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The Power of Human Connection: Nurturing Mental Wellness and Building Strong Relationships

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Last Updated on February 29, 2024 by Carol Gillette

Power of the Human Connection
Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Nurturing mental wellness and building strong relationships are key components of a happy and fulfilled life. As humans, we crave connection. Whether it’s a connection to our pets, nature, or other humans, we love to feel connected to others in the world. By seeking connections, we can feel more at peace with our surroundings, engage with those around us, build community, and establish crucial relationships.

Human connection is fundamental to how we feel about ourselves and how we exist within the world. So is our state of mental wellness. Both goals can be addressed successfully using the right tools.

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Nurturing Relationships in the Digital Age

How Relationships have changed in the digital age

Building and nurturing human connection allows us to find balance within ourselves. Similarly, becoming more attuned to our best state of mental wellness invites us to meaningfully connect with others through the lens of well-being. At Alternative to Meds Center, the welcoming, social atmosphere that is shared by our residents is one of our greatest assets. And our tool chest of holistic mental health therapies is golden opportunity for self-empowerment, and the ability to nurture personal relationships can also improve on a parallel trajectory.

However, this digital age has made a serious impact on how humans view relationships. While we’re now more connected than ever to the outside world, we’re actually less connected to the people in our lives and developing surface-level connections in our online interactions. In one analysis of studies, samples suggested that, on average, people recognize four individuals in their inner social circle and that they contact these members of their circle two to three times per week.1 Think about how often you are engaged with your smartphone and surfing content online — an average of 4 hours and 30 minutes as of 2022, a number which has steadily increased every year data has been taken.2

The takeaway? All that time spent on a phone, and on average, we’re only connecting with our circle 2 to 3 times a week; we have so much more access, but we engage less.

The simple fact is that the digital age has left us less connected with the people most important to us. To this point, research has discovered that even young individuals with unfettered access to smartphones and social media — and, ostensibly, a huge circle of potential online friends — have incredibly high rates of loneliness.3 Since more than 95% of teenagers have cell phones, and a large percentage of teenagers use multiple social platforms, including TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and YouTube, not only is a massive portion of our youth experiencing feelings of being lonely and less connected, but loneliness is spreading to younger and younger generations.45

However, there is hope for rebuilding and reconnecting. It can be difficult to break habits and get back into a more healthy routine, but it is important to our mental well-being to form real connections instead of the superficial parasocial relationships that social media seems to promote.

How Does Loneliness Impact Health?

The impact of loneliness

It might be obvious that loneliness and mental health are connected. Often, when people are experiencing mental health symptoms, they isolate themselves — both because they feel as if their symptoms are a burden for loved ones and because they simply don’t feel as if they can put forth the effort. This loneliness and isolation can then impact mental health even further. One study demonstrates this link, suggesting that the greater the magnitude of loneliness experienced, the higher the levels of depression, anxiety, and stress reported.6

It’s useful to note that people who have issues with mobility and people who have a more difficult time getting out of their living space experience loneliness to a higher degree. Add potential mental health symptoms, shame, societal stigma, and the time spent consuming substances to the mix, and it’s easy to see how loneliness can impact those with substance use disorder. Certain populations frequently list loneliness as a factor in death, and with the state of isolation post-pandemic, it’s possible a wide range of people may be experiencing dangerous levels of loneliness.7

Humans are hardwired to desire human connection, and even if you’re doing all the things necessary to live a healthy life — like eating right and exercising — that doesn’t mean you won’t feel any negative effects from loneliness. In addition, keep in mind that isolating yourself may be a sign that your mental wellness isn’t where it should be even if you’re on top of your physical health. Acknowledging your need for human connection, its impact on your mental health, and taking steps to develop healthy relationships can be just as critical a component of recovery as your physical well-being.

Benefits Intersect in Improving Mental Wellness and Building Stronger Relationships

Nurturing our mental health and caring for our extended personal relationships is a bit of a 2-way street. One can definitely impact the other, in both positive and negative ways. It may seem an unrealistic goal that healthy relationships can exist in every aspect of your life. In life we may have romantic relationships, coworkers, friends, relatives, and even strangers that we interact with. It can be daunting to contemplate such a wide horizon while at the same time struggling with personal, more internal, mental health issues.

It seems logical to start with self — building a foundation is essential when building anything so you have a firm structure to expand upon. Addressing mental health issues successfully will help provide such a foundation. And there are many benefits that can come out of that strengthening process, such as feeling more capable of initiating, improving, or even repairing broken relationships that are valuable to you.

When barriers to personal mental wellness are relieved, you can experience many other direct and indirect benefits such as new interest in personal and professional relationships with others. Building relationships with others, whether friends and family or those in your recovery circles, can mean you can re-connect or newly connect with others who share your goals and interests. Healthy relationships with others can inspire you to get involved in other things, such as hobbies, volunteer groups & organizations, becoming more physical active, engaging or re-engaging in more real-life opportunities to build even more valuable connections. Research has shown that social influence has a profound and valuable impact on both mental and physical health.8

Having fulfilling relationships can also help people feel a greater sense of purpose. When you’re surrounded by people you love who love and appreciate you in return, you’ll feel more connected and fulfilled in your relationships. Feeling needed and wanted, and interacting with others to make them feel needed and wanted is probably one of the most treasured aspects of living.

Finally, having strong, connected relationships has been shown to increase longevity, increase cancer survival rates, result in better heart health, healthier weight, reduce depression, anxiety and many other amazing outcomes. Stress and poor mental well-being can have a negative impact on your life and interactions with others. So this, again, is the 2-way street. Improving mental health can empower better relationship building. And, bettering relationships can also contribute to better mental health outcomes. Either way you slice it, you have a potential win-win scenario.9

How To Build Healthy Relationships With Self & Others

Having a strong relationship with yourself is a good place to start. For example, you may consider consciously treating yourself with respect and care. Often we neglect practicing kindness in our own self-care. When you can be understanding with yourself, your self-esteem and mental well-being can improve. Some ways that you can do this include focusing on mindfulness, CBT or other forms of counseling to rebuild and reflect on yourself. When you have a healthy connection with yourself, you’ll be more likely to attract a better quality of relationships with others.

Building strong bonds with others in your life is equally important to your relationship with yourself, and communication is key. In fact, communication is one of the most important parts of any relationship, and doing so respectfully and effectively often involves openness and active listening (more on this strategy later). Actively listening when another person is communicating with you not only demonstrates that you’re engaged in the moment but that you care about what they have to say.

Healthy relationships are a benefit to not only your mental well-being but also your physical health. As evidenced by the relatively superficial nature of the many virtual connections we make on a daily basis, it’s clear that building healthy and strong connections takes some commitment and even work.

Healthy relationships require mutual respect, openness, building or rebuilding trust, honesty, and effective communication. When each of these things is present, the relationship should be solid. CBT and other guidance can help discover better strategies to show loved ones that you care about your relationship with them, and sometimes, to cut ties with negative persons who ought not be in your circle. There are many ways that can help you to build strong bonds, repair connections, or repair those that were lost or damaged during dark times.

Managing Stress in Relationships

Managing stress in relationships

It takes careful reflection to maintain your relationships. Whether you or someone you care about are having a rough day, experiencing a lengthy period of hardship, or immersed in trauma, the relationship may not always be the first priority — but here are some tips to help you keep your relationships from sliding off the back burner and into the fire.

Practice Active Listening

When relationships become stressful, the first thing to break down is often communication. However, you can combat this by practicing active listening. Simple techniques such as nodding your head, leaning forward, verbally confirming what you’ve heard, and asking follow-up questions not only help you listen more closely but also reassure the other person that they’re heard. Developing better communication skills can help your relationships remain healthy even amidst stress.

Take a Break

You only have so much of yourself to give. When you overextend yourself, your social and emotional battery can be totally depleted, and you may have a difficult time engaging in your relationships. When this happens, it’s important that you take a brief break. When personal mental wellness is addressed, building strong relationships then has a much better chance. Take some time to do something calming or relaxing for yourself, even for an afternoon. Focusing on your own needs and hobbies is just as important as engaging with the people around you; just be sure to tell essential loved ones about your plans, and help them understand what you are experiencing.

Maintain Boundaries — A Tool for Nurturing Mental Wellness & Building Strong Relationships

It’s crucial to know where your limits are. Whether you’ve set boundaries as a part of SUD recovery or you’re setting new boundaries to help yourself remain emotionally healthy, establishing boundaries can make for a healthy relationship. In this way, both members of a relationship can better understand what the agreed upon limits are. Boundaries should be adaptable to situations, and should they need to shift or change, that’s okay, too.

Talk It Out

Having a person you can talk to is highly valuable, but sometimes hard to find. While the focus of developing healthy human connections is often on maintaining friendships, romantic relationships, and familial connections, a therapist can be a key human connection. Individual as well as family or couples counseling can be a valuable addition to mental health treatment. ATMC provides such counseling services for our inpatient clients.10

How To Deal With Conflict

Life can sometimes be a messy and unpredictable affair. Sometimes conflict does occur — which could stem from differences of opinion, misunderstandings, incomplete communications, feelings of mistrust or betrayal, for example, which can cause conflict in a relationship. When conflict isn’t addressed, it can have a serious and even lasting negative impact on your mental health.

First, make sure to collect yourself and your feelings instead of being reactionary. Taking a little time to feel calmer before addressing conflict can help you avoid saying something hurtful or missing important nuances of the situation.

Talking about what caused the conflict in the first place is important, but if you’ve already set boundaries about a particular issue or you feel like you’re not being heard and respected, it’s important to address that, too. While compromise is a normal part of any relationship, giving away your whole self is not. For that reason, when a relationship is no longer viable or safe, perhaps the best bet is to step away from it. Working with relationship counselors can assist these important transitions and navigations through life.

Aiming for Connection — A Partnership for Improving Mental Wellness and Building Strong Relationships

Finding connection

With so much opportunity to interact at the surface level with anyone around the world, paradoxically we may feel less connected to the people in our lives. As a result, the digital age has left us less connected and feeling more lonely. Especially for those of us in recovery, there is a great need for both improved mental wellness and building strong relationships — especially if those have been damaged or neglected. And this is absolutely vital to caring for ourselves, coping with stress, and establishing the support structure needed to thrive in the real world.

Fortunately, mental health issues can be successfully addressed. Then a person is in a much better place from which to start. Building a strong support system doesn’t have to be complicated. Engaging in open, honest conversations and building a mutually supportive and respectful relationship helps us create better human connections.

If you’re struggling to improve mental wellness and build strong relationships amidst addiction or medication toxicity, Alternative to Meds can help. While loneliness can be a trigger for substance use, people who are feeling disconnected and stressed may turn to unhealthy coping strategies — creating a damaging cycle that continues to perpetuate itself. Our holistic approach to SUD and mental wellness recognizes the vital nature of building human connections and can even help you re-establish the ones most important to you after you leave substance use, heal after damaging prescription medications, and regain natural mental health.

Contact us today for more information.


1. Block, V. J., Haller, E., Villanueva, J., Meyer, A., Benoy, C., Walter, M., Lang, U. E., & Gloster, A. T. (2022). Meaningful Relationships in Community and Clinical Samples: Their Importance for Mental Health. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 832520. [cited 2024 Feb 29]

2. Laricchia, F. (2023, December 6). U.S.: mobile phone daily usage time 2024. Statista. [Retrieved January 25, 2024 ]

3. Yayan, E. H., Suna Dağ, Y., & Düken, M. E. (2019). The effects of technology use on working young loneliness and social relationships. Perspectives in psychiatric care, 55(2), 194-200. [cited 2024 Feb 29]

4. Richter, A., Adkins, V., & Selkie, E. (2022). Youth Perspectives on the Recommended Age of Mobile Phone Adoption: Survey Study. JMIR pediatrics and parenting, 5(4), e40704. [cited 2024 Feb 29]

5. Vogels, E., Gelles-Watnick, R., & Massarat, N. (2022, August 10). Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022. Pew Research Center. [Retrieved January 25, 2024]

6. Richardson, T., Elliott, P., & Roberts, R. (2017). Relationship between loneliness and mental health in students. Journal of Public Mental Health, 16(2), 48-54. [cited 2024 Feb 29]

7. Somes, J. (2021). The loneliness of aging. Journal of emergency nursing, 47(3), 469-475. published published May 2021 [cited 2024 Feb 29]

8. Martino J, Pegg J, Frates EP. The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2015 Oct 7;11(6):466-475. doi: 10.1177/1559827615608788. PMID: 30202372; PMCID: PMC6125010. [cited 2024 Feb 29]

9. LISA F. BERKMAN, S. LEONARD SYME, SOCIAL NETWORKS, HOST RESISTANCE, AND MORTALITY: A NINE-YEAR FOLLOW-UP STUDY OF ALAMEDA COUNTY RESIDENTSAmerican Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 109, Issue 2, February 1979, Pages 186–204 [cited 2024 Feb 29]

10. Lebow J, Snyder DK. Couple therapy in the 2020s: Current status and emerging developments. Fam Process. 2022 Dec;61(4):1359-1385. doi: 10.1111/famp.12824. Epub 2022 Sep 29. PMID: 36175119; PMCID: PMC10087549. [cited 2024 Feb 29]

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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