Mental health disorders are on the rise and it's now estimated that 1 in 4 people will suffer from one at some point in their lives. For the first time, world leaders are recognising the promotion of mental health and well-being, as health priorities within the global development agenda to combat these statistics.
In 2008, the UK government commissioned research by the New Economics Forum to develop a set of evidence based actions to improve personal well-being.
TRUE vs. VIRTUAL CONNECTION
In our social media world, it has never been easier to connect with millions of people across the globe in such an instant and immediate way.
But are these connections 'true'? Do we really have so many 'friends'? Or are these people acquaintances, a name, number, a picture, a partial picture of someone's life that we really have no connection to at all?
Susan Greenfield, professor and neuroscientist has been exploring the impact of technology on our brains. In Greenfield's 'Technology & the human mind' lecture she compares a player's connection to a princess in a video game with a reader's connection to Princess Maria in Tolstoy's War & Peace. Greenfield suggests that we don't really care about the video game princess but that we do care about Princess Maria. We care because she has relationships, a past, a life-story, a future and a meaning. That without taking time to understand her throughout the story and the feelings that arise from our relationship as a reader, we view things, simply as icons. Without depth, without empathy.
Greenfield further highlights that when you meet someone face to face, words have only 10% of impact on the communication. Eye contact, body language, voice, pheromones and physical contact contribute the remaining 90%, allowing development of a good, empathetic, interpersonal relationship. Most of the time social media communication is text message based, which loses this key 90%.
In Greenfield's closing words, she likens mind change to climate change. We have an incredibly long life span, more than ever before, to really stretch ourselves as people, in a way that no other generation has had the privilege to do.
How can we use this to our advantage to develop solutions to preserve our cognitive ability and develop true connections between humans before its too late?
HOW TO CLAIM CONNECTION BACK
Although technology will inevitably be key in the development of a better future, getting back to basics may also be the answer. Like with climate change, we are taking to the practice of our ancestors, reusing, repairing and making. Perhaps the key to solving mind change lies in the same era?
What if we lived in a world back when the internet didn't exist?
What if we lived in a world where there was no television?
You may say: What a boring world it would be. How would I relax? How would I survive without keeping up with the news, without my favourite series or that documentary I've been looking forward to watching. How would I keep up with what's happening between family and friends?
Have we replaced true connection with a virtual, digital connection? We get a feeling of warmth, of familiarity for the people and programmes we like to watch. We rely on these programmes to wind down, to switch off. Yet when we stop watching, have we really switched off at all? Or have we just numbed the feeling, allowed ourselves to become sleepy so that we can repeat the whole process again tomorrow?
What if your favourite part of the evening wasn't a programme but the time spent with loved ones around the table? Mind suggests that spending time around positive and supportive people means you are more likely to have a better self-image, be more confident and feel able to face difficult times.
BENEFITS OF EATING TOGETHER
The Mental Health Foundation has outlined various benefits to sharing mealtimes:
Regular mealtimes which are shared provide a sense of rhythm and regularity in lives. They offer a sense of containment and familiarity, and can evoke deep feelings of contentment and security. Humans need structure and routine. Mealtimes offer people the opportunity to stop, to stand still psychologically, to reflect on their day and days ahead, and to listen to and interact with others. Mealtimes are also a grounding opportunity, a time when anxieties can be expressed and you can be listened to.
Sharing meals helps to develop social skills in children. Children learn from behaviour modelled by parents and older siblings. Mealtimes provide an opportunity where children and adolescents can learn to listen and learn how to interact in conversation. The ritual of the shared meal continuously reinforces individual identity: who he/she is, where does he/she belong or what his/her role might be. Qualities such as empathy and understanding can be developed as views and perspectives other than one's own can be discussed.
Importantly, mealtimes make people feel connected to others.
Regular mealtimes are good biologically. They provide rhythm and make us stop and focus on eating in upright chairs which improves digestion. The act of talking and listening also slows down the eating process.
You might have forgotten how to start a conversation - and conversations should not always be about what's been happening that day. They can be about feelings, thoughts and crazy ideas. The Family Dinner Project has some help when it comes to that!
If eating together round the table isn't possible, consider an evening or two without television. Would you survive, what would you get up to? Only time will tell...
It might just be helpful to consider the impact technology is having on our connections, with those true connections that we need the most, to help bring out the best in us. Eating together, without technology or TV around can be a way to prioritise our relationships which could reduce our overall stress, anxiety and improve connection with others.
With 1 in 4 people affected by mental disorders at some point, improving our connection with others has been identified as something that can help maintain a healthy mind.
Recognising that technology is having a negative impact and realising that our connections aren't optimised is the biggest battle. Then doing something about it requires action and prioritisation of time.