Everyone is concerned about mental health right now. And physical health. And of course, avoiding that pesky virus that basically grounded planes in a week! As a result, we’ve seen lots of suggestions for how to take care of yourself. Go for a walk! Drink lots of water! Practice meditation and gratitude!
But an often neglected self-care strategy is taking care of and nurturing existing relationships with not just your significant other, but friends, family, and coworkers as well.
Healthy Relationships Are Self-Care
Self-care is often labeled as taking a bath, working out, or eating healthy. There’s even financial self-care (such as staying within that budget!), and self-care focused on maintaining a healthy home environment (minimalism anyone?).
But we neglect self-care that is inherently associated with relationships.
What’s this? Isn’t self-care supposed to be about me and myself? While, yes, that is true, self-care is not as isolated as it may seem at first. For one, friends, family, and other relationships in our lives are integral to what makes us human.
As Margaret Mead said, “the first sign of civilization in ancient culture was a femur that had been broken and then healed… helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts”. Our social relationships are the foundation of ancient cities and cultures!
What does a healed thigh bone have to do with self-care, you ask? A broken, and then healed, bone is proof that humans are willing to take care of others. Even when those others cannot contribute to the group. Many animals would die if they suffered a major injury like a broken bone.
But not humans. Humans will save the lives of other animals, like baby birds or squirrels, because of the inherent compassion and need for community. We cannot live without relationships, because it is relationships that make humans human.
Take Care of Yourself by Nurturing Relationships
Multiple studies have shown the importance of connecting with humans to mental and physical health.
For example, seniors visiting their family members and maintaining active friendships, report better physical and mental health. Moreover, at-risk mothers, who are provided with professional and unprofessional supports, show a decreased risk of domestic violence in the home.
There is even a growing body of research advocating for promoting social connections as a social determinant of health in the public health sphere!
Healthy relationships create a sense of belonging, raise self-confidence, and lower anxiety and stress. Moreover, socially connected people are less likely to die from disease and tend to have lower blood pressure and less inflammation.
Strong evidence exists to support relationships as a health benefit, protective factor, and marker of wellness.
But not all relationships are created equal.
What Defines a Toxic Relationship?
We have countless relationships in our lives! Family. Friends. Coworkers. The relationship between you and the cashier at the gas station down the street. You know, the one that was working the night you decided to get a hotdog at 3 AM wearing your dinosaur onesie?
Unfortunately, toxic relationships can be difficult to identify, and they can exist in any of these categories. (Except maybe the gas station cashier – they were pretty cool).
So, how do you differentiate a toxic relationship from a healthy one?
While there is grey in any area, below are characteristics of a healthy, supportive, and positive relationship:
- Mutual (real) respect for one another
- An understanding and maintenance of personal boundaries
- Active listening and communication
Red flags to keep an eye out for include:
- False respect, such as a spouse undermining your hobbies/interests
- The repeated crossing of boundaries, even if it seems small
- Lack of trust, or lying
- Talking AT each other, as opposed TO each other
In short, if your friend, coworker, family member, or partner actively diminishes your accomplishments, ignores your wishes for solitude or privacy, believes you are constantly telling falsehoods (without reason), and never listens to your concerns or problems, you may be in a toxic relationship.
Other examples include a friend who only ever wants to talk about their problems. A boyfriend who repeatedly puts you into uncomfortable situations. A parent who thinks you are lying regardless of how many times you tell the truth. Or a business partner who ignores your ideas for promoting a product.
How To Take Care of Yourself Using Relationships During a Pandemic
I do try to avoid the “P word” on my blog, but in this topic, it is unavoidable.
Social distancing, lockdown, and limitations on social gatherings make it incredibly difficult to nurture relationships. Luckily, with virtual tools like Google Meet and Zoom, we can still connect emotionally (not to disregard the good old-fashioned phone call of course)!
This past Fall, I could not host in-person club meetings at the university, but we could still host events and meetings online! As restrictions increase, my partner and I can still spend quality time together sharing memes on Google Meet.
But talking with someone over video can be awkward if you’re not used to it. And sometimes, you just want to DO something!
So, for your ease, I have collected a few of my favorite online games/tools that you can use to elevate your video chats! (These are not affiliate links, just fun/handy resources).
- Teleparty: allows you to watch movies/TV with your friends on multiple streaming services
- Skribbl.io: basically online Pictionary where you can guess what your partner is drawing remotely. Especially fun if you are on the phone at the same time
- Rento: Do you like Monopoly? If yes, then I can’t relate. But I can point you to this fun online version!
- I-Spy Contests: this one is not an online game, but rather one you can play over video chat! Pick something on your buddy’s screen, and get them to try and guess what it is!
And there are many more suggestions that are just one Google search away! I’ve barely scratched the surface here.
To Sum It All Up
Relationships are important, even if they are maintained virtually or remotely. We need other people. We need community.
And to quote a famous Disney movie, we’re all in this together!
So my challenge to you is to reach out to a friend today, a cousin, or even an office buddy you’ve been missing for a while. Touch base. Chat. Connect. Maybe play an online game or two.
Take care of yourself by taking care of someone else.
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