I recently led a virtual work-life balance retreat for a group of women leaders. At the end of the day, a participant reached out to and tearfully shared, “I had no idea how badly I needed that. Not just the connection with other women, but re-connecting with myself. My life has become an endless to-do list and I had forgotten what it’s like to sink into my heart and remember I’m not alone with my struggles and fears. I’m realizing: we need each other.”
I work with many professionals in the mental health field. We all agree that when women become disconnected from themselves, this untethering can manifest as depression or anxiety. Often this happens when we don’t pay enough attention to our emotional self-care (which I describe as the care and feeding of our hearts). We forget who we are and feel separate from our hopes, dreams and desires when we don’t take regular time each day to pause check-in and ask, “What do I need right now?”
Last week was unusually stressful for me. But after attending a women’s writing circle, taking time for a solo date and enjoying special time with mom friend over the weekend, I had morphed into a different person. Had my stressors vanished? No, but my mood was elevated and I had gained some much-needed perspective simply by being with others who made me feel more connected—to myself, to my values and to a larger community.
Research shows women are particularly impacted by these types of connections. When we circle up for heart-felt dialogue, we release oxytocin (the cuddle hormone), our serotonin levels rise and our stress hormones decrease. In fact, this data was one of the driving forces for the creation of my Personal Renewal Groups for mothers 17 years ago. Today we have Facilitators leading these sacred circles for women in more than ten countries; every month they’re exploring ways to reconnect with who they are.
It’s easy to disconnect. Not only do our digital lives lure us into “empty connections” but we’re isolating in all kinds of ways (especially now!). A complaint I regularly hear from women when I lead stress management and resiliency workshops is, “I am so busy, I just don’t have time for girlfriends anymore. Our lunches, coffees and walks have become a thing of the past.”
Brigham Young University conducted an influential meta-analysis of scientific literature on loneliness and found that social isolation increases your risk of death by an astounding 30%; some estimates have it as high as 60%. To put it another way, loneliness might be a more significant health factor than obesity, smoking, exercise or nutrition. Many are saying loneliness may be the next big public health issues. Johann Hari, author, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions, defines loneliness as being around other people but not having conversations that matter.”
Connection to others and to ourselves is not just important, it’s as essential as oxygen.
One of my artist mother’s favorite songs in the 1970s was I Am a Rock by Simon and Garfunkel (“I am a rock, I am an island,”). Growing up I watched how often she would isolate herself from others and try to navigate the ups and downs of motherhood, and work–-alone. Today, my heart is filled with compassion for her. And, I’m clear that this is not how I want to live.
The older I get, the more I desire to show up “human” and vulnerable in my interactions–both personal and professional. I believe this is our birthright and not only is it essential to overall health and well-being, it’s critical to our growth and evolution.
An exercise in connection:
Reflect on a recent time when you felt overwhelmed, isolated or sad. Then invite in curiosity and compassion and reflect: what is my habitual response? Do I tend to isolate or push through the discomfort? What if I softened, opened and reached out to a friend or colleague for a walk, phone call or cup of tea?
This week I challenge you to sit with the following three questions as you explore the idea of connection. Then reach out to a trusted friend and share your responses and invite them to do the same:
- Which relationships, communities or groups in my life really feed me (i.e. I feel happier and more connected after these encounters)?
- Which relationships, communities or groups in my life leave me feeling isolated or lonely (perhaps I am ready to let these go)?
- What is one thing I could do to take my current relationships to a deeper level and initiate more conversations that matter?
I’m clear that in the second half of life I want to be an advocate, a model and a teacher for how we can all be more interconnected—both when we’re struggling and when we’re on top of the world. Connection and community are the medicine we most need right now.
HOW CAN I SUPPORT YOUR TEAM, COMPANY OR ORGANIZATION?
I’M BOOKING ONLINE PRESENTATIONS AND WORKSHOPS FOR 2021! Consider hiring me to create an online experience to help your team, organization or employees feel less stressed and more resilient, creative and focused. For 20+ years I’ve been working with companies/organizations like Merrill Lynch, the Center for Women in Law, Kaiser Permanente, the Hewlett Foundation and more. Whether it’s a workshop, keynote or custom retreat via Zoom, I’d love to discuss how I can support your team or organization. Learn more here.
Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by transformational coach/author/speaker Renée Peterson Trudeau. Passionate about helping men and women find balance through the art and science of self-care, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, US News & World Report, Spirituality & Health and more. She and her team have certified more than 400 facilitators in 10 countries around the globe to lead life coaching groups and women’s retreats based on her work. She’s the author of two books on life balance including the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 18-year-old son. More on Renee here.