Since the dawn of the digital age, we have slowly started to exchange our real relationships for digital connectivity. Enter a global pandemic into the equation and our foothold in the real world and our tangible relationships have been pushed aside to usher in virtual experiences like the Metaverse.
In theory, staying connected over platforms like Facebook and Zoom should be a social advantage – giving us more flexibility and capacity to meet new people and stay connected with our friends and loved ones. However, evidence has been mounting over the last decade that our technology, like fast food, gives us a quick dopamine hit followed by a steep crash, with each use having a compounding negative effect on our sense of belonging and wellbeing.
Well before the pandemic, experts were already seeing an increase in anxiety and depression, particularly amongst young people. As school, work and even extracurricular activities shift to online spaces, people are reporting feeling lonelier than ever.
This loss of human connection has a real and meaningful impact not only in our personal lives and reported happiness, but also on society. To cope with these rapid cultural changes, people have turned to a variety of remedies – forms of avoidance like substance abuse and workaholism, searching for meaning and purpose in radical ideologies, and aggressive behaviors like online bullying. There is no doubt we are experiencing a crisis of connection.
For the past 41 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois has been in the business of one to one relationships, and not because it is fashionable, but because it heals and transforms people and society. Human connection is at the core of our sense of fulfillment and purpose. And, it is my belief that connection is the anecdote to the moment we are faced with in history.
Being truly present with someone, listening and sharing experiences together builds the connective tissue of trust, empathy and sometimes even admiration for someone. Healthy and strong relationships make us feel seen, joyful, safe and taps into a universal understanding that we all have an impact on one another, leading us to behave with more respect and civility.
In 2021, of the children who participated in the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program 100% reported feeling more socially connected to others, 100% felt a sense of belonging, 50% reported an improvement in depressive symptoms and social skills, and 67% reported a better ability to manage difficult emotions.
But it wasn’t just our kids who did better. Our volunteers reported a positive shift had taken place in their life as well. One volunteer said it best, “I went into this mentor relationship expecting and to change a child’s life, what I didn’t anticipate was that it would change my life, too.”
Every January, the news is full of stories of people trying to eat more healthfully and exercise more often. This year, Big Brothers Big Sisters is changing that story and asking: What if you could resolve something more important, more impactful? What if you could make a resolution worth keeping, one that inspires more resolutions? Consider bringing connection back into your life and answer the call to serve something Bigger than yourself. Consider becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister.
For more information on how to become a Big visit www.bbbsil.org/beabig.
Heather Freed, LCSW
President & CEO