I sure miss you ... the value of connection

Series: Beyond COVID | Story 3

While waiting for my spouse's flight to arrive at the airport, I observed a woman who looked exhausted slowly walking toward the greeting area where other family and friends were waiting. You could see her tiredness in the way she walked, the expression on her face and, as she got closer, the look in her eyes. Perhaps she was weary from a long flight woefully delayed, or she was just tired from something else that day.

I then saw a small boy walking toward the woman. The woman saw the small boy and was transformed! Her pace quickened, she practically danced down the hallway. Her face, her eyes, were alive with joy. Their hug muffled their words, but I heard something like "Mommy, I missed you!" and "I sure missed you too!" Dad, then joined in the greeting as they all embraced with a big hug.

Now, I'm sure what I observed is not a perfect relationship. My guess is they have their stresses, their disagreements. But for a moment, even if it was a brief moment, they remembered. They remembered what it's all about.

The evidence is clear. Healthy relationships are crucial to our physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual well-being. There are numerous research studies which point to this conclusion. We often hear about the pillars that contribute to health and wellness as Biological, Psychological, Social and Spiritual. However, we often forget the Social part, which is equally as important to our health and wellness. Most of us don't need scientific evidence to convince us of this. It's something we learned each time we loved and were loved in return. However, often we forget the value of relationships to our health and wellness. We get caught up in our career, activities, projects, own interests. We lose track. Over the past two years the isolation brought about by the pandemic has emphasized to all of us the value of relationships. Whether you are gregarious or reserved, introverted or extroverted, social connection to other people in our lives - friends, family, work colleagues, the communities we live in - contribute greatly to our overall well-being.

It is important to acknowledge that not all relationship connections are healthy. Relationships that take away our self-worth, that demean our very being are not healthy and in fact tear us down emotionally and physically. Healthy relationship connections are life-giving, welcoming, supportive and create a safe environment where you can be free to be yourself. These relationships are where we experience people believing in us, yet holding us accountable.

Trauma research has shown that these kinds of healthy connections build resilience within us to better manage much of life's challenges. Why? Because having consistent, reliable, supportive, people around us allows us to know that we matter, thus helping us to feel an underlying sense of well-being.

Unfortunately, finding, building and maintaining such healthy relationships is probably one of the hardest things we can do. Is there anything we can do? Well, we might start with simply telling the people in our lives just how important they really are. We might also ask them what we can do to be better "relational partners" for them. And, we could share with them what they can do to enhance our life together. That is not an easy thing to do.

As a psychologist, I know that not all of us can do this work on our own. In fact, many of us need some help from a mental health professional. I have become fond of the phrase, "It's OK to not be OK." If you find it to be difficult to have healthy connections or if you have healthy connections, but still experience unmanageable stress, anxiety or depression, reaching out for help is OK. By engaging in this hard work either through the help of a mental health professional or with trusted people in your life, know that it is worth the effort, every bit of it!

- Dr. Scott Mitchell, a licensed clinical psychologist, is president/CEO of SamaraCare Counseling, which serves people in DuPage, Cook and other collar counties.