A recipe for physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing for COVID-19 times and any time
With lockdown beginning to ease, I’ve changed the title of this series of blog posts slightly to ‘How to Survive and Thrive Beyond Lockdown’. In my last two blog posts, I’ve been talking about the Human Givens approach to psychology, which is relevant and applicable at any time – in lockdown or beyond. I’ve started, so I’ll continue!
To recap: the ‘human givens’ are fundamental physical, psychological and emotional needs that are essential to health and wellbeing.
I was using the Human Givens approach with most of my clients before lockdown and I’ll continue using it as lockdown eases. It’s such a practical approach, which can reveal that the root of problems often lies in some of these fundamental needs not being met. Once those needs are met, sometimes in easy and straightforward ways, it can make a big difference to the client’s overall sense of wellbeing.
This blog post is about the ‘human givens’ needs related to having a sense of belonging.
In my last blog post, I covered the ‘human givens’ of relationships, which can be met on a one-to-one basis. This blog post is about the need for relationships within groups. It’s another key reason why so many people have found lockdown tough, when they have had to be separated from the groups they’ve been part of, whether that’s family, work colleagues, church, drinking buddies down the pub, the bridge club or the bog snorkelers. It’s why some people haven’t been able to resist having friends round for barbeques or meeting up with their cycling posse in Bushy Park, as has been the case in my area. Allegedly.
The difficulty in meeting that fundamental need for having a sense of belonging has made lockdown particularly distressing for many.
There are a couple of aspects to the need for a sense of belonging:
Connection to a wider community – As I said in my last blog post, in days gone by, belonging to a social group and having people around us who we could depend on, really was a matter of life or death. When hairy mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers roamed around, humans were extremely vulnerable to becoming a wild beast’s lunch. Times and our local fauna may have changed, but that fundamental instinctive need for belonging to a group remains.
Study after study shows how important social connection is. Loneliness and isolation have been shown to adversely affect the immune system and have a devastating effect on mental wellbeing. Elderly people, who have two or more people they can rely on for emotional support, have been found to survive longer after heart attacks than those who don’t have the same level of support1.
It used to be easy to belong to the wider community just where you lived, in your village or neighbourhood. These days, it is less so, especially in towns and cities, where even next door neighbours don’t know each other. Then, it’s a question of seeking out the wider community in other kinds of groups – groups based on shared interests, activities or concerns, rather than necessarily shared geography.
It’s clearly important to find groups to belong to, but just as people have differing needs for attention, as I mentioned in my last blog post, so our need for connection to the wider community varies. Some people thrive on big friendship groups, team sports, book groups and art classes. Others are completely happy by finding their need for community fulfilled by work, knowing their neighbours and meeting up with other dog walkers in their local park – keeping an appropriate 2 metre distance in all of these activities at the moment, of course!
Connecting to the wider community is about giving as well as receiving
Just as the need for attention is about giving as well as receiving attention, the need for connection to a wider community is about contributing to that community, as well as gaining from it. It’s good to be motivated by pure altruism, but again the evidence from studies shows that it’s good for our immune system too! One study found that men who did voluntary work for charities were two and a half times less likely to die from disease than men who didn’t do voluntary work2. Another study of 700 elderly people concluded that those who contributed the most to their social networks showed the least signs of ageing3. All the signs are that by helping others, we help ourselves, whether that’s volunteering for a charity, doing a self-isolating neighbour’s shopping or organising the on-line pub quiz for friends.
Another aspect to the need for a sense of belonging:
Status – Linked to our need for belonging, is the need to feel important and valued, the need for status. Now, we can’t all be VIPs or bigwigs in our local community and the need for status isn’t all about power or place in the perceived pecking order. In ‘human givens’ terms, it’s about feeling appreciated and valued for what you do or what you know.
It’s interesting that in these COVID-19 times, people who were often thought of as having low status in society, usually because society equates low status with low pay, are finally getting the recognition they deserve. The spotlight of appreciation has fallen on the likes of hospital cleaners and porters, care home staff, refuse collectors, supermarket shelf stackers, and delivery drivers, who have kept things running.
Status can come from different sources. It could come from your position in your family, as a parent or grandparent. It could come from your work or from your role in a voluntary or community group. It’s intertwined with the connection to the wider community and in how people treat you. I used to be an assessor for the Investors in People standard, which was a gauge of how well employers managed and developed their staff. In the best organisations, the most junior tea boy could feel he had status, if people thanked him for his work and he was included in staff consultations. In some cultures, elderly people have much higher status than in others, due to the respect given to their wisdom and life experience.
Status is about self-perception
Sometimes part of the problem that I’ve seen clients have is that they don’t recognise their own status. They fail to realise their value, how important they are to other people and the contribution that they make. I can think of one unassuming, lovely lady in my church, who week after week (before COVID-19) turns up without fail to make the coffees at the ‘Stay and Play’ toddler group. She always has a smile and an encouraging word for the parents and carers as she serves the coffee. She always stays on afterwards to make sure the washing up is done and everything is tidied away. When you express appreciation for what she does and comment on how important all her behind-the-scenes work is for the smooth running of the group, she will say ‘Oh that’s nothing, anybody could do that.’ She may not realise how much some of the single parents, struggling with a boisterous toddler or two, look forward to coming to the group, what a luxury it is for them to have someone else make them a cup of coffee, and how just a friendly smile and kind word made them feel better. Sometimes meeting our need for status is about taking a more positive view of our own worth.
Community connection beyond lockdown
In lockdown, remaining connected to the wider community has been hard, in spite of being able to go on-line for work meetings, virtual dinner parties, pub quizzes and the like. Seeing people on a screen just isn’t the same as being in the same room as them, though. As lockdown eases, we will probably have a new appreciation of being able to reconnect to our community. Social distancing and the restriction on how many people can meet up at any one time will still affect how well we can meet our need for that sense of belonging.
Find your tribe(s)
To survive and thrive beyond lockdown it will be even more important to have groups to belong to and to continue the mutual community support that has emerged during lockdown. If you realise that community connection is lacking in your life, why not look for what groups you could join in your local area? There’s bound to be a group nearby that shares one of your interests, a group for exercise, or a charity crying out for volunteers. Meet Up www.meetup.com is a great source of information about any kind of group you could imagine and many that you wouldn’t imagine. Your local council will have a volunteer service, which can match you up with a local charity.
Appreciate your worth
As you connect with the wider community and seek to contribute to it, you may well find that a sense of status automatically follows. You might need to adjust your thinking too. Take a moment to reflect as objectively as you can on the status that you have – your role in your family, in your work or your community and groups you belong to; the importance that you have in the eyes of your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues; the contribution that you make with your skills and strengths. Resist the temptation to say ‘Oh that’s nothing. Anybody could do that.’
Don’t let anxiety get in the way of you meeting your needs for connection and status
A lot of my clients find it difficult to engage with the wider community. The thought of joining a group of strangers, or meeting up with people they don’t know very well, fills them with dread, before they start sessions with me. Happily, they learn to overcome that anxiety, grow in confidence and feel at ease in group settings.
It’s the same for people who have a low opinion of their own status and worth. With some very easy techniques, they can learn to have a whole new perspective on their own true value.
Please don’t let your anxiety and negative thinking get in the way of you meeting your needs for belonging and status. Book a free 30-minute phone consultation to get some strategies on how to better meet those needs and find out how hypnotherapy can help – phone 0208 546 2122 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Goleman D. (1996) ‘Emotional Intelligence’
- House J., Robbins C. and Metzner H. (1982) ‘The association of social relationships and activities with mortality’ American Journal of Epidemiology
- Depner C. and Ingersoll-Dayton B (1988) ‘Supportive relationships in later life’ Psychology and Ageing