Social connectedness brings ease to stress

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- May is National Mental Health Month, and rather than focus on "the big three" many people usually read about from mental health--suicide, depression, alcohol--I instead would like to ask Airmen and military families to take stock of their social relationships.
It is not earth-shattering news that our world and lives are getting more complex, more stressful, and more difficult to manage. While there are many facets to stress in our lives, key components to managing are social relationships and social connectedness.

Think back to a period when you went through a tough, trying time. Did you have family or friends who were there for you? Odds are if you did, they made coping with that time easier.

The human element--that social connectedness--has been found to be a major factor in both positive mental and physical health. Building and maintaining social relationships can reduce stress, reduce the impact of stressful events on our immune systems, and even lower risk for cardiovascular disease.

We need to keep this in mind and seek relationships that can help.

I encourage you to strengthen your bonds with others, reach out, and be there for people who may be going through stressful times. Being a Wingman for someone going through a difficult or stressful time not only helps the individual but also builds social connectedness that can provide you--the helper--the benefit of improved mental and physical health. In addition, the person may be there for you if you go through a difficult period in the future.

Social relationships/social connectedness does not stop there. It can also mean connecting to your community, which can help provide a sense of belonging and purpose. Meeting neighbors, attending religious services, attending events on base, in North Pole or Fairbanks are all excellent ways to develop a sense of community and connectedness.

Whatever route you take to connect, remember that being connected to others is as important to our overall health as eating, sleeping, and getting exercise. So develop or strengthen those bonds with others, to maintain positive mental and physical health.

There may be times when problems occur that are beyond our coping abilities, whether we have social connectedness or not. It's those times that we should connect with professional help, whether it is the mental healthstaff, chaplains or civilian providers. Knowing when you need to take a different approach and get help is an indicator of good, sound judgment and positive decision-making.

So take stock; where are you at now with your social relationships? Adjust if necessary and connect.