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Be REAL 

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Be REAL: SOAR's 4 Steps to Social Connection

SOAR Together’s approach to addressing loneliness and social isolation is to be a "mission in action," to be part of the social change we are working towards by providing tools and skills for individuals and communities to connect with one another and help those who are in places of disconnect.  After a year of immersion in leading programs across Connecticut and ongoing research on best practices around the world, we arrived at a 4-step approach called "Be REAL."

 

The "R" stands for "Recognize," which is the natural first step but also the most critical.  The question we pose those in SOAR's programs is, "What does loneliness look like? How does one see it in ourselves and others?"  As loneliness is a subjective experience, the answer is nuanced and layered.  Loneliness certainly looks like people "checking out" and "not showing up to usual activities and places."  It's a pattern change, sometimes brought on by difficult life events and in other cases a result of longer-term challenges with friend groups, school, work environments, home life.  SOAR's strong urge is to ask people to do a wellness check-in with themselves and think of those in their life/network -- is there anyone whose behavior would dictate they may be struggling with the silent grips of loneliness?

 

The "E" stands for "Engage," which again is straightforward yet with caveats and different approaches.  We know that social connection is the key to helping reduce levels of loneliness and social isolation, yet not everyone wants or needs the same level or degree of connection to feel content (read more about the differences between social isolation and loneliness).  We suggest gentle outreach and engagement to connect with those who have dropped out of touch socially, with a text or call to let someone know you are thinking of them.  An uplifting picture or quote sent via text/email or an invite for a cup of coffee or walk are two suggested ways to spark engagement without overwhelming.  The goal with engagement is to make contact in some way, to break patterns of silence and people in your life (yourself very much included) trying to carry the burden of loneliness on one's own.  Connection does not need to be electric or "always on," but some kind of contact and conversation about what is making one feel loneliness or despair is mission critical and brings us to the third step.

 

The "A" stands for "Acknowledgement," which is where empowerment and the road to healing begins.  Loneliness is something we all feel to some level and degree throughout our lives, and for an individual struggling with feeling isolated or disconnected to have a friend or family member listen to their heart and empathize with shared feelings provides the safe space necessary for healing to begin.  We call it a time to, "Put down the phone, look in the eyes of the loved one who is struggling, and show them you are all-in to help, listen, and lead them to a place of more connection." 

The "L" stands for "Lead" which is where social connection becomes an phrase of action.  Help your loved one come up with ideas to connect that feel good to them, offer to go with them to activities if in-person events are difficult for whatever reason.  Set a consistent schedule of when you will check-in so they have a touch-base to which to look forward.  Suggest ways you can both take part in new and different activities, service groups, clubs, hobbies that provide assistance to others in a much-proven way to uplift one's spirits and sense of purpose and belonging. 

I have personally witnessed the eradicating of this painful epidemic EVERY SINGLE DAY since we delivered the first Flower Power arrangements in June.  I have watched, witnessed, and felt the sparks flying, the smiles generated, the changed outcomes in those we have been visiting for over 6 months (and those whom we met just yesterday).  This isn't complicated, but it is hard work and takes us being our most authentic selves and asking others to step up, lean in, and do the same.
 

-Ginger Smith, SOAR Together Founder

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