When responsibilities and demands add up, it can feel like you’re drowning in a sea of stress. Even when it feels like you’ve knocked off item after item on your to-do list, it keeps piling up: Notifications that need a response, chores that need to be finished, deadlines that need to be met, questions that need to be answered—the list keeps coming.
I know exactly how you feel—how we all feel. While we all have different tactics for handling stresses, it is so important for you to put one more thing on that list: Check in on yourself. And make sure you’re carving out some time to take care of you.
But here’s the thing. There’s something just as important as “you.” What is it? A sense of “us.” That is, one of the most effective (and fulfilling) ways to approach the demands of our daily lives is to make sure that you’re engaged with the connections you have. That can be family, that can be friends, that can be some other kind of tribe (work friends, book club, wine club, mommy groups, anything).
While the ways that we feel connected are different for everyone, it is clear that connection (or “relatedness,” as some of the scientific literature refers to it) is about feeling alive, feeling present, feeling like you are joined with others in this beautiful and demanding journey of life.
I’ve also found—and the science supports this—that connection is one of the best ways to help reduce the stress that robs you of your health and vitality. When you feel connected, you reduce stress, anxiety, and bad moods—and you also increase motivation (which is great because it empowers you to face head on the very things that are stressing you). Because connection is able to reduce, it helps put you more in a parasympathetic state—that is, the rest and re-charge state of being (as opposed to the sympathetic state in which you’re feeling the flight-or-fight feeling of stress).
Above all, I feel that one of the best parts about feeling connected is the simple joy you feel when you’re with your people. When I’m with those close to me, I can’t help but smile. And that simple act—a smile of joy—will also go a long way in helping to reduce stress.
As you’re taking time out from your battle with your busy life, remember to take some time to yourself: To connect with others, to find the joys that make you smile, to recharge and reinvigorate your body. When you do that, you’ll not only go a long way in taking better care of yourself, but you’re also better prepare for whatever of life’s hurdles next await you.
Here are some of my favorite ways to connect more:
Spend Time Outside in Nature.
Time in nature can come in many forms: On a hike in the woods, a walk along the beach, a stroll through the park, even sitting on a porch listening to the birds in your backyard. Research shows that the brain produces more alpha waves—the state of being calm, yet focused and alert—when surrounded by natural settings. Much research has also shown that being in nature has numerous other health benefits. Now, you don’t have to feel like you need a weekend in the woods to have an effect. Don’t overlook the small opportunities to benefit from natural beauty’s impact on your wellness. If all you have is a few minutes, walk outside and just take in your surroundings. Trees, animals, the sky, all of it. A few minutes of peace and calm in nature is one of the world’s easiest-to-take medications.
Choose Activities You Love.
Whether it’s a craft like quilting or painting, playing music, writing or something physical like bike riding or rock climbing, it’s not about what you’re doing. It’s about how you’re feeling when you’re doing it.
You’ll know it’s helping you to feel more connection if you are totally engaged in the activity, something called the “flow state.” Flow is the state of being where you are fully immersed in what you are doing with a sense of energized focus, and such joy that you lose sense of time and space. When you do something that feels right (as opposed to doing something just because that’s what you think you should do), that can be the difference between passion and ambition.
We all have that “thing” we love. Even in the craziness of life, it’s important to make sure you carve out time to do that thing regularly, even if it means sacrificing something less important. When you feel the pressure to “do it all,” remember that “all” should include the thing you love the most.
Nurture Your Relationships.
For many of us, that means putting family first. It’s where we draw so much inspiration, motivation, and unconditional support. It’s also important to cultivate and nurture the other important relationships in your life.
Sharing honestly with a trusted friend can enhance your feeling of support, being cared for and feeling connected. Prioritize those relationships in your life that allow you to feel this and nurture these bonds by offering the same space to listen and pay attention to a friend in need. This can come in many forms. Sometimes it can be a quick text to show that you’re there for each other; other times, it may require more time. The time isn’t as important as the quality of your connection—and that you all give and take when you need to.
(Also: Don’t forget self-care and nurturing the most important relationship you have, the one with yourself!)
Take Care of Your Body and Physical Health.
Research shows that about one-third of women don’t do their annual checkups. Just like unexpressed emotions create mental and emotional static that is a barrier to feeling connected, inflammation, poor nutritional status, and oxidative stress in our cells creates a barrier to the healthy signals we need to make proper neurotransmitters, hormones, and a healthy, happy microbiome. Mental, emotional and physical health are inherently connected. Inflammation in your body hinders your body’s ability to feel calm, relaxed, and connected. So it’s important to make sure you have the recommended diagnostics to help make sure you’re addressing any health issues that will cause not only physical problems but also can contribute to emotional and mental ones as well.
Look in the Mirror.
And it’s not just to examine your skin and hair. It’s about taking a few minutes to unscramble all of the things happening in your brain and be honest with your feelings. When you’re honest with yourself, you can better express your feeling to others—which goes a long way in feeling better connected and less stressed about unspoken worries. Unexpressed feelings create static in your life. When there is stuff in the way…unsaid feelings and thoughts that you’re afraid to share, it creates a barrier to connection because your thoughts are occupied with what you’re not sharing. This is about having a high EQ more so than IQ. EQ (Emotional Quotient) is about developing skills to better direct and control emotions.
Those are my favorite ways to feel connected and smile more. How do you do it?