It’s hard for people to agree on certain things, like who should be deemed the greatest sports team of all time, or if peanut butter is enhanced or hindered by the addition of jelly. One topic that can inspire a lot of debate is which song from the Beatles catalogue is their best.
While “Hey Jude” is my all-time favorite, the chorus of “With a Little Help from My Friends” resonates even deeper personally. Because to paraphrase those lyrics, we can more than get by and definitely create a better life with the help of our friends.
Being part of a supportive community helps people flourish in any circumstances. With the increased isolation and stress caused by the COVID-19 health crisis, that positive connection has become even more essential than before.
“The fundamental nature of what it means to be human is that we grow up and survive in connection with other people. Without that connection, it’s difficult to thrive and realize one’s gifts,” noted Dr. S.D. Shanti, a psychologist, public health professional and the founder of Prescriptions for Hope, a nonprofit foundation in Winterthur, Switzerland.
For Daniel Gordon, connecting with friends virtually has provided a lifeline over the past year. He graduated college in 2019 and it was an overwhelming time. After an extensive interview process with Google, Gordon accepted a position in their engineering residency program that kicked off in March 2020.
Things were looking up; he sublet an apartment in New York City and was excited to get his life and career started. Then the pandemic hit, and everything started shutting down.
After relishing the chance to collaborate with peers in person, Gordon found himself onboarding and doing his job in a 100% remote environment. His employer, like so many others, adapted the best they could with remote working tools and video calls. However, it’s harder to forge personal connections like you could walking down the hall or having lunch with someone.
Gordon felt isolated living in New York amidst stringent shutdowns. While he had some opportunities to see people in socially distant environments during the summer, the advent of winter limited opportunities to engage with friends in person. It created a lot of stress.
“Just getting started in the city, I wanted to leave a footprint and build those connections and friendships,” said Gordon. “It’s been really hard.”
“You want to have a balance of really close friends versus more tangential friends, and it’s just difficult to find that,” he noted, addressing the difficulty of digital connection. “My problem with Zoom chats and Hangouts every week is essentially, they get old. Someone can’t come to movie night and it falls apart.”
What has helped Gordon is reaching out to friends he grew up with, and especially those made in college. He stays connected regularly with others as part of two Dungeons & Dragons groups, one that he runs and the other in which he is a player.
“For me personally, D&D has scratched a lot of itches because I was very socially anxious growing up and still can be uncomfortable in a lot of situations,” he continued. “What’s nice about D&D is it’s a game. So if you don’t have anything to talk about, you have these rules by which you were interacting and if you are a good enough storyteller, other people want to play and make time in their schedule. I’m really glad to have something to do and people to see. I’m glad I get to interact and not feel pressure to come up with something or run out of things to talk about.”
Connecting with like-minded souls in person or virtually can make a tremendous difference to one’s well-being. People thrive more when they have a sufficient network of support. You become more resilient, better able to handle stress and grow from celebrating wins. That social support helps maintain your mental health.
“Connection is integral to our sense of well-being,” added Shanti. “Because it also feeds into our need for meaning in our lives. That’s what allows interactions to be transcendental rather than just transactional.”
Want to strengthen your connections with others? Here are four ways to nurture better relationships that enhance your well-being:
Awaken to others.
Practicing mindfulness can help you forge stronger connections.
“It’s very popular in the Western press to talk about mindfulness in relation to stress management and indeed, it’s valuable,” explained Shanti. “However, I feel one of the greatest values of mindfulness is that it allows us to awaken our eyes and our hearts to connect with other people. It supports our capacity to feel love and compassion. Mindfulness helps people lead meaningful lives.”
A key component of being fully present is effectively managing spillover stress. If you have a bad day at work, be mindful about how you are speaking with or treating others to ensure that stress doesn’t hurt relationships.
Always happy to help a friend, but reluctant to accept support when needed? Remember that nurturing healthy connections is a two-way street. That’s what Widdi Turner learned. She knows a whole lot about making whoopie — pies that is, so much so that her No Big Whoop! Bakeryspecializes in creating those pastry treats.
Prior to the pandemic, it was her side hustle; Turner stayed busy as a freelancer producer in the film industry. She loved baking and with the encouragement of close friends, invested in a dedicated kitchen facility in 2019 to grow capacity.
When freelance gigs dried up in 2020, Turner shifted her entire focus to the bakery overnight. It was a scary time as the business had already been slowly losing money.
“If COVID hadn’t happened, I would probably be bankrupt by now because I wouldn’t have been forced to figure things out and make it work,” she said. Her friends and peers in the baking community stepped up to help.
Pals from high school and college placed orders and helped spread word of mouth. Turner’s tight-knit group of friends provided constant encouragement and helped her reach for more. The community of fellow food entrepreneurs where she rents kitchen space have been a great sounding board. A friend volunteered to work for Turner without compensation for a while, allowing her to expand production.
“My friend basically works in the business so I can work on the business,” said Turner. “She was a game changer and changed my life. For the first time starting last December, I earned enough in the business to actually pay all my bills, So now I’ve got this next boost of energy, external motivation to find more wholesale accounts and really improve things.”
Today, Turner has two employees and continues to grow. She is shipping whoopie pie orders throughout the United States. No Big Whoop! Bakery is her main focus and Turner loves it that way.
“I’m not good at asking for help but have learned being an entrepreneur involves accepting support,” added Turner. “I also realized that if I feel so much better giving than receiving, then why would I deny friends the opportunity to support me and feel good as well?”
Find your tribe.
The internet makes it easy to connect with people who share your interests worldwide to help you celebrate successes, get encouragement when challenges arise, and reinforce the positive in your life.
For example, I belong to a private Facebook group of about 40 people, most in our thirties, forties and fifties, who are focused on exercise and wellness. Participants live primarily in the UK, US, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, mostly because the organizer has lived around the world and makes friends as easily as other people breathe air.
We cheer each other on, set weekly goals, vent when life goes sideways, and generally keep the positive motivation going non-stop. I haven’t met many of these wonderful people in real life yet, but it doesn’t matter. The daily check-ins always make me feel more upbeat and I cherish that community of virtual friends.
It is easy to take people for granted. Whenever you think something positive about a person, tell them. Write a note to a friend who has always been there for you, explaining what you cherish about your relationship.
Have an incredibly supportive co-worker? Let them know how much you appreciate their efforts, and ensure their supervisor knows what a rock start that individual is as well. Call family members outside of your home when you feel a sudden burst of love towards them.
Taking the time to share those feelings of gratitude validates that person’s actions and behaviors, deepening your relationship.
How has the support of friends impacted your life?