by Susan Branch
Reflection is a crucial step towards our self-awareness and self-growth. For me, this means looking at past events and social connections, learning from them and being aware of the situations and people that energise me as well as those that affect my energy levels negatively. This process of reflection helps me towards my goal of connecting with others and dealing with situations in a kind and loving way without adding stress. Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and people sometimes press my buttons, and I react quickly rather than kindly.
Re-energising ourselves and practising self-care is the key to helping us to respond positively rather than reacting. For me, this is through meditation, laughing, swimming, gardening, cooking, singing with loved ones and exploring new places.
This time last year, many of us were experiencing the devastating bushfires, following that we had floods, hailstorms and then COVID-19. The way we lived, worked, socialised and educated our children drastically changed in 2020. Our freedoms reduced in lockdown and for many unemployment and financial pressures increased.
Throughout this time, we were reminded of the importance of connection. As a nation, we have supported those in need with donation drives of food, clothing and funding, and we have stayed at home, washed our hands and worn masks. Connecting with my family and friends has brought me (and them) much joy and happiness.
Reflecting and Re-energising
With lockdown, social distancing and less time spent travelling for work, education, social and extracurricular, many of us rediscovered a slower pace of life. This year, I learned the importance of reflection, which has allowed me to (re)connect to myself and here I share some of my insights.
Reflecting in my favourite place, the beach, usually early in the morning, not only energises me but also is a place of grounding. I focus on being in the moment, just watching the waves, the birdlife, the reflections of the sun on the water. The beauty of nature reminds me of how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful place, we in Australia have so much freedom and so much space to explore.
Consciously breathing in nature and being in the moment has had a direct connection in reducing my stress levels. Becoming aware of my breath and releasing any tension in my mind and body has helped me to be calmer and more present despite what is going on around me.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest-running studies on happiness, has found a strong association between happiness and being socially connected in close relationships.
Sharing time with others makes us happy (family, friends, new acquaintances). In listening to others’ challenges and being listened to allows an essential connection between people and a sense of belonging and community is shared whilst developing an understanding of the highs and lows we all face in our day to day lives. Stories shared allow us to understand that we are not alone and help us negotiate life. Knowing who your ‘peeps’ give you a sense of security and safety.
According to Judith Horstman, author of The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain: The Neuroscience of Making the Most of Your Mature Mind, social connections can have a positive effect on your physical state including extending your longevity, reducing the risk of a stroke, boosting your immune system, encouraging good habits, lowering or delaying your risk of memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease and relieving pain. 
There are also many psychological benefits; for example, people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Studies show these people also have higher self-esteem, are more empathetic to others, more trusting and cooperative. And, as a consequence, others are also more open to trusting and cooperating with them. 
Brene Brown, Professor at the University of Houston and a specialist in social connection, says “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” 
 Seppälä, Emma Ph.D. (2012). Connect to Thrive. Retrieved December 13,2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201208/connect-thrive
 Seppälä, Emma Ph.D. (2020). Social Connection Boosts Health, Even When You’re Isolated. Retrieved December 13, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/feeling-it/202003/social-connection-boosts-health-even-when-youre-isolated
 Long, Deborah and Grandparents.com. (2015). 6 Health Benefits of Being Social. Retrieved December 13, 2020, from https://www.nextavenue.org/6-health-benefits-being-social/