Re-Create Your Own Social Village to Combat Loneliness

Discharge and Transition from the ADF often results in a sense of isolation, pain and loneliness.

Sound familiar? Makes sense when you think about it, as we move from a socially cohesive and teamwork oriented military community where our survival depended on our collective abilities, to all of a sudden feeling like an individual in a world of civilians.

Our biological machinery was trained and geared towards trusting Green, Blue or Grey people, places and activities. Then when we divorce our safe military family we lose our ‘Social Village’ which we need as a social species to survive and prosper. We then often buy into the myths and values of autonomy and independence as we deny our need to socially reconnect. The pain and loneliness you feel is an early warning sign or your biological machinery that alerts you to threats and damage to your ‘social body’.

Kinda makes sense as living with loneliness increases depressive and anxious symptoms, increases cortisol hormones (stress hormone) in preparation for a ‘dangerous day', increases the fragmentation of sleep which decreases the detoxification of stressful days, increases violence, cellular inflammation and suicidality whilst also increasing your odds of an early death by 45%! Don’t worry you’re not alone!

The number one reason for people attending therapy is, you guessed it, ‘Loneliness’. When we feel isolated we feel a desire to connect with other people, however at the same time our brain also activates scanning (hypervigilance) for social dangers (whether they are there or not!) which can lead to negative interactions. Put simply, loneliness increases defensiveness because we are focused on our own welfare (survival) rather than on the perspective of those with whom we are trying to interact.

Alas, it’s not all bad news though! Healthy social connectedness on the other hand has been shown to promote better psychological wellbeing, improved immunity, improved physical health and longevity. So reducing loneliness is a pretty important goal to work on!

So, in summary, it’s dangerous as a member of a social species to feel isolated and our brain acts accordingly which brings with it unwanted effects on our thoughts, bodies and reactions to others.

So how do I take responsibility and respond to Loneliness? How can I re-create my own ‘Social Village’ and get me some of that healthy social connectedness?

Firstly, we need to understand the ‘Three Ingredients of Social Connectedness’:

  1. Promote Intimate connections through focusing on giving love and improving the happiness of our special others. This has been proven to boost mood, improve sense of wellbeing, reduce stress, improve immunity and sleep and even encourages the growth of brain cells!
  2. Promote Relational connectedness in the form of friends and family and even pets. This actually causes a chain reaction of brain chemicals that enhance social connectedness and improves feelings of happiness!
  3. Promote Collective connectedness by being part of something bigger than you, like volunteering or just hanging out at Mates4Mates activities rather than just putting your hand up for self-gain activities. This has been shown to result in better survival rates for serious diseases, longer life, lower anxiety and depression, greater empathy, and to generate a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being!

Secondly, follow the below ‘Steps to Re-Creating your own Social Village’ to forge a plan to fight the mental, behavioural and emotional habits of Loneliness:

  • Seek support from your local Mates4Mates Psychologist to recognise what the signal for loneliness is and don’t deny it, much like we drink water when we are thirsty. Let’s re-learn to listen to our body and feelings and take positive action!
  • Schedule regular social contact with the people that matter in your life (not limited to texts or Facebook) such as a weekly dinner, Saturday BBQ, exercise sessions, book clubs, surfing, Mates4Mates BBQs, morning teas and social events etc.
  • Don’t use ‘lack of social skills’ as an excuse not to connect, as we have to re-learn these skills and practice them! Let’s stop looking for evidence that the world sucks! Come into Mates4Mates and practice your social skills with some like-minded Mates where you can just be yourself and let your defences down for a while! You will soon find evidence that the world is amazing and full of safe and exciting people and opportunities.
  • Even if you are only going to attend a bigger event every couple of weeks (e.g. Mates4Mates group yoga, Physical Training or Social BBQ), still attend, as you are aiming for a sense of belonging and we have just seen the amazing benefits of that.
  • If you are shy, find an activity that is again part of something bigger than you (get the focus of you as an individual), with a common cause or goal, such as volunteering to help make others’ lives better (e.g. volunteer to attend a Mates4Mates activity or just pop in to a Mates4Mates Centre to have a brew and a chat with a Mate). It’s amazing what a chat can do to brighten up someone else’s life!
  • Make time for the ‘Middle Layer’ of connectedness, the ‘Idle Chit-Chat’. This is very important and not just ‘non-mission focussed babble’! This communication exposes you to new ideas, information and increased connection with others, and
  • Remember online connection is easy and ok, but like eating an Ice-cream alone late at night, it’s not going to nourish you or your long-term goals of social connectedness!

To understand more about what Loneliness does to your brain, body and behaviour and ways to re-create your own ‘Social Village’ and improve your social connectedness, contact your local Mates4Mates Family Recovery Centre.