How Making and Maintaining Meaningful Connections Enhances Mental Well-being

Written by: Thrishala Gunathunga

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Today’s society is frequently dominated by digital interactions and short-lived relationships. But it is very important for us to have at least one meaningful connection in our lives.

Whether it’s a long talk with a friend, receiving a hug from a loved one, or simply enjoying quality time with family, such a connection has a significant impact on our mental well-being.

Here are a few ways that making and maintaining meaningful connections can enhance mental well-being:

1. Reducing loneliness.

Loneliness is related to a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. However, meaningful connections can reduce loneliness. Having individuals with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings helps to build a support system that minimizes the adverse effects of loneliness. Previous research has also found a negative association between social support and loneliness, indicating that when social support increases, loneliness reduces in individuals (Zhang & Dong, 2022).

2. Improves emotional regulation.

Maintaining meaningful connections ensures that you have a safe environment to express your feelings without the fear of being judged. This will also make you feel understood and supported by others, and it further validates your emotional experiences, making it easier for you to regulate them. Furthermore, you will have the opportunity to learn from the personal experiences of others, like how they managed their life challenges. Such guidance will give you helpful tools to manage your emotions in a better way.

3. Increased self-esteem.

Making and maintaining meaningful connections increases your chances of receiving positive feedback and support from others. Whether it is in the form of praise for accomplishments, or for your personality traits, such things help increase your self-esteem. Furthermore, meaningful connections prevent you from making negative social comparisons. This is because you will always have people around you who will encourage and support you rather than look down on you, thus allowing greater room for personal development.

4. Developing a sense of belonging.

Being part of a group doesn’t merely mean being physically there; it also involves feeling welcomed and being accepted on an emotional level. It is only natural for people to develop a sense of belonging when they are given the chance to express their views and feelings. Therefore, making and maintaining meaningful connections will improve your overall life happiness and mental well-being. A study by Skipper and Fay (2023) found that a sense of belonging predicted greater levels of mental wellness and lower levels of stress in 95 psychology and law students at an English institution. This demonstrates how important it is to feel accepted and respected by others to improve mental well-being.

5.     Lowering stress.

As mentioned earlier, meaningful connections provide a safe environment for expressing feelings and getting support during challenging times. This helps in lowering the impact of stress on mental health. Furthermore, associating with individuals who truly understand and see you on an emotional level causes the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which increases happiness and counteracts the harmful effects of stress on mental health.

6. Improved life expectancy.

Meaningful connections also promote greater general health and life expectancy. This results in a more rewarding and satisfying life, thus improving mental well-being. It also helps people prevent cognitive impairment and minimise their chances of developing disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Past research has also reported that having connections with others improves mood, lowers blood pressure, and reduces mortality (Martino et al., 2017).

Concluding thoughts…

Making and maintaining meaningful connections is essential for enhancing your mental well-being since it has many advantages, including reducing loneliness, developing a sense of belonging, improving emotional regulation capacities, and lowering levels of stress, among many others. No matter how difficult the circumstances may be, don’t forget to seek out meaningful connections – it is not only good for your mental health, but also for your general well-being to live a satisfying life.

Setting Boundaries in the Holiday Season

Written by: Pansiluni Hasanjana Weerawansa

As we transition into the New Year, we tend to reflect on our past and set out resolutions for the New Year. While common resolutions cycle among personal achievements and physical health goals, it’s extremely crucial not to overlook the significance of mental health and well-being as we set out these resolutions.

Let’s dive into setting healthy boundaries for mental health, especially during the holiday season.

First off, they serve as the invisible lines that define the limits of what is acceptable and comfortable for an individual. Setting and maintaining boundaries is a fundamental aspect of self-care. In this busy and fast-growing world where social engagement, familial expectations, work matters, as well as relationships, overlap each other, the urge to establish clear boundaries is profound. In the holiday season, myriads of social gatherings, family events, and meetups can often be emotionally draining. There is often pressure to accept every invitation that comes your way to fulfil everyone’s expectations. Establishing when to say yes and when to decline an invitation politely can help individuals to regulate their stress levels. Without clear boundaries, some of us may feel overcommitted with a busy schedule during the holidays. Learning to say no and setting realistic expectations is an essential part of setting these boundaries.

Boundaries also serve as a shield from emotionally draining and toxic friendships as well as relationships. Whether it’s managing difficult family interactions or balancing time between friend groups, having clear boundaries and prioritising oneself can help keep stress at bay and protect our mental health.

Before setting boundaries, it’s crucial to engage in self-reflection. Understand your own needs, priorities, and limits. What activities bring you joy, and which ones drain your energy? Self-awareness forms the foundation for effective boundary-setting.

We often struggle with learning to say ‘No’. It makes us feel guilty, especially those of us who are people pleasers who struggle heavily with declining invitations, gatherings, helping etc. People pleasers tend to accept every request that comes their way and often feel overcommitted and emotionally drained. Learning to say ‘No’ this season is a powerful and liberating act. It’s okay to decline invitations or requests that don’t align with your priorities or contribute positively to your well-being.

Effective communication is key to setting boundaries. It is a skill essential for maintaining healthy relationships and personal well-being. It involves transparently articulating your needs, expectations, and limits to those in your social and professional circles. The emphasis is on assertive communication, employing “I” statements to express feelings and intentions without assigning blame. Individuals take ownership of their actions by using “I” statements. Clear communication can act as a cornerstone of establishing boundaries that honour individual well-being and help maintain healthy relationships.

Whether it is alone time, a jog, or reading a book, remember to prioritise self-care this season. The New Year can often be exhausting and prioritising self-care allows you to engage in activities that bring you joy and peace.

As we step into the New Year, let us embrace the significance of setting and maintaining boundaries for our mental health. By doing so, we not only protect ourselves from the stressors of the holiday season but also lay the foundation for a healthier and more fulfilling year ahead. Boundaries are not a sign of weakness; rather, they are a powerful tool for self-care, empowering us to steer life’s challenges with resilience and grace. So, let this be the year in which we prioritise our mental well-being by setting boundaries that honour our needs and develop our souls.

7 Reasons Why Going to Therapy is Beneficial

Written by: Thrishala Gunathunga

In today’s hectic world, going to therapy has become a popular option for those seeking to enhance their mental health. However, you should know that therapy isn’t just necessary for those with mental health challenges; it also provides several benefits for people looking to improve their overall well-being. There are different reasons why going to therapy might be beneficial, whether you’re facing specific issues such as exam stress or simply trying to improve your relationship satisfaction. 

So, let us look at 7 reasons why going to therapy is beneficial, and how it may help you feel more fulfilled in life. 

1. Treating mental health challenges 

One of the most important benefits of going to therapy is treating mental health challenges. Therapy can help treat a lot of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more. It provides people with coping strategies and tools to help them enhance their emotional well-being. Major life transitions might also have an impact on our mental health. Whether it is a job loss, the end of a romantic relationship, or the death of a loved one, it is always a good idea to have someone to talk to as you begin your journey towards healing. 

2. A good start for self-exploration 

Therapy promotes self-reflection and awareness. It allows you to dig further into your ideas, feelings, and behaviours, and helps to gain more understanding of yourself. For example, with the help of a therapist, you can find out what causes your stress or anger, or what makes you joyful and at ease. This can lead towards a happy life! Not only that but going to therapy can help you set clear goals because the therapist will guide and motivate you throughout your life path. 

3. Developing good coping strategies 

Coping strategies help people in dealing with stress and unpleasant emotions in their life. However, not all coping techniques are beneficial; there are adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies. Exercising, journaling, talking with a friend, watching your favourite TV show, going for a 10-minute walk are examples of adaptive coping strategies. Anger outbursts, self-harm, drug use, and isolation are all examples of maladaptive coping strategies. So, with the guidance of a therapist, you can learn how to develop good coping strategies in a healthy and safe environment. 

4. Improving communication skills 

Therapy can help you learn how to communicate in a healthy, effective, and positive manner. Being able to properly communicate means that you can successfully manage almost all aspects of your life. Therefore, with the help of a therapist you can learn how to establish healthy relationship boundaries, communicate your wants clearly, and assertively demand the things you want from people. This is especially important for couples because it allows them to build up their communication and conflict resolution skills, allowing them to grow together and overcome hurdles. 

5. Allows for behaviour modification 

Our behaviours, like the thoughts we have, can be extremely damaging, not only to ourselves but also to people around us. They might make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships, think positively, and live a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps you struggle with substance abuse, binge eating, unsafe sexual practices, suspecting your partner for no apparent reason, or self-sabotage. Whatever it is, therapy can help you change the way you behave and make better decisions. 

6. Enhanced productivity 

We sometimes struggle to focus on one thing, whether at school, work, or in any other aspect of our lives. For example, maybe you are not happy with your job and do not want to go to work anymore. Or you can’t stay focused on work for more than 10 minutes! Whatever it is, therapy can help you understand and prioritise what you need to do in order to be productive. Your therapist can help you regain control of your life by making a daily task schedule, breaking down the job into smaller parts, or using more advanced approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 

7. Improves your physical health 

Most of us don’t know this, but there is a close link between mental and physical health. This means that therapy can also improve your physical health. For example, therapy can teach you how to handle stress, which can lead to better sleep, lower blood pressure, and a more powerful immune system. This, in turn, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases and much more! And adopting healthy behaviours, such as exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, and so on, will also greatly improve your physical health. 

You now understand that going to therapy has a lot of benefits. It can help with all aspects of life, not just mental health. Going to therapy, whether for a specific life challenge or simply to grow as a person, may be a transformative experience. Which is why you should give it a try at least once in your life to experience the benefits for yourself. 

Parenting with a Focus on Children’s Mental Health

Written by: Zafra Aswar Ali 

Parenting is a responsibility like no other, combining both joyous and overwhelming experiences. Parents always wish the best for their children intending to raise healthy and happy children. However, certain actions can knowingly or unknowingly be perceived by children incorrectly and detrimentally affect their mental well-being. Therefore, children’s mental health should be given priority like their physical health because both are vital for their overall development process. 

First and foremost, let us look at four widely accepted parenting styles that can impact the mental health of children in various ways. 

1. Authoritarian Style 

This type of parenting is considered unhealthy because children are expected to follow the rules made by their parents without any questioning. For example, if a child is disobedient, he or she is severely punished without any prior communication or explanation. Moreover, they are pressured to do well in their academics and other extracurricular activities and get blamed for the simplest of mistakes without any appropriate guidance. 

Hence, this parenting style is viewed as toxic because, despite getting the child to be obedient, the consequences are often unpleasant. Children who experience that kind of parenting grow up with problems with their self-esteem and the sense of being undervalued which can lead to anxiety and depression. 

2. Authoritative Style 

Even in this parenting style, parents create a set of rules and have high expectations from their children. However, such parents are quite democratic in this regard because children are granted the freedom to voice out their opinions, ask questions, and share how they feel by maintaining a healthy and strong bond with their parents unlike in the authoritative style. Apart from that, these parents guide children with constructive criticism and are much more forgiving when their children make any mistake. 

This parenting style is the most recommended as children from this kind of parenting grow up to be happy and successful with enhanced self-esteem.  

3. Permissive Style 

Parents following this parenting style display a lack of guidance for immoral behaviours and dislike establishing a clear set of rules, while not expecting much from their children. As a result, children may face issues with authority and perform poorly in school. Furthermore, such children are reported to be less happy and encounter difficulties in self-regulation with a risk of developing anxiety and depression. 

On the flip side, parents with this parenting style are comparatively communicative and behave with their children as a friend more than a parent. 

4. Uninvolved Style 

Parents with this parenting style spend little to no time with their children and are less interested in their children’s activities although their basic needs are fulfilled. Thus, such children may display immoral and antisocial behaviours – lacking self-control and self-esteem when they grow up because of the absence of guidance from their parents. Ultimately, their future relationships are at risk due to the fear of being abandoned. 

Now let us explore some parenting approaches that parents can follow during the upbringing of their children with a better focus on their children’s mental well-being. 

Active listening 

Paying undivided attention to your children when they communicate with you can undoubtedly help create a healthy relationship with them. Once you start listening to them actively, they will feel valued and have no hesitation to share any information. Remember to maintain eye contact and of course, avoid interrupting them while they talk. 

Allow them to express their emotions 

Creating a safe space for your children to express their emotions without being judged is a crucial aspect of their upbringing. So, always validate how they feel, whether they are angry, happy, or sad, and handle them empathetically. 

Create a supportive environment 

Beyond validating their emotions, it is also vital to ensure that they feel safe and nurtured in the home environment. This would enable them to augment their mental well-being because of the unconditional love and support they gain. 

Set realistic expectations 

Pressurising your children to attain a particular level of success in their academic and extracurricular activities is an unhealthy method of parenting. Instead, as parents you must teach your children the importance of progress over perfection and motivate them to do better every day as human beings. 

Teach coping strategies 

This is another effective strategy to boost the mental health of your children. Encouraging them to cope with their negative emotions by journaling, meditation, or simple breathing techniques would be beneficial in the long run. 

Reduce screen time 

Spending too much time on smart devices can have negative consequences on both the physical and mental health of your children. Therefore, limit their screen time and push them to engage in various physical activities including any sports activity, or simply take them for a walk. In addition, encourage them to build social relationships as it plays a major role in emotional development. 

With that being said, useful online activities must also be given preference. Tools such as parental controls can be made use of while granting them access to content suitable only for their age category without it being a disruption to other offline activities. 

Reach out to a professional when necessary 

Regardless of applying suitable parenting techniques, certain behavioural or emotional issues pertaining to mental health such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and learning disabilities cannot be addressed by yourself. In that case, seek assistance from a mental health professional without any delay and do the needful. 

Conclusion 

There is no right or wrong way of parenting because of the unique situations in each household and a parenting style alone cannot determine a child’s growth. Nevertheless, parenting is a journey full of ups and downs that require high levels of commitment, empathy, and most importantly patience. Therefore, as parents, be mindful of practising healthy parenting approaches that would enhance your children’s mental well-being – specifically by paying attention to their needs, as each child is unique in their own way. 

A Canvas for Healing: The Impact of Art on Mental Health

Written by: Sabeeha Azmi

Communicating emotions and experiences through art has always been a powerful platform for human expression. Art transcends the boundaries of language and culture and propels creativity and freedom. Along with the appeal and aesthetics of art, it has also been acknowledged for its profound and insightful impact on mental health. Let’s look at how we can engage with art to inculcate a positive influence on our mental well-being. 

The act of creating art can be exceptionally empowering and a cathartic process, whether you are painting, drawing, sculpting, or simply scribbling around on paper. Any form of artistic expression can offer an individual a sense of control and achievement which can boost self-confidence and self-esteem. Art provides a safe haven to open yourself to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from your mistakes and through it all foster resilience and flexibility to face life’s challenges thrown your way. 

Engaging in art can be used to reduce stress and anxiety and create a space of mindfulness. As you immerse yourself in your art and its process, you are fully absorbed and focused on the present moment, which allows you to temporarily disengage with worries and anxieties. As you create a flow through your art, it can be deeply calming, promoting emotional balance and relaxation. Try this out with simple colouring, grab yourself a pattern, and lose yourself in the colours and peacefulness this simple act of colouring brings you. 

Art is a bridge for self-reflection and communication as it is sometimes easier for us to relay complex emotions and experiences through symbolic and visual representations rather than through words. One’s art becomes their self-expression and allows a platform to share what might be hard to articulate verbally and this facilitates conversations about mental health with other individuals as well. Being able to see one’s own art can also provide insights into your emotional state that you might not be conscious of, and this empowers self-awareness and growth. 

Further, art can foster a sense of community and bring people together. Partaking in art workshops, exhibitions, classes or even just gathering to create art together can provide opportunities to connect and interact with like-minded individuals with a passion for creativity and inspiration. This sense of community and togetherness can combat feelings of loneliness or isolation which can be common trials for individuals struggling with their mental well-being. Sharing your art can be an avenue for building understanding and empathy among diverse communities. 

Art is also used as a therapeutic tool to support individuals in managing their mental well-being. Art therapy is used widely by mental health professionals to promote emotional healing, insight, and self-awareness by channelling their thoughts, experiences, and emotions into art. 

Creating art is an empowering experience that allows individuals to affirm their identity, reclaim their narratives, and stand up to social stigmas associated with mental health. Expressing and sharing art is a way of advocating for mental health and expressing the need for change in an impactful and unique way. 

Art offers a canvas for healing and self-expression and the therapeutic benefits of engaging with art are open to everyone, whether you are a professional artist or you simply like to doodle on paper. So, pick up that brush or that pencil and see the magic of art transform your mental health journey. Let’s get drawing!

Bridging Differences: A Guide to Finding a Middle Ground for Effective Conflict Resolution

Written by: Sabeeha Azmi 

Conflict is an unavoidable part of life, as people have unique and different opinions, needs, values, and goals. Conflicts may arise in various situations within various relationships such as personal relationships, the workplace, or even on a global scale. Engaging and enduring conflicts could lead to misunderstandings, stress and could even escalate to violence and adverse outcomes if it is not managed effectively. To avoid negative consequences, the skilful art of conflict resolution creates opportunities to turn tension into understanding and growth through fostering effective communication, empathy, and compromise. 

Let’s take a deeper look at what conflict resolution is. It is a process that allows individuals to resolve and address their disagreements and disputes in a manner that is constructive. The goal of conflict resolution isn’t just to end the dispute but to also arrive at a mutually acceptable solution that takes into consideration the needs and concerns of all individuals involved. It is to aim for a win-win situation, where we can all come together, collaborate, and find a common ground. 

There are several key aspects that are considered during conflict resolution. These are principles you can apply to your daily life to ensure that you navigate conflict with grace. 

Open and Honest Communication: being able to express our thoughts in a clear manner is the foundation of effective conflict resolution. You can practise by using active listening and having an open mind to understand others’ perspectives. Effectively communicating one’s needs and thoughts has the power to dismantle barriers, foster empathy and help uncover underlying issues that need to be addressed. 

Expressing Empathy: this involves placing ourselves in the other person’s shoes to really connect with their emotions, perceptions and thoughts. Expressing empathy during conflicts can help bridge the gap between various opinions and create a safe space of trust and understanding. 

Collaboration: putting effort into working together to find a solution that meets the interests of everyone involved promotes shared responsibility and encourages a positive relationship between individuals. 

Problem-Solving Approach: this is an essential component of conflict resolution. It is important to focus on the underlying issues and not engage in personal attacks. Addressing the root causes of the disagreements can lead to identifying solutions that can help address the concerns of all individuals. 

Use I-Statements: it is always better to avoid the accusatory “you” statements and rather use “I” statements to express your emotions and thoughts without assigning the blame to anyone. For example, you can say “I felt hurt when you said this …” This can also encourage non-confrontational conversation. 

Try Negotiation: this involves a give-and-take approach, where individuals assess the situation and make compromises and concessions to reach a beneficial outcome that is mutual for all individuals. 

Avoid Escalating the Situation: it is crucial to focus on not escalating disputes by remaining composed and calm. Responding to conflict with anger will only intensify the situation and hinder effective communication. 

A benefit of conflict resolution is that it can help improve and build healthier relationships that build trust and understanding. It can also encourage individuals to self-reflect and allows for personal growth as you learn to manage emotions and find common ground. 

Conflict resolution can be a powerful tool that transforms disharmony into cooperation. Let’s take a deep breath and embrace the art of open communication, empathy, and openness toward the various diverse perspectives and opinions we come across. So next time you end up in a dispute remember to use these tools to help bridge those differences! 

Active Listening – The Secret Ingredient to Successful Communication

Written by: Sabeeha Azmi

Do you often feel yourself nodding to a conversation but realise later that you don’t actually remember what was being said? This is because, although we utilise the skill of listening in nearly every situation, we don’t often distinguish between hearing and listening. It is quite easy to get lost during a conversation and end up losing focus and not gaining anything from it. So, how can we then improve our listening skills and through that our communication? The secret ingredient to successful communication is to use a specific skill of listening called active listening.

Listening moves beyond the simple act of hearing and encompasses an awareness of nonverbal communication, the timing and speed, context of speech, body language and tone of voice. Active listening thus involves listening through active engagement whilst simultaneously understanding and comprehending accurately the meaning of what is being heard.

This might sound hard to do but let’s see how adopting a few simple changes to the way you listen can help you become more effective in understanding and communicating in your interactions.

Active listening can be demonstrated through verbal and nonverbal behaviours. Looking at nonverbal skills, it is important to provide your full attention to the conversation and the person speaking. You can do this by focusing on being fully present in the conversation and avoiding distractions such as paying more attention to your inner dialogues, looking at your phone, or even preparing your response when listening and when the other person is still speaking. If you are unable to focus, you can simply mention to the speaker that you might not be able to provide your full attention at this moment, instead of appearing to be preoccupied which could discourage the speaker from continuing. 

Other forms of nonverbal behaviours you can adopt are head nodding, forward body lean, open body language, uncrossed arms, mirroring certain body language of the speaker, maintaining appropriate distance, and most importantly eye contact as the conversation progresses.

Verbal active listening skills include paraphrasing information that you have heard from the speaker which will demonstrate to the speaker that you are in fact listening and that you have understood what is being said. Paraphrasing also provides a great opportunity for you to ensure that you have accurately understood what was conveyed, as it allows the speaker to correct or clarify any information that you might have misunderstood.

Be forthcoming and ask open-ended questions to ensure that you aren’t making assumptions about the speaker and what they are saying. These questions can be a great tool to get more information within a question and can lead to better comprehension of what is being said. Always clarify with the speaker as to whether you have actually obtained the accurate message/information from what they were trying to convey. An important aspect of active listening is to reflect the feelings that are being communicated. Paying attention and picking up on the emotions and reflecting it back can truly make the speaker feel that they are acknowledged and heard.

Displaying active listening through the highlighted behaviours illustrates to the speaker that you are attentive and present in the conversation. It also signals awareness and encourages the speaker to express their thoughts, emotions, feelings which help to direct successful communications and improve relationships. Active listening also has the power to help the listener carry out the conversation in a more meaningful manner. It cultivates empathy, growth, support, understanding and encouragement.

With the skills portrayed in this article, we together can revive and rediscover the lost art of listening and move beyond the words to deepen our connections and truly hear what people are saying.