Feeling stressed or low? The importance of connection for high achievers

by | Jul 15, 2022

If you’re feeling stressed, or your mood is not where you want it to be, I’ve written this blog specially for you.

I thought about the most important thing I can share with you to lift the burdens of stress off your shoulders and have you feel in control and empowered again. The first thing that came to my mind was to tell you about the importance of connecting when you’re feeling stressed. And what a powerful thing it is!

For those of us who are high achievers or perfectionists, this is specially important for us, given that the last thing we want to do is to connect with others when we’re not feeling well. These are the the times we want to go into hiding until we’re feeling good again. I know. I’ve been there. This is why I’ve written this blog for you.

Even if it seems daunting right now and you feel that trying to connect will only make things worse, I promise it’s a win for you. I will show you the scientific research on the beneficial effects of connecting during stressful times and how it can help you not only feel better and buffer you against the negative effects of stress, but also function more optimally towards your goals. And 5 ways that will help you feel more connected, starting today.

Social connection impacts every part of our life

The first half of the pandemic was really tough for me. I found out that the only family I have in the country was leaving to stay with other family half-way across the world in Turkey. The thought of Covid, and something bad happening, on top of being alone was really hard.

It slowed me down in my business and my long to-do-list of projects. I felt overwhelmed and procrastinated a lot. All I wanted to do was sleep. It impacted my focus, my capacity to be present, or to be able to enjoy anything that once brought me joy. I felt drained…

Why am I sharing this story with you? Because it’s an example of how our connection with others matters and influences every part of our life. From our productivity, to how much energy we have, to our mental health.

With that said, in the same way that it can be a significant problem, it can also be a powerful solution. We can use it to enhance every area of our life. Specially to help buffer us from the negative effects of stress.

The epidemic of disconnection and it’s link to your mental health and performance

During my grad school in Psychology I learned about the importance of basic psychological needs – the basic mental requirements that are universal to all human beings and what allow us to function at our best.

For decades, it’s been well-established in research that quality connection is a basic human need. And if you’re not meeting your need for connection, that it will significantly hinder how you function. From your state of stress, to how you perform, to your mental health and well-being.

According to Self-Determination Theory, the most prominent theory of human motivation today, feeling connected (what they call “relatedness”) greatly impacts the degree to which you can actualize your abilities and grow (Deci and Ryan 2000).

Impact of connection on mental and physical health:

In today’s tech-driven and perfection seeking world, more and more people are feeling disconnected. And this is having a big toll on our mental health.

In a recent survey by Stats Canada (2021), more than 1 in 10 people aged 15 and older reported feeling extreme levels of loneliness, saying that they “always” or “often” felt lonely. 3 in 10 had moderate levels of loneliness, saying they “sometimes” felt lonely. Those feeling lonely reported having poor mental health (49%) and low life satisfaction (average of 5.5/10) compared with those who reported feeling less lonely (7% for mental health and an average of 8.1/10 for life satisfaction).

Take a second to notice the impact. That’s a 42% difference in mental health outcomes! And for life satisfaction, it’s like being 55% satisfied with life without social connection vs. a 81% satisfaction with social connection. That’s huge!

In the US, the stats are even more alarming. According to a recent national survey conducted by Harvard Graduate School of Education, more than 1 in 3 adults (36%) reported feeling extreme loneliness, saying they felt lonely “almost all the time or all the time” or “frequently”. More than 1 in 3 (37%) reported feeling lonely “occasionally”. Feelings of loneliness was also linked to poor mental health.

Having social connection is powerful! In some cases, it’s comparable (or a stronger) predictor of health and longevity (how long you live) than well-established risk factors like smoking, blood pressure, obesity, and physical activity (House,et al.,1988; Holt-Lunstad, 2010).

A meta-analytic review across 148 studies (308,849 participants), found a 50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships. This finding remained despite considering participant’s age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period.

The study noted that “…having social connect is often necessary to overcome stressful situations and have us feeling strong and resilient. Decades of research has established that social connection can act as a buffer against the negative effects of stress, build resilience, lower psychological distress, anxiety and depression, and help regulate emotions (i.e., Cohen & Wills, 1985; Kawachi & Berkman, 2001; Schwartzer & Leppin, 1989).”

In other words, social connection matters and can buffer us against the negative effects of stress. It can help us be more physically and mentally healthy.

Impact of connection on performance:

Not only is feeling disconnected harmful to your mental and physical health, but research suggests that it also takes a toll on your work and how well you perform.

In 2016, a meta-analysis of 108 studies (30,648 participants) published in the psychology journal of Emotion and Motivation looked at some factors that impact Performance. One of their findings was that at work, school and in physical (e.g., exercise/sports) domains, our basic psychological need for connection predicted performance outcomes.

They wrote that meeting our psychological needs, including our need for connection, “likely acts as a resource fundamental to achieving performance goals… and this is especially true among those experiencing more stress, burnout, and exhaustion.”

In other words, for those of us who value achievement and performing at high levels, it’s an important resource to connect when we’re feeling stressed.

If you’re still not convinced on the importance of connection on your work, workers lacking social connection reported being 2 times as likely to miss a day of work due to illness, and 5 times as likely to miss a day of work due to stress (Read the research). They think about quitting their job more than 2 times as often as those who have social connection. To top it off, they also report having produced lower quality work and to being less productive.

Not to mention, you can use your connections to help delegate tasks, take things off your plate, and have more resources to effectively deal with what’s creating the stress for you.

In summary, disconnecting when you’re stressed is all around harmful to your work. On the other hand, connecting helps you show up and perform better.

I know it’s hard to connect when you’re not feeling your best

With that said, I know how hard it can be to turn to others when you’re not feeling your best. Building connection and having support can be specially hard for us who identify as high achievers, as “strong”, as ” I can do it all myself”, or when we are so used to being the ones to take care of others. I completely understand.

However, every human being needs and benefits from connection and support. There are no exceptions to the rule. It makes us stronger and more resilient.

So, despite my high-achiever tendencies, and being strong, I’m proud that during my rough patch in the pandemic, and whenever I’m not feeling my best, I’ve learned to reach out. It really helps me get out of my funk and unload some of the burdens I carry. After just a couple of in-person meetings and phone calls, I can get back to my best self again. I bounce back so much faster compared to how much time it used to take me dealing with everything just by myself.

I want the same for you. I’m so excited for the progress you can make in your life by strengthening this powerful skill if you’re not feeling particularly connect or supported right now.

Here are 5 ways to feel more connected:

1) Make a list of the people you know who care about you, or people that you can turn to (i.e., friends, family members, colleagues, professionals). You can also include old friends or people that you’ve lost touch with. Take out your journal, a notebook, or a piece of paper, and write this down. The energy you get from this may surprise you!

2) Share what’s on your mind honestly and openly with someone you trust. Reach out to someone on your list that you trust and tell them how you’re feeling, or what you’re dealing with. You can be direct about what you need, for example, by letting them know if you need a listening ear, help solving a problem, help with a project or with running errands, wanting their perspective, their company, or a good laugh. Don’t be afraid to ask for the kind of help you’re looking for and show them that you appreciate it.

This is probably the hardest one to do for most of us. But just think about a time someone you cared about reached out to you and how great it felt to help them feel better. Allow others the same opportunity to be there for you.

3) Join positive communities. If you’re struggling with something, chances are there’s a community out there for you. If you’re not ready for that, connect with like-minded online communities or try out safe group activities like yoga classes, your neighbourhood 6am club, or book clubs.

4) Make social plans. Create opportunities to strengthen your relationships with friends/family/colleagues or the community by doing fun things together, or giving back. Looking forward to special activities with others can be a great way to connect, energize and de-stress. You can go out for a date night, to dinner or hiking with friends, or volunteer for a cause you care about (i.e., at a soup kitchen or planting trees).

5) Do a random act of kindness. Research shows that acts of kindness can help you feel connected and boost your overall well-being. Call someone you care about and tell them how much they mean to you. The trick is to not expect anything in return, but rather come from a place of generosity and kindness. A simple, “I was thinking about you”, ” I love you”, “you’re so important to me” or ” I appreciate you” can go along way in making their day. You can compliment a stranger, help someone with their groceries, write a love letter, or an appreciation letter to someone you care about and mail it. Feel free to get creative! You will both feel great by the end and it will strengthen your feeling of connection.

Join my 7 day challenge!

Let’s break out of our old habit of withdrawing when we’re feeling stressed and replace it with a more constructive habit of reaching out and connecting.

Make a commitment to yourself to reach out and make at least one quality connection a day for the next 7 days. Choose from any one of the 5 recommendations above. When possible, try to use more personal forms of communication like a video call, phone call, or an in-person meeting.

Know that you deserve to feel loved, supported, important and connected no matter what you’re going through, and even if you’re not at your best. Connection will allow you to get yourself into your most optimal place. Don’t miss out on it. It’s a win for everyone!

Leave a comment below and let me know that you’re participating.

With love,

Leyla Bagheri
Leyla Bagheri
Founder of LB Well-Being Performance Inc.
Well-Being and Performance Coach
Psychology Research Advisor

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