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CONNECTIONS - This Week's Focus - COVID-19

The UMatter Team

Why connections to others are important for our health and wellbeing

Human beings are inherently social creatures. As far back as we can trace, humans have traveled, hunted, and thrived in social groups and for good reason. Humans who were separated from their tribe often suffered severe consequences. Social groups provide us with an important part of our identity, and more than that, they teach us a set of skills that help us to live our lives.

 

Feeling socially connected, especially in an increasingly isolated world, is more important now than ever. The benefits of social connectedness shouldn’t be overlooked. Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk.

 

Studies have shown that social connection is a greater determinant to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Social connections don’t necessarily mean physically being present with people in a literal sense, but someone’s subjective experience of feeling understood and connected to others.

 

Our resilience is strengthened when we give and receive support. Building positive relationships with people can make a difference in how resilient we are. Try to connect with people who have a positive outlook and can make you laugh and help you. The more positive your relationships are, the better you will be able to face life's challenges.

 

See the Take 5  flyer and poster recently adapted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. [Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give]

 

Connections - How They Help Us Keep a Healthy Balance as Part of Our Daily Routine

Whether you are working from home, or in some form of physical isolation or distancing, it can be helpful to organise a daily routine that involves a balance between activities that:

  • give you a sense of achievement
  • help you feel close and connected with others
  • activities that you can do just for pleasure.

 

Page 6 and 7 of this booklet provide really useful advice and suggestions for activities that we can do that help us connect with the things that bring us joy.

 

Social Isolation

Social Isolation is a state of complete or near-complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects a temporary lack of contact with other humans. Loneliness and social isolation take a steep toll on the human body. These, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain. At this time we should therefore make a conscious effort to connect with those who we know may be vulnerable.

 

During this unique time of social distancing, it is important that we do not completely disconnect with one another. In fact, it is critical more now than ever to “virtually” come together.

 

How can we increase our sense of connectedness at this time?

  • Use video chat applications. Consider scheduling regular dates and times with family and friends for video calls.
     
  • Have a game night with friends using FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts.
     
  • Does your neighborhood have a Facebook group? If they do, request to join and see what fun activities they do.
     
  • The 'limbic system'/survival area of the brain loves to live in the future, and 'what ifs'. Find activities you enjoy that help you stay in the 'now' (be that baking; gardening; colouring; yoga...) Some good apps to help mindfulness practice are: "Calm", "Headspace", and "Smiling Mind" or visit www.freemindfullness.org which has lots of exercises of various lengths, recorded talks and calendars to print with mindful ideas for everyday activities. A list of free apps for NHS staff is available here
     
  • Try virtual yoga or other movement classes – visit www.nhs.uk/fitness for sitting exercises, fitness advice for wheelchair users, physical activity guidelines for children, NHS fitness studio (free home exercise videos) and much more. For more ideas on staying active at home click here
     
  • Yoga for Staff - A free virtual yoga class is taking place for Trust staff on Tuesday 5th May from 8.00pm to 9.00pm with Christelle see under our events page
     
  • Listen to a podcast by Dr Chatterjee on how we can connect with ourselves and others via movement here
     
  • Join the Camerados virtual public living room called #SpoonRoom this is for anyone who just wants to share how they're feeling and be alongside each other. The video call format which is very human and is held at 11am every Saturday with people from all over the world just listening and looking out for each other. A 90 second explanation is available from: here

 

Further suggestions for connecting with others and ourselves are explored in more detail below.

 

We have very quickly become too familiar with our homes self-isolating to keep our loved ones healthy. Staying connected virtually can help ease stress, reduce suffering and promote overall wellness. Now, more than ever, it is critical to place our health and wellbeing, and that of our families and communities, first. Staying connected, even virtually, will aid in this effort and sustain us all for the journey ahead.

 

Working from Home (Mental Health)

As more organisations move to online working, human connections are more important than ever. Here are some ways to support your mental health, reduce feelings of isolation, and feel connected with colleagues while working remotely. This resource provides information on Supporting Your Mental Health While Working From Home. For other articles see the COVID Staying at Home section of Umatter.

 

Connections during work with your colleagues

At this time when the emotional impact of working within the health care system is heightened, having compassion for ourselves and connecting and supporting others is even more essential for our wellbeing. We are mindful that connection calms our brain. What helps us regulate our emotions is to feel our experience being validated by others, to feel like we are connected, like someone understands. Having a sense of permission to reach out for this support and holding each other’s experiences will be mutually beneficial.

“When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.” Fred Rogers

 

A healthy workplace can be promoted when reflective opportunities (formal or informal) become an integral part of the workplace. “Structured reflection on our actions and behaviour can help us to make sense of the circumstances around us, learn from experiences and understand ourselves better, and improve our responses and actions going forward”. (Meechan.2017)

 

The Psychology Team have developed advice for all staff and teams - via wellbeing check in sessions and are providing support to teams and individuals via a physical presence in the hospital and the village area in Craigavon Area Hospital and via their phoneline service. Staff can access further information and materials from the Psychology Department via their COVID Sharepoint Area.

 

 

Connecting with your child(ren)

Within work it is important that we maintain our connections with our family and friends. The Psychology Team have also developed some tips for connecting with your child this includes links to tips on making the most of video chats and resources for parents. If you can take a few minutes while on your break to have a chat or make a connection with your family members - could this coincide with family meal times or a child's bedtime - even a short phone call or video message with family and friends can help you feel more connected.  

 

See the COVID and Family Health section for a full range of tools and advice for parents and children.

 

 

Connecting with extended family (grandparents)

Bruce Perry, Trauma expert explains, “The most powerful buffer in times of stress and distress is our social connectedness.” For those staying at home, especially if you live on your own, this can feel lonely as it is healthy and normal to need other people. Try to find creative ways to keep in touch with others to help you (and them) feel more connected and supported. Visual images (video chat) will reinforce the power of the contact. Encourage grandparents to read a story to younger children over video chat. Suggest an online quiz with friends. If these are not possible, even a few minutes phone call or seeing a text can provide mutual regulatory experiences of social connection.

Save the Children have developed Tips to Help Grandparents Stay Connected with their Grandkids, Despite Social Distancing. There are also excellent resources available from Parenting NI including a factsheet on grandparenting during covid.

 

Connecting with ourselves - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually

Connecting with our physiology can also help reduce stress and anxiety. Pay attention to how you are sitting or standing as poor posture can activate the stress response, while better posture can increase feelings of wellness. Lengthen your spine and take stretch breaks during the day. Relax your shoulders and facial muscles to send messages to your nervous system that you are okay.

Connecting and reflecting on our inner emotions is key. “Neuroscience research show:

  • that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves. Bessell Van Der Kolk 
  • that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.” ​ Bessell Van Der Kolk 

 

The Trust's Chaplaincy Service is there to support you and within communities many churches are now delivering virtual services - utilise these as ways to connect with your spiritual side.

 

A Time for Reflection, Self Exploration and Self Expression
This experience is giving us more time to reflect on ourselves, our lives, what's important to us, how we are feeling, our thoughts - we can use our creativity and talents to express and possibly share our thoughts and emotions with others.

 

See how embracing the arts can help you and what resources are now available.

 

Journaling

There is a lot of evidence around the benefits of journaling which can help us connect with our thoughts and feelings, our creative side, our passions and memories and our future goals. Journaling can take many forms such as a gratitude journal, creative journal, bullet journals.

Journals allow you to be just who you are, and are a place where you can travel through life's emotions with gentleness, compassion, and deeper understanding.

According to neuroscientists journaling helps you externalize thoughts. Put simply, this frees up mental space so you can think more clearly and concentrate better. You don’t have to waste valuable energy remembering everything. Instead, your life is captured on the pages of your journal. Now you can be more present and at ease in the moment without worrying that you’re forgetting something.

 

Handwritten Letters and Cards

Writing a letter to our friends and loved ones can be a great way to connect – even if you have never done this or its been years since you did – now could be a great time to put pen to paper. Receiving a handwritten note or letter can touch us in ways that an email never can and years from now they leave a touching and personal record. Click here to learn more about the Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society.

In a recent poll of more than 2,000 UK adults, 66% said a personalised card was the most meaningful and thoughtful way to communicate feelings to a loved one. Almost half (47%) said the thought of writing a heartfelt letter or card made them feel happy, while 50% said social media has no positive effects on their close relationships. The study was overseen by University of Oxford evolutionary anthropologist Dr Anna Machin who explained that personalised and private forms of communication help improve our health by releasing neurochemicals into the brain. The full article can be read here

 

Connecting with nature, animals

Nature

A large body of research is documenting the positive impacts of nature on human flourishing—our social, psychological, and emotional life. Over 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, viewing nature seems to be inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems. These in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, and resilience. To learn more click here
 

 

Animals