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As we navigate the complexities of our current pandemic and politically charged environment, are you finding yourself with some strained social connections?
Maintaining social connections is an important health habit. In fact, it is just as important, if not more so, than the activities we most often think about when it comes to staying well, such as getting exercise and eating vegetables.
According to a recent Harvard Health article, social connections influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Positive social connections bring us more happiness, fewer health problems, and longer life. A study with more than 300,000 participants found the impact of lack of strong relationships on the risk of death comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day and greater than the impact of obesity and physical inactivity.
If we want to stay healthy, we need to remember that wellness begins with We!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that staying socially connected has become more and more difficult due to circumstances beyond my control, such as pandemic restrictions and passionate political divides.
Just this week, I’ve had to walk the tightrope of trying to maintain a positive social connection in a difficult circumstance. I have a friend of many years who is both dear to me and very politically opinionated. I wondered what to say in response to a voice message that started with a friendly greeting, but turned into a 10-minute passionate, but not so positive, tirade about our political differences. I’ll admit that some of the words were on the edge of insulting and I wanted to answer with an equally passionate and not so positive tirade.
This circumstance made me think about how much I really value my social connections:
It’s not without good reason that James encourages us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19). This type of relational approach not only displays the righteousness that God desires, but also strengthens our social connections that impact our health and well-being.
Listening is powerful. And a training exercise in listening was one of the most powerful and impactful learning experiences I have ever had.
This training exercise came in the form of a challenge where I was instructed to carry on a 10-minute conversation with another person by only reflecting back to them what they said and asking for more information. That means offering no personal information or opinions.
Initially, I thought the challenge would be impossible. How can you carry on a conversation with someone with only reflections and questions? I decided to try it out with my daughter and the conversation sounded something like this:
Daughter: It was a tough day at work. My boss derailed our project plan for the third time this week!
Me: It sounds like it's frustrating when your boss doesn’t stick with the original plan.
Daughter: Yes! We spent a great deal of time carefully organizing this project.
Me: Organization is important to you.
Me: How did you handle that?
Daughter: Well, I……………………………………………………
I was amazed that the challenge actually worked. Our conversation went on for over 10 minutes and it flowed very easily with no awkward silences. Why? Because by offering reflections and questions rather than information and opinions, three things happened:
When we listen, we strengthen our social connections
by creating an environment where dialogue can
grow in length and depth.
This is the truth that I will use as the foundation of my next conversation with my politically opinionated friend.
Good Health for Good Works Challenge: Do you have some strained social connections? Listening, rather than talking, may be the best initial response. Try out the 10-minute listening challenge described above and see what happens.
Let’s not undervalue the impact of the quality of our social connections on our physical, mental, and spiritual health. The simple act of creating a positive environment through listening is a way to temper the emotions that accompany passion and make a way for positive, constructive dialogue to begin.
About the author:
Ginger Hill is a Christian wellness speaker, coach and consultant and the founder of Good Health for Good Works where she helps the earnest, but often exhausted, workers in Christian organizations to take steps toward healthier living so they can fulfill their organization's mission with energy, excellence and endurance.
Psalm 92:12,14 (NLT)
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