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Crow Wing Energized: The importance of social connections

May is also the time when we devote extra focus to acknowledging mental health. Benefits of social connectedness include reduced feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, and living a longer life.

Ripe tomatoes hang on the vine with a gardener in the distance.
Think about what brings joy and consider how that might help increase connections. For those who like gardening, a community garden may be a way to meet fellow gardeners
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service
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It is May and we are finally moving from winter in Minnesota to spring.

The snow is gone; ice has melted from our lakes and nature is turning from hues of brown to hints of green. Animals are coming out of hibernation and birds are flocking to open water and bird feeders. People are also moving and connecting, kids are playing outside, people are riding bikes and taking those evening walks.

May is also the time when we devote extra focus to acknowledging mental health. Nationally, May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month; no better time to talk about the importance of “connecting” and our health.

Social connection is the personalized experience of feeling close to others, a sense that we belong. Research studies show numerous benefits of social connectedness to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Benefits of social connectedness include reduced feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, and living a longer life.

A group of men and women are out walking
May is a time when people are moving and connecting, kids are playing outside, people are riding bikes and taking those evening walks. It's a time to reconnect after a winter of isolation. <br/><br/><br/>
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service

We all experience wellness along a continuum. There may be times where we are feeling excellent; something wonderful has happened in our life and we are walking on cloud nine. But realistically it’s unlikely we will feel excellent 100% of the time.

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Many times, we may feel that we are doing ‘OK’ navigating the day-to-day. There are also times when we struggle more due to challenges in our path. We might also experience a higher-level crisis that can inhibit day-to-day functioning. Regardless of where we are on our wellness continuum, we can all benefit from creating social connections.

Gardening tools sit along the grass with a flower bed and picked flowers in a basket.
Meeting fellow gardeners is one way to make social connections that come with health benefits.
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service

Connecting with others can be challenging at times and sometimes connecting comes with ease. Regardless, creating social connections is always important. We can feel totally powerless not knowing what to do or where to get help during a crisis that is affecting our day-to-day life.

Connecting socially doesn’t necessarily require us to have a large friend group or family or engage with many people at the same time. It is more about the way we feel connection and sense of belonging and this can happen when we are with a friend, family member, or even an acquaintance.

To determine if you have enough support, ask yourself if you have friends or family that you feel comfortable with. Do you feel like you could confide in them, and they would be there to help? Your connections should also make you feel valued and take you seriously. Having enough support may require expanding our network of supports and resources for connecting.

If you want to increase your connections, think about what brings you joy and consider how that might help you increase connections.

A person holds a dog and a cat.
Consider volunteering at an animal shelter, or bring your dog to the dog park and socialize with the other pet owners. Connecting socially doesn’t necessarily require a large friend group or family or engaging with many people at the same time.<br/>
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service

If you enjoy animals, consider volunteering at an animal shelter, or bring your dog to the dog park and socialize with the other pet owners. If you like gardening, find a plot in a community garden and meet fellow gardeners. Visit a local farmers market Nisswa ( brainerdfarmersmarket.com/ ). Your local food shelf may also have a garden plot you can help tend.

Building our network of connections may require us to step up and out of our comfort zone. Strike up a conversation with someone in the line at the grocery store, join a book club at the library or participate in a service project within your faith community that supports others.

Now is a great time of year to check out your local Parks and Recreation Department, bit.ly/3LWchjO , to find parks and find out what they are offering for activities, you may be surprised at the options. To find out events that are happening in the Brainerd lakes, check out: visitbrainerd.com/ .

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The online class runs for 10 weeks covering topics such as exercise, sleep, healthy eating, financial fitness, advance planning, healthy relationships, medication management, falls prevention and community engagement. For those looking toward retirement or recently retired, this class helped answer the question of a redefined “purpose” during the retirement years.

If connecting comes easy for you, consider reaching out to others who are struggling to connect. You can lend a listening ear, help process options for support, or help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline , which can be the vital connection someone needs. Building our support toolkit at those times when we are struggling or in a moment of crisis can be lifesaving.

The Minnesota Warmline provides early intervention with emotional support that can prevent a crisis from escalating. It can be intimidating to think about connecting with a mental therapist or even knowing where to start. You can try using your employee assistance program if you have one, your primary care provider, or health insurance company.

You can also check out the Fast-Tracker to find Minnesota resources for help with mental health and substance use disorders. There are many opportunities during the month of May and always to get involved and learn about mental health. Check out the Minnesota Department of Health’s #StayConnectedMN resources for more ways you, your agency, workplace, or community can get involved.

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