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Publish date

30th September 2022


Dr. Kate McCann

It’s #WorldMentalHealthMonth2022.    And you’re all invited to take part in a community project. It’s free, can be done anywhere, and can be done in your own time.

Social Connection. It’s an essential part of our health.

This October, I’m inviting everyone to take part in a challenge to improve the social connections in our communities. And it won’t surprise anyone that it’s evidence-based!

The Story Behind This Project

The seeds for the idea for this project were planted by my 4 y.o.  C.  He has zero social awkwardness.  The first day I took him to naíonra, he let go of my hand and ran in with barely a goodbye.  When I paused to leave, he looked at me as if I were not understanding and said “These all my friends now.”  He has replicated this over last year every time we go to the playground – no hesitation to approach anyone close to his age and ask “Do you wanna be my friend?” It’s really an invitation to play – but I’ve never seen in rejected.  I call it his gift because I ask him to share it with other people.  Whenever we go somewhere new and there is the scared or reluctant child, I whisper to C. “Will you be their friend?”   C. is only delighted to invite someone who is crying to join in the play. 

It won’t last as he ages and experiences rejection and social awkwardness but there is a lesson in there, somewhere.  The Pandemic gave us a lesson on the opposite:  when we don’t have those social interactions, we miss them. As a lifestyle medicine doctor, social connections and social prescribing are part of what I do. So, last month, I came across an amazing paper that reported what happened when they challenged people in US and UK to talk to strangers for a week. I set out to see if it could be replicated.    

How does it work?

  1. Download the free app called Challenge Accepted.

  2. After it’s downloaded to either your iOS or Android device, click on link:   https://www.challengeacceptedapp.com/challenge/google_111796018331973893948/5e0chb08cfc3d

  3. There is a list of social situations or types of strangers in your community to identify.  The challenge is to initiate a social interaction, ideally a conversation for at least 2 minutes.

  4. Tick off each challenge as you complete them throughout the month of October.

  5. Join WIthout the App:  You can view , print, or download the list here: https://emdoc.ie/2022/10/05/talk-to-me-challenge/

  6. Options to optimise it:

    1. This is about improving communities! So, within your comfort zone, share your participation or progress.  This is a social connection challenge!  That could be on social media or by creating a WhatsApp group/team #TalkToMe or even letting that stranger know what you are doing

    2. Start a short reflective journal about it:  could be a note on your phone, a paper journal, or a social media post.  How did you feel before you started the challenge?  After one week?  At the end of the challenge?  This challenge opens you up to exploring everything from your own social anxieties to some unconscious biases.

Ok, kinda easy… Why?  I mean, how does starting a 2 minute conversation with the barista one morning do anything? 

Social connections are an essential part of our health.  For people in small, tight-knit communities, small daily social interactions are built-in.  For many others, they can go through their day with little or no social interactions.  Evidence tells us that adults are hesitant to initiate conversations with strangers (most commonly from a fear of rejection), but when it happens it is a positive experience.

In a great paper published just last month, after just a week-long challenge to start conversations with strangers, those who participated realised that by the end of the week they were 1) noticing more opportunities in their everyday life to connect and talk 2) interactions were much more enjoyable and far less awkward than they had feared 3) felt more confidence about starting conversation 4) were more positive 5) fears of rejection were largely unfounded!

I’m going to need to see that science!

I thought you would never ask!  Check it out for free at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103122000750  Not into science but would love to read more on this subject?  Listen or read at:   https://www.npr.org/2019/08/15/751479810/make-new-friends-and-keep-the-old


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