This time of year can be quite lonely for some people, and I touched upon this in an earlier Winter Survival Guide post about not facing loneliness alone.
One might be faced with the conundrum of whether to retreat from the social aspects of this season for fear that it will make you feel more out of place and alone, or whether to step out of your comfort zone to embrace potential new opportunities.
Others might be looking forward to all of the chances to connect with friends old and new.
I’ve been on both sides now. I know what it is like to feel alone, lonely and with few friends, or to be struggling with anxiety and while wanting to be and feel part of something, at the same time wanting to retreat from the overwhelming social pressures that can get too much for a friendly yet sometimes introverted soul. I also have more recently enjoyed the blessings of genuine friendships including a wide range of friends from work colleagues, people I’ve met through other friends, and people I’ve met through Church.
Wherever you find yourself on the social spectrum at this point in time, I’d like to encourage you that this time of year may be a good one for you to take a step forward and to make some positive connections.
At the weekend I attended my local church for a Remembrance Sunday service and although this is the place I usually go to worship, I know that it is very welcoming to anyone and everyone to come in. Even if you’re not a church goer, or don’t have any particular faith, you may feel comfort and connection in going along to an event or service depending on what you are comfortable with and hopefully meeting genuine, gentle, kind, caring and loving people. At this time of year there is sure to be much you can get involved in.
For example, my church has been involved with a Christmas ‘shoebox appeal’, (Samaritan’s Purse appeal) where individuals fill up decorative shoeboxes with toys, stationery and such like for children across the world who otherwise wouldn’t get gifts at Christmas, along with the cost of postage. The church is a collection point for people to drop off their boxes, and then they will coordinate with the charity to fly these shoeboxes to different countries across the world to bring love, joy and gifts to children who might not receive anything. We pray for the children and although it is a Christian appeal, it is open to anyone and everyone to get involved and contribute. My friend at work (who is an atheist) lovingly filled up a box and I took her contribution to church. Other people got together at the church on a Saturday to decorate some of the shoeboxes and to help pack them up. Maybe something like this, no matter what your beliefs are or are not, is a chance for you to get involved with your local community, meet caring people and even if just for an afternoon, build up a sense of connection.
My church is also hosting things like a quiz night, crafts afternoons, and a community choir, in addition to the various services which visitors may feel more comfortable attending around Remembrance Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year.
If you prefer something that isn’t faith based there are also many other things you can get involved in such as helping out at a homeless shelter (although in my city many have a Christian foundation), soup kitchen, joining a team to take hot food to homeless people, or you could attend live music, craft workshops and a host of other events that will bound to be proliferating around this time of the year.
It may help you to feel more connected, even if just for a little while, if you are facing a lonely season, and even if you are not, it may be a wonderful opportunity to make new connections and participate in some new and exciting experiences.
We all need each other, and this time of year can often make it easier to reach out so why not take that step?
If you are already well connected, and perhaps involved in for example a Church, community centre or charity, why not reach out to those who may need some support, invite people in, and show some kindness and community spirit. Create activities that are accessible for all and that will help people feel more involved and connected no matter where they are coming from.
We need to keep growing and changing and improving in order to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. Otherwise, the tendency is to stagnate, to get ‘stuck in a rut’, and become bored, apathetic or disillusioned with our lives. To be alive is an incredible gift, can we really afford to take it for granted by just trundling through our days? I don’t think anyone of us wants to do that.
Goal setting, and taking on new challenges is a good way to move onwards and upwards and helps us to live more intentionally, more fully and deeply. However, it can be quite daunting to consider setting goals, we might think we need to do ‘big’ things, make grand gestures, take great leaps forward. Yet small goals can also play an important part in rekindling our curiosity, our creativity and ‘spark’. These small goals can be so small that we don’t even consider them anything out of the ordinary, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a place in engaging our minds, our interest and our skills. By giving ourselves the chance to ‘step up’ and step forwards, without the pressure of having to do any grand things, we give ourselves the permission to set in motion the momentum that will continue to take us forwards. One small goal accomplished might well spark the motivation and inspiration to take on something new until those wonderful, creative, inspiring and well lived moments add up to an engaging and well lived, inspiring life. These little actions don’t even need to be something new, we can do things we’ve done before, but that we’ve drifted from, and so bring back a fresh dose of that creativity and engagement with our own lives.
So what might be on your ‘list’ for intentionally setting a small goal? And how might these things add up to other opportunities and new or deepening connections with other people?
I’m going to give it a go to come up with something for myself just now, and hopefully spark some inspiration for us both. Happy planning! 🙂
Go to see a fireworks display with a friend (already in the diary! 🙂 ).
Finish listening to the audio book I started.
Catch up with friends over dinner, and get to know new people that my friends invite.
I recently went to a pottery painting place and told my friends about it. One of my friends wants to go with me, and to bring a friend along who I don’t really know but have met once, a person who is very creative but in different ways from me. Who knows what opportunities of a happy, relaxing time with good conversation, creativity and inspiration, with potentially the seeds of a new friendship, might come our ways?
Plan some small craft projects and make personalised gifts for friends.
Write a new blog post.
Print out photographs from this year to make an album of memories to look back on, and maybe do some creative things with them like scrapbooking, personalised Christmas photo gifts for friends, or putting them on my wall to make me smile when I remember the good times.
Plan or get involved with a charitable event for Christmas such as the Christmas ‘shoe box’ appeals, food ‘advent calendars’ to collect items each day for homeless people or others in need.
Write a thank you card and send it to someone to show that they are appreciated.
Learn a new song on the violin.
Try out another new type of craft.
Do a jigsaw puzzle.
Arrange a ‘games night’ and bring some friends together for a relaxed and cosy evening, which might give an opportunity to invite people who don’t yet know each other but who might ‘gel’ as friends and extend our friendship group, potentially leading to new fun times and adventures in the future. All of our friendships had to start somewhere, right?
Tidy a small area of that room I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Maybe this will lead to a bigger home project in due course, or lots of little efforts adding up over time can lead to decluttering, reorganising and refreshing that ‘problem space’ or area in the home.
Make time to read that book that I’ve somehow forgotten about.
Have 15 minutes of creative writing time.
Have a ‘colouring in’, arts and crafts afternoon.
Learn a new recipe.
Cook something to share with a friend at work.
Find out about a topic that I don’t know too much about at the moment and educate myself in new things.
Set aside time to exercise.
Set aside time to read some of the amazing blog posts from other bloggers out there! 🙂
Plan a ‘random act of kindness’ for someone.
Get creative with expressions of gratitude. Journal, scrapbook, write out letters, prayers, or draw a ‘gratitude tree’ and fill in new ‘leaves’ every time I want to write down something I’m thankful for and appreciative of.
Think of 5 people I want to encourage and / or compliment and make the time and effort to sincerely encourage them.
Have a film night by myself.
Go out for lunch with a friend and catch up.
Think of things I’d like to do as Christmas approaches.
Plan out an outfit for work.
Visit someone I haven’t seen for a while.
Start taking a small notebook around with me to ‘doodle’ in, draw and write down inspiring thoughts and ideas, or interesting observations.
Have a ‘musical’ afternoon with other friends who play instruments.
So there are a few things off the top of my head to help get us started. The lovely thing with little goals is that they take the pressure off us from feeling we need to take great big steps or even leaps forwards in our lives in order to make a positive change. They also, by nature being something more attainable and achievable that we can fit into our everyday lives and also include other people in, can lead to the introduction of new and special elements into our lives. For example, by trying out something new in doing the pottery painting earlier this month (which is reasonably priced and affordable), I have ignited interest with friends, and this could lead to a regular creative part of our lives where maybe once a month or every couple of months we can get together at this pottery place and be creative, chat, and bring along friends who the others may not yet know, thereby increasing and deepening our connections and bringing value to all of our lives.
Who knows what amazing things can result from the ‘smallest’ of actions, or the littlest of goals set and acted upon? 🙂
So over to you….what little goal are you going to aim for?
I want you to feel, no matter who you are or where you are in life, that in visiting my blog, you will find encouragement and hope.
It is the final day of Mental Health Awareness Week today in the UK…but let’s keep the discussion going.
Today, I want to encourage you by talking about living life in an increasingly digital world. As human beings, we are created for connection. We all need healthy relationships and connections, but as each and everyone of us know and have experienced to varying degrees, we live in a broken world and a fractured society, where the very relationships that are supposed to bring health and wellbeing and add something wholesome to our lives can actually be destructive, hurtful and a cause of great emotional, mental and even physical distress.
We live in an increasingly ‘connected’ world. People are constantly ‘engaged’ with some form of communication: look around you and you’re bound to see someone, even if that someone is yourself alone in a room, ‘plugged in’ to a laptop, a phone, a device of some sort, and chances are you’re not simply engaged in researching a topic. People are constantly looking for connection, validation, to be ‘liked’, for our lives to be considered worthwhile, important, ‘enough’.
And yet, the sad thing is, family members, friends, colleagues, strangers can be sitting side by side, seemingly ‘communicating’ with somebody online, and yet ignoring the real life human interaction available to them, while scrolling through pictures of other people’s filtered lives and feeling none the better for it.
I think it was Gretchen Rubin, author of ‘The Happiness Project’ who said that technology is a good servant, but a bad master. How true! It is great to be able to communicate with friends and loved ones across the world, in other towns, and to learn new things, to grow and develop and be encouraged, and build helpful connections in our shared humanity, and link in with people of similar mindsets and interests. But our engagement with technology has its place.
I am seeking to be more aware of how I use technology in line with my core values, and one thing I feel strongly about is that I want to use my experiences to help other people.
Friend, do you not notice a disconnect in your life, when you are overly ‘connected’ online? Are you aware of what impact the constant stream of auditory and visual information is having on you and your mental health?
In any healthy relationship, boundaries are gradually established for the good of both parties. Let’s think through the boundaries we are setting with ourselves in our relationship with technology and the online world.
A good place to start is to do some soul searching, away from the computer or internet, and get in touch with what is important to you in your life, your core values, your sense of purpose, and what connection means to you.
Personally, as a Christian, before coming to know the Lord Jesus, I often felt utterly alone in the world. I’m of the ‘Millenial’ generation, and probably in the last age group to remember growing up without technology. Some kids in secondary / high school had phones, but all the phones were capable of was phone calls and texts, and it was only a few people who had them. As a teenager, I wanted to question and swim against the tide of society – I never wanted to go out and get drunk or mindlessly do things many peers wanted to do – I wanted to find God, to be spiritual, to be kind to nature, to become a writer, to travel, to find my purpose on a deep level and to put something valuable into the world, to make a change, to advocate for human rights, and animal rights….possibly as many teenagers in one way or another still do. But I was resistant to technology, and how it seemed to be ‘creeping up’ on society, yes, it was good to use the internet on my parent’s home desktop PC, but I refused to get a mobile phone until I literally was compelled to by my mother when I was aged 20, and even then I got an old school basic model that probably now belongs in a museum, and all it was capable of doing was calls and texts….it was really more for my mother’s peace of mind than something I desired. I floated my way walking in parks and near rivers near my beautiful university, studying English Literature, Politics, Gender Studies, Human Rights, International Development, and longing, dreaming of being a writer, and pouring out my heart and thoughts through the written world – ‘old school’ style using actual pen and paper 🙂
Yet despite my daydreaming, my heart was broken, and I was a fragile, fractured little bird who had been tossed by tempest and not comforted. My inner pain was great and unseen to the world, and before knowing The Lord Jesus I felt deeply alone inside despite having people around me. I do think however we were more ‘connected’ growing up without obsessing with our phones and having them only as a means of communication to let people know where we were or for emergencies. Since becoming a Christian, I have despite painful years of healing and various challenges, and sometimes spells of loneliness, never actually been Alone, and never felt alone in the same way as I once did. I believe the deepest need of the human soul is love and connection – with the One Who Created us. Yet, I digress, this is not a sermon, and is not just for believers, it is a post for everyone.
What I want you to be aware of is *why* you are seeking connection from technology, and that you need to establish boundaries with it. There was a time when I realised I needed to set boundaries for the sake of my mental and emotional wellbeing because I was encountering several posts from friends about their relationships, marriages and babies, or even travel and other significant life events….and it was getting me down….feelings that were there already were exacerbated by the ‘comparison trap’ …. I have no doubt that you also face this in your online experience even if the things you are drawn to compare with are different from those I mentioned….maybe they include body image, health, fitness, life goals and such like.
So get to know yourself, your values, how your use of technology either lines up with them or not, and what your personal mental health struggles might be. Set some boundaries so that you already have in mind how using technology will be a positive and healthy experience to you and don’t like we all too often do, just get drawn into the next click or ‘conversation’ / debate.
2. Strike a Balance
While there can be many benefits to our mental health in using technology – for there is a whole world out there where we can find support, information, shared experiences, helpful resources, friendships, inspiration, new opportunities, passions and projects – there can also be many ways in which engaging with technology can cause us mental and emotional distress and can cause us to disengage with real life and human connections, and even find ourselves in a disconnect with ourselves.
Try to use technology purposefully and know what your purpose is before you ‘power up’ as it were. That will give you a sense of satisfaction and you will have more control over the effects on your mental health if you do. Know when it is time to switch off, and to connect in the analogue world. Find out how it feels to walk in the rain, or barefoot through the grass…without feeling the need to document it or share it with anyone else, unless perhaps the someone else is someone you are connecting with in that moment and shared experience. Walk outside and experience the fresh and vibrant colours and life and sounds around you – have a time and space for capturing that whether on film or photo, but then also make time to leave those things at home, or in your pocket, and simply LIVE IT. It will be so good for your soul, your mental health and your emotional wellbeing and sense of connection with your own life. Too often we feel rushed and hurried and bombarded with information, that we can be left feeling lonely, isolated and as if we are watching our lives go by rather than living them, when we face this disconnect. Real life relationships are where real connection is found, even if that relationship is a solitary one with yourself thinking, reading, or reaching out to God in prayer. Relationships take time, work, attention and commitment, so put the phone down and realise that what is before you is so precious, and not everyone needs to know every detail of what is sacred to you. Don’t let your real life relationships and your mental health crumble because of being overly ‘connected’ or merely plugged in to the online world. Savour what it is to be human, to be present in the moment and to be with the people you love, or build upon the relationships you find challenging without the help of a screen to do so all the time.
3. When you are online, seek out the positive
Your mental wellbeing *can* benefit from your online connections. Hopefully someone somewhere might have benefitted from reading this post. I do hope so. I see other people like me who have gone through various challenges to their mental wellbeing, who use their online presence to reach out to and connect with other people, and who use their experiences and what they have learned to help others who might be facing similar challenges in life. You have a wealth of experience at your fingertips, and in your heart. Seek to benefit from positive role models, and add something positive to help someone else too. Being purposeful and thoughtful in our use of technology is sure to help our mental health as well as setting boundaries and knowing when to take a break.
I believe that for many of us, writing is an expression of our soul. It is also a gift that is not only a means of communication, but of deep and significant connection. When you or I write, and share, we also receive.
This is my first ever day blogging on WordPress. I have blogged occasionally before, some years ago, but for some serendipitous reason unknown to me, I was not able to make the connections of giving and receiving that I seem to have encountered on my first day blogging here.
Perhaps when something is fresh and novel it is easier to be captivated by what we have discovered than when it becomes familiar and commonplace. My first impression of blogging on WordPress is how quickly it facilitates connection, or at least it seems to me that it does.
As human beings making our individual and shared journeys and discoveries through life, we are so much more enriched by what we learn and discover with each other.
I feel as if I have opened a window to a new world, and I can see glimpses of the world that I have never seen before.
‘What a difference a day makes’, say the words of a song…’and the difference is you’.
You, each of you that I have connected with already, in some small way – whether we have read, liked or followed each others posts, enjoyed an as yet unseen part of the world through a photograph, or expressed appreciation in a comment – you have opened up a window to me of a world I had not seen before, and I am grateful. And so I take to flight on this new journey, excited as to what I will find, and what we may share.
As I said, I am new to this world of blogging, and I may make mistakes along the way, so I welcome any advice and input, and look forward to connecting with you all.
Thanks for stopping by, and taking the time to read this 🙂