I do believe some are harder to incorporate than others if you are similar to me and have fallen into some not-so-great habits with your media use. 🙂
Resources to help with Getting Connected with Others:
- Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Doug Abrams, John Gottman, Julie Gottman, and Rachel Carlton Abrams
- Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson
- The Science of Happily Ever After by Ty Tashiro, Ph.D.
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Fabre and Elaine Mazlish
- 131 Conversations That Engage Kids: How to Get Kids Talking, Grow Their Friendships, and Inspire Change by Jed Jurchenko
Other Relationships –
- I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorensen
- Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
- Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently by John C. Maxwell