The Christmas holidays inevitably conjure up intense feelings; if we’re very fortunate they’ll all be from cherished memories – but this poignant time of year can also bring up heartbreak, grief, and any number of painful emotions. For that reason, it’s a great time to take stock and audit your wellbeing, and an important but oft overlooked aspect is how you may be able to improve your social health.
Never are your personal circumstances more apparent in this regard, than during the festivities. Invites may come in thick and fast, the result being an overwhelming number of social events to attend… Or they may not. Both scenarios can leave us feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to rectify the situation, and the first is to know that you hold all the power to improve your circumstances. If you’re not happy, then it’s your responsibility to change things until you are – you absolutely have that control! But how?
Improve Your Social Health Today With These 8 Tips:
1. Be the Friend You Want to Have
Having a variety of friends is important – no single person can meet every need we have. That’s why we have Jane to share school pick-ups with, Ellie to have a political discussion with, Anita to join us in putting the world to rights, and Lisa to go partying with.
But if you ever find yourself feeling that there’s something missing from your life then it might be that one of your needs is not currently being met.
Take the time to consider what you’d love in your friendship group, and be sure to provide that to the people you care about. You might just be surprised about how, if you try offering your shoulder to the friend you usually don’t share more than a quick and superficial coffee with, the dynamic shifts and changes for the better.
2. Make Plans Consciously
If you regularly make plans because you want to catch up with a friend, and then find yourself dreading getting together, give careful consideration to why that is.
It may be that you’ve fallen into a routine of meeting in a place you’re uncomfortable with or isn’t conducive to the type of relationship you have or would like to have. For example, some friendships do better in a buzzy atmosphere that puts minimal pressure on conversation, while others require the investment of a heart to heart which can’t take place somewhere too noisy!
Consciously changing up the environment can have a positive impact on the experience you have with your pal.
If you want something to be different, you have to do something differently.
3. Get Comfortable With Saying No
Sometimes, it’s our personal situation that makes social plans difficult. If you’re feeling anxious about something at work or home, or if you simply need a few quiet days/nights at home, to recharge or reconnect with your loved ones – that’s allowed!
Rather than feeling obligated, give yourself permission to decline invitations you wish didn’t have to accept. It’s easy to forget, but that is an option. Far better to take a rain check and take care of your mental health so that when you do get together with your friend, it’s for quality time.
4. Play Fair
Having friends to both lean on and offer support to allows us to establish and reinforce the deep bonds which are the foundations of a special alliance. A healthy friendship naturally ebbs and flows, with you each giving and receiving that vital support when required.
But sometimes circumstances dictate that one person takes on the role of confidant to the detriment of their own emotional health, resulting in feeling drained at the end of every catch up. This may merely be due to a difficult period in our or our friend’s life, but even when it’s inevitable and there’s no resentment from either side, it can leave the confidant feeling depleted.
If you recognise this behaviour as your own, take steps to rectify it before you hurt your friendship, perhaps by looking to others to share the load, such as a parent or sibling, or a different friend.
While it’s easy to fall into the pattern of oversharing, it may not be sustainable for your friendship; and if your friend loves you, chances are they’ll never tell you how it makes them feel. Try suggesting that you each spend five minutes getting your woes off your chest – and then complaining is banned in place of positivity for the rest of your time together.
Couch it as a personal goal so you can buoy each other up and collectively improve your social health.
And while you’re at it, consider how to genuinely increase your own positivity and wellbeing. Journaling can be a very cathartic and powerful process, and even wearing positive messages, such as on your clothing or an item of jewellery, can help to reinforce the changes you want to make.
5. Stand Up For Yourself
On the other hand, friendship can sometimes fall into a negative pattern that’s not our own doing. When this happens it can feel spectacularly painful, and very bewildering.
You don’t need to be able to identify single incidents as being unacceptable to know that something isn’t right. Essentially, if it doesn’t feel good, then it’s probably not. And it’s a subtle but insidious manner which is most damaging to our wellbeing (especially true in any relationship where gaslighting takes place).
This is not a healthy situation – but if you’ve had a good friendship before then it may be possible to return to the reciprocal and positive dynamic you previously had.
If you don’t feel confident in being direct about how you feel, remember this idiom:
You can’t control other people; but you can control the way you respond to them.
In order to change their actions, you need to change your reactions, in whichever way you’re comfortable doing. And if you don’t feel able, then it may time to question your friendship.
6. Stand Up for Others!
In terms of your emotional wellbeing, equally important as standing up for yourself, is standing up for others; else you risk undermining your own values, and that can be damaging to your sense of integrity.
If you notice a prejudiced narrative about minority groups in any social interactions you have, whether at home, with a friend, an acquaintance, or the postman – try to speak up. If previously you’ve laughed at jokes made by narrow-minded individuals to keep the peace – choose to stop. If you don’t have the confidence to question them, you can still make an impression by refusing to join in.
This is something we should all being making efforts with, as it’s only with a joint effort that widespread, meaningful change can occur.
Likewise, educate yourself on how to teach and instil these desirable values and traits in your children.
7. Stand Up For Causes You Believe In
Likewise, if there’s an issue you feel passionately about, why not make small changes to support the movement, whether it be equality, sustainability, or local politics?
Your investment can take any form you’re able to offer, and can be as big or as small as your current situation allows. Taking a keen interest in a matter that stirs you and being actively involved in efforts to create positive change can be wonderful for the soul.
Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change.
– Barbara Mikulski
8. Conduct a Relationship Audit
Sometimes, despite genuine efforts to make improvements to a friendship – including adapting your own behaviour where necessary! – the vibe just doesn’t feel good anymore.
Oddly, while it’s entirely acceptable to leave a romantic relationship which no longer makes us happy, we tend not to do this with friendships or relatives. But we can!
If somebody who professes to care about you refuses to listen when you explain that something is making you unhappy, then that’s not a healthy relationship to maintain – and you’re allowed to leave.
This is a big decision, and will likely take some considerable time for you to arrive at. But if you can objectively say that a relationship is no longer easy or joyful, then you have to ask yourself why you remain in that situation.
Once you’ve made up your mind, it doesn’t have to be a big, dramatic exit from their life. In fact, that’s probably the worst way to do it. For minimal drama, the best way is to make the decision which best supports your mental, emotional, and social wellbeing – and quietly slip away:
- Remain friendly, but stop making plans to meet;
- Respond to messages, but don’t probe or invite continued communication;
- Smile and say ‘hey’, but don’t stop to chat.
Improving Your Social Health is Within Your Control!
It can sometimes be difficult to take a step back and see what we can do differently to improve our own situation, but often a simple change of mindset and approach can be all it takes.
Likewise, if you have an acquaintance in your life who leaves you feeling fabulous when you bump into them, why not extend an invitation for a coffee or some other low pressure activity?
Making new friends as an adult can be really tough, especially for introverts – but putting yourself out there can also reap wonderful rewards! Chances are that reaching out to somebody who you click with will be appreciated, and it may just lead to a blossoming new friendship.
Choosing to take control of a social rut is empowering, and may just shift your social wellbeing into a healthier and more fulfilling direction.
If you’ve not recently taken the time to improve your social health, why not make it your goal for the new year?