One of the most important things when it comes to keeping our mental health in check is to make sure we’re also maintaining social connectivity. Many studies have shown that having human connections with others helps us to have a better handle on things like stress, anxiety and depression, and make us much more emotionally resilient. Furthermore, studies have also shown social connectivity to reduce high-risk behaviour, such as drug and/or alcohol abuse, smoking, poor nutrition, and decreased physical activity – in addition to boosting our sense of belonging, security, and self-esteem. If you’re someone who’s shy, the idea of having a large number of people within your social network can be terrifying – and that’s okay too. It’s not so much about quantity as it is about quality and making sure you have a decent support system around you if needed. Whether it’s friends, family members or simple acquaintances, human connections can be helpful when you need to seek out advice, want to bounce ideas off each other, or catch up on each other’s day to day lives. If you’re someone wanting to increase the number of human connections that you have, there are a number of ways that you can do this too. For example, by joining a fun group or organization that you think you might be interested in, or simply by starting up a conversation with someone new, like a neighbour or co-worker.
Unfortunately, not all relationships are positive ones, as there are also instances where they can be toxic and take a toll on your mental health, causing things like stress, anxiety, depression, and other medical problems. In fact, one long-term study that was conducted over 12 years showed that, along with impacting mental health, toxic relationships also had a negative effect on heart health.
Toxic relationships can come in a variety of forms. You can have toxic friendships, have a toxic relationship with certain family members (such as siblings, parents, and children), and even have toxic coworkers. While we shouldn’t expect the relationships that we have with people to be blissful all the time, it’s important to ensure that those relationships are healthy and without significant conflict. In many cases, we aren’t even always immediately aware that the relationships we find ourselves in are toxic at all – and there are some important questions that you should ask yourself in order to determine that. For example, do your relationships leave you feeling content and energized, or unfulfilled and fatigued? When you spend time with the people in your life, do you feel better or worse about yourself? Do the people in your lives make you feel physically and emotionally safe, or do you feel threatened or in danger whenever you’re around them? Is there an equal amount of compromise with your relationships or do you find that you’re giving more while they’re giving less? Do your relationships feel calm or are they full of drama and angst? Do you find yourself having to change your ways to make the people in your life happy? If the people in your life are toxic for you, then those relationships are characterized by feelings of insecurity, control, self-centeredness, abuse of power, dishonesty and distrust, demeaning comments, jealousy, and abuse of power. However, if he relationships you have are healthy, they are characterized by feelings of security and safety, freedom, listening, and compassion.
If you start to come to the realization that certain relationships aren’t as fulfilling to you in the ways that they need to be, you need to do what you can to find relationships that are. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, you need to remind yourself that you are worthy of having positive people around you instead of having negativity swirl around you. The more negativity you have in your life, the more depleted you will feel, and the larger the toll will be on your own mental wellbeing and have long-term psychological effects. If you’re unable to change someone’s toxic behaviour by having a discussion with them, then you may need to consider separating yourself from them – either permanently or temporarily. If you’re dating, married, or are in a common-law relationship with someone, then this may mean having to consider separation or divorce. For relationships between parents and children, it may mean having to set more rules. For coworkers, it may also mean having to distance yourself. For friendships, it may mean having to sit down to discuss your concerns as well as set boundaries.