With World Mental Health day this weekend, I wanted to talk about something really close to my heart – the impact networking can have on our mental and emotional health.

Yes networking is a fantastic business tool.

Yes networking is amazing for knowledge transfer.

Yes networking generates opportunities for career progression.

Yes networking stimulates innovative ideas

(I could go on but I’ll stop there)

But it’s also an build-in human desire: to connect with other humans! To build meaningful, trusting relationships that make us feel safe, and valued, and give us the confidence to express ourselves and explore the world around us. We need our tribes!

Over the last couple of decades, as the adoption of technology has increased, our natural ability to connect (meaningfully) with others has diminished. We talk through screens, where we can edit who we are and put forward a filtered version of ourselves. We don’t have to look into someone’s eye’s when we give them bad news, or dump them, we can do it through email or WhatsApp.

So now we’re forgetting how to look each other in the eye, how to read someone’s facial expressions, how to pick up on social cues and body language –  throw in a global pandemic where we’re literally not allowed to speak to other people for over a year and it’s no wonder we’re shying away from social situations in favour of the comfort of our screens!

The problem is, we can’t get what we need from our screens. They promise us connection – online we’re connected to the whole world! But in reality the people we’re connected to online is often only on surface level. They’re replaceable with simply a swipe. Deep, meaningful connection that fulfils our needs can only really come from spending time in the presence of others.

Being near people, spending time with them in the same room, noticing their mannerisms, posture, tone of voice, how they smell even! That’s where we build trust, and that’s where we build a feeling of security through meaningful relationships.

With social anxiety rising and rates of depression, especially in younger people, as well as isolation from lockdown across all demographics, ‘the social apocalypse’ (as I call it) is upon us and it’s having a major effect on our lives.

So where does networking come into this?

The skills I teach for networking are just that – skills. They can be learnt by anyone and are transferable outside of the world of business or academia. In the US some schools are already offering ‘conversation classes’ to help young people learn how to connect and tackle the issues such as an inability to empathise with each other. Imagine a future world where people simply can’t empathise! That scares the life out of me – for them and for society as a whole!

Building meaningful relationships can impact your mental (and physical!) health in so many ways, take a look at just a couple of bits of research HERE or HERE.

What I’m trying to say is, think of networking not just as a chore or a sales function, think or it as an opportunity to practise the most powerful skills you’ll ever obtain – to connect with other people, and build meaningful relationships based on trust. And know that it’s having a positive impact not only on your business or career, but on your own mental, emotional, and even physical health all at the same time.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic another fantastic book on the subject is The Lost Connections by Johann Hari – I highly recommend it!