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4 Key Connections For Wellbeing And Resilience

Written by: Misty Nodine, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

It is no surprise that we as humans crave connection. It is a part of our nature. The right connections help us to be resilient, to feel more whole, to step past our anxieties, and to be psychologically healthier.

Have you noticed how going out in nature – seeing the trees and sky, the mountains and waters – lifts your spirit? Do you remember a special person that just listened to you and accepted you just the way you are –and how comfortable you were when you were with them? Connection gives us a sense of well-being and belonging, a reserve of strength, and an understanding that we are not walking through our struggles alone.


Difficult, stressful, and traumatizing experiences tend to lead us to disconnect. We all have a certain amount of difficulty, stress, and trauma. The friction between our disconnecting behaviors and desires for connection can lead to anger, frustration, anxiety, and other unhealthy mental states. Furthermore, our unhealthy mental states are contagious, spreading to those people around us.


Connection is an antidote to all of these bad feelings and mental states. When I am struggling, or am with someone who is hurting, anxious, and/or emotionally fragile, my go-to approach is to work on connecting. In this article, I articulate four different types of connection and give some tips on how to foster them in your own life and the lives of others. My four key connection types are:

  1. Connection with the current time, place, and situation.

  2. Connection with yourself.

  3. Connection with a higher power / Connect with God.

  4. Connection with people.


Connecting with the current time, place, and situation


One of the effects of trauma is that you can dissociate from the environment around you. For example, PTSD flashbacks move a person’s mind back into the time and place of the trauma (‘trauma time’). This fracturing disconnects their emotional state from the current time, place, and situation. It places their mind back into the emotions, experiences, and negative thought patterns of the time of the trauma. Their current actions and reactions become informed by past traumatizing experiences and not by the present situation.


Often, when your mind is stuck in a different time and place from your body, your body is in a much safer setting than your mind. In these situations, bringing your mind back to the place and time where your body is will increase your peace, stability, and sense of safety. This process is called ‘grounding’. The literature is filled with ways to ground yourself and connect back to the current time and place – interestingly many of them involve engaging your senses. Here are three of my favorites:

  • Take a walk outside. Breathe the fresh air. While you are walking, observe what is around you. What do you see? Hear? Feel? Smell? It especially helps to look at the little things. I find bird-watching while walking to be especially effective.

  • Stand like a tree and sway in the wind. Stand with your feet shoulder length apart, arms at your sides. Imagine the wind and sway gently back and forth. Imagine your feet rooted into the ground so you cannot fall. This process reorients your body and sense of self, and consequently increases your feeling of safety.

  • Use the 5-4-3-2-1 method. You have five senses. Working backward from 5, you use your senses to list things in the world around you. For example, list 5 things you see, then 4 things you hear, then 3 things you can touch, then 2 things you can smell, and finally 1 thing you can taste. The 5-4-3-2-1 method engages not only your senses, but also the linguistic part of your brain. Both are effective in bringing you more into the here and now.


Regularly practicing these sorts of grounding exercises helps build both the ability to regulate anxiety, and to be resilient in the face of challenges.


Connecting with yourself


Connecting with yourself involves being aware of yourself – your own body, your own emotions, and thoughts, your own needs, and concerns.


Connecting with the self begins with awareness of your own body through the sense of interoception. Interoception relates to the perception of the internal state of your body. For example, when you are hungry, interoception lets your brain know that you need to eat something. When you are frightened, your muscles may tense and your heart may start beating faster – this physiological response of fear is entirely subconscious. Interoception allows you to observe the reaction and then understand what it means.


Interoception is key in identifying your emotions and understanding how you experience emotions. Your mind observes emotions by perceiving a particular way your body feels. Is your jaw tense or relaxed? Is your breathing deep or shallow? Is your heart beating quickly or slowly? Once you can match your emotions with your physical sensations, then you can identify the situations in which you experience that emotion. Once you can identify your emotion in a situation, then you can start to work on your reactions and behaviors.


In general, interoception allows you to observe, listen to and understand your body and emotions, rather than being overcome by them.


Building and sharpening your sense of interoception can be challenging. If you have a weak sense of interoception, this may be related to some traumatic experience in the past. So proceed with caution! Nonetheless, healing comes through reconnecting with your body. Some exercises that help you improve your interoception include:

  • Learn how to observe your breathing and pulse rate. For breathing, note how fast and how deeply you are breathing. Observe your breathing and pulse rate at different times and in different situations. Note that your heart rate speeds up when you inhale and slows down when you exhale. Inhaling deeply stimulates your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. Exhaling slowly stimulates your parasympathetic (calm and composed) nervous system.

  • Learn how to regulate your emotions through your breathing. Something like breathing in for a count of four and out more slowly for a count of eight for a bit can help calm you, because the long exhale allows your parasympathetic nervous system to communicate to your brain (and therefore to your body) that you are safe.

  • Do yoga. Yoga poses require you to focus on your body, your balance, and your breathing. Therefore practicing yoga directly strengthens your sense of interoception.


For ongoing resilience and connection with yourself, it helps to do things like calming breathing exercises or yoga on a regular basis. Regular practice helps the brain remain in a calm, safe, connected state and facilitates a return to that state when the brain and body do become disconnected.


Connecting with a higher pinterceptionower / Connecting with God


This type of connection enables you to see yourself as a part of something bigger than yourself, or as a person playing a smaller part in a bigger story. The higher power you try to connect with is a personal choice – perhaps Mother Earth or the forces of nature or a God you put your trust and faith in.


Feeling connected to a higher power and feeling part of a bigger story both increase resilience in multiple ways. Feeling connected with a higher power gives you a place of belonging and a relationship that is stable. Feeling part of a bigger story gives you a purpose in life. It also helps you weather the struggles, adversities, and disappointments in life by setting them in the context of a broader picture.


Some ways to connect to a higher power include:

  • Go somewhere where you can see for a very long distance. For instance, look out at the sky, stars, oceans, deserts, mountains, or forests. Look at their vastness. Try to wrap your brain around the largeness of them. Visualize yourself as a part of that huge picture.

  • Talk to your higher power. Have a running conversation. Be real about your joys and your struggles, your needs, and what you are thankful for. Do this with the expectation that you are being listened to and heard, but not with the expectation that your higher power will somehow give you everything you want.

  • Cultivate observing and listening. Look at others, and try to see your higher power through their experiences. Recognizing the dignity this higher power or purpose bestows on each of us is especially helpful when you find people who look at the world from different angles. Let your worldview be impacted by assuming that most everyone is truly trying to do the best they can, and that when someone sees things differently or acts differently from you that does not mean that they are in any way inferior. See each person as reflecting your higher power in their own unique ways.


Connecting with People


Even the most introverted introvert needs some connection to stay healthy and resilient. In many ways, we are an interdependent society. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We all need help sometimes.


When a person is hurting, the natural response often is to disconnect from people and withdraw. However, the effects of this disconnection are deep and painful. A person can feel misunderstood when there is nobody who is listening to what they have to say. A person can feel helpless when there is nobody who can work with them when they get stuck. A person can feel rejected when there is nobody who accepts them as they are.

Connecting with people can be challenging because the vulnerability of relationships can open you up to being hurt by individuals who may be mean, self-centered, or desperate for connection themselves. Yet, when people accept you and care for you as you are, this heals you because it gives you tangible feedback that you are a person who can be accepted and cared for. This builds resilience because others can provide a listening ear, perspective, and support.


There are many different ways to connect with people. What is important is to work on forming connections that are healthy. Because connections can be either healthy or damaging, it is important to be able to distinguish and foster healthy relationships while pruning unhealthy relationships. A healthy relationship can be distinguished by these key indicators:

  • The relationship is mutually supportive.

  • Both of you have healthy expectations from the relationship. Neither of you expects more from the other person than the other person is prepared to give. You both communicate your expectations clearly. You reflect together upon how realistic those expectations may be. You re-evaluate your expectations as the relationship evolves over time.

  • Neither of you is trying to ‘fix’ the other, or make the other person change to ‘fit in’. You both practice radical acceptance; each individual is loved as they are.

  • Both of you can set and adjust the boundaries of your friendship and be comfortable that the other person will honor them.

  • When there is conflict, you take a collaborative approach to reconciling your differences, ensuring that you both respect each others’ concerns. Ruptures within relationships will occur. The measure of a relationship is not that these are absent, but how you go about repairing them.

Connection is Key


We all have a yearning to be connected. Connection helps us feel like we belong, gives us a reserve of mental and emotional strength to face the challenges of life, gives us extra resources to face adversities, and helps us to truly understand that we are not walking through our struggles alone.


Yet, we also all have unpleasant experiences, difficult relationships, and traumatic situations that disconnect us in many different ways. Trauma can disconnect us from the current time, place, and situation and drag us back into the times at which traumatic experiences occurred. Being isolated from other people impacts our sense of belonging, which in turn impacts our feelings of safety and security.


In this article, we explored four different types of connections that are key to our well-being and resilience:

  • Connection with the current time, place, and situation,

  • Connection with yourself,

  • Connection with a higher power / God, and

  • Connection with people.

We also provided tips and exercises to help us reconnect when we are disconnected and to maintain our sense of connectedness when we are connected.


As we foster these connections in ourselves and in each other, we support each others’ well-being and resilience. Are you feeling disconnected? Practice some of the ways to connect suggested in this article. Do you know people who are disconnected? Consider ways to help them connect as well. As humans, we do best when we are connected.

I coach businesses and families on relationships, with a focus on neurodiversity. Follow me on my website, Facebook, and Medium. You can contact me for coaching here.


 

Misty Nodine, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Misty Nodine’s coaching and blogging practices focus on communication, acceptance and belonging. They are guided by her hard-earned life lessons in crossing various kinds of cultural barriers, and in accepting and valuing each others’ differences and strengths. Misty has always been a bit different herself. She has spent time in many countries whose culture differed significantly from her own. She was a computer scientist for decades – and as an older female was almost always the oddball in her group. These experiences drive her passion for helping others learn to value people who are under-utilized and under-appreciated due to difficulties with communication, empathy, and inclusion.

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