Holidays are a time of gift giving. Remember to give yourself an especially important gift: the “just right” amount of connection with others. Caregiving is hard work. Take care of yourself. If you don’t treat yourself well during the Holidays, when will you?
Give yourself the gift of connection. I believe that there are five keys to a happy life:
1) having a sense of purpose
2) feeling spirituality
3) doing things that you enjoy
4) taking care of your body AND
5) connecting with other people.
Think of these as your daily emotional vitamins. And like other vitamins, it’s important to get the right dose.
How Much Connection do You Need?
People are different. Some people enjoy having many interactions in a day. Others are happiest connecting less often, with lots of quiet time in between. There have been seasons where I was so busy, seeing many people every day, that all I wanted was peace and quiet. These days things are not as hectic. For me, now, having one enjoyable connection each day is about right. It could be a good meeting at work or a nice chat with a friend — it doesn’t matter. But I notice that when I don’t have that one touch of human contact, my day feels a little bit “less.” The point is that everyone is different, so you need to figure out how much social interaction is right for you. Then -- and this is the hard part -- you need to commit to making that happen for yourself, just like you would for other self-care routines like diet and exercise.
Putting in the Work
We’re lucky if we have some friends where the relationship comes easily. When you see that person, it’s like an instant connection. But most of the time, that’s not how it goes. Most relationships take a bit of work. You have to reach out, make plans, and invest some time and energy. But when you do, it’s worth it.
Relationships are a bit like exercise. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. But afterwards, you feel really good. That’s when you say to yourself, “I’m so glad I did that.”
On the flip side, it can also take a lot of work to set boundaries. You might find that what you actually need is more room to breathe. It takes effort to say “no” when you have too many friends, family commitments, work, and social obligations. This is especially true during the Holidays. But that, too, is worth it. When you give yourself the space you need, you’ll look forward to social engagements and not see them as a chore.
Anyone Can Learn Relationship Skills
Making and maintaining emotional connections can be especially hard for men. Of course, this is a generalization. But it’s still the case that women and girls tend to socialize from an early age. Men are often less skilled at socialization outside of work.
Caregiving can make a person feel isolated. That’s bad. But the good news is that anyone can learn to connect. Start right where you are and give it a try. Success comes with practice.
These days, I make a special effort to reach out to at least one friend each week, and it pays off. About three years ago, I reconnected with my high school best friend, Ken, at our reunion. Even though we hadn’t seen each other in decades, we picked up right where we had left off. Now we’re best buds again -- we’re even planning a trip together! Another friend, Randy, I’ve known for decades. These days we only chat once or twice a year, but it’s enough. He catches me up on his life; I tell him about mine. All we need to stay friends is that mini-connection.
It's Worth It
The take-home message is that, yes, relationships take work, but it’s worth it. By investing an extra bit of effort to reach out and make contact, you’ll reap the benefits many times over. Cultivating these human connections can reduce stress, boost your health, and make you a better caregiver. But more importantly, the right amount of connection will make you happier.
And that’s what matters. Because no -- saying “Happy New Year” doesn’t always mean it’s a happy day. But what it does mean is that you deserve to be happy and have a good life, not just for today, but for the whole year to come. That’s my wish for you.
Social Connection for the Ones You Care for
While you’re investing in your own relationships, you can apply the same advice to the person you’re taking care of. It’s important to know your loved one well. How much social engagement is the right amount? Just like other people, some older people thrive with a lot of interaction. Others find too many visitors exhausting. Find the right balance between social stimulation and peaceful downtime.