What Protects You?

Discover the types of relationships that optimize your mental health.

During the toughest of times, relationships can carry us.

Science shows that people who are connected experience greater satisfaction and wellbeing.

Relationships are identified as amongst the most protective factors towards mental health.

We need each other in this Age of Anxiety, loneliness, and global crisis.

Optimal relationships involve reciprocity-when there is mutual regard, respect, and consideration. Where there is trust. Good energy and synergy. A desire to help one another to be and do well. Regarding each other through a lens of love, kindness, and compassion.

While connection is a vital force in our lives, not all relationships provide the same level of protection.

Some are disruptive and destructive. Sometimes people flake. Have their own agenda. Overstep boundaries. Antagonize. There’s a reason “toxic relationships” is such a popular SEO term.

Cultivating positive relationships requires diligence and agility. Especially now. There’s a lot to maneuver to foster and sustain positive relationships.

During such tough times, we need to be creative and strategic about identifying go-to people. This takes intention and effort.

Whether distance, disruption, or transition, we can find ourselves experiencing bouts of loneliness and isolation.

Finding connection can mean we need to do some pruning. We might need to let go of past patterns. People who exhaust instead of elevate. We have to open up to new possibilities about what we want our relationships to embody.

During times when we’re starting over, fear can rent space in our heads. We hesitate to describe our inner state of loneliness and angst. We wonder if it’s safe. Whether we’re the only ones who are unsettled. Will I be heard? Will I feel foolish if I overshare? Will people think I’m weird?

Having a TEAM — people in your life who Trust, Energize, and Mentor you are vital to mental health and well-being. Here are some markers of these qualities:

Trust — Those who listen without judgment. Those who see you and want the best for you. That empathize with you and provide constructive, caring feedback. Who you can be yourself with. That you count on.

Energize — Those who motivate and inspire. Who are innovative, creative thinkers. Who present novel ideas and approaches to help navigate complexity. Who are fun and funny to be with. That elevate you.

Mentor — Those who encourage you to capitalize on your strengths and believe in you. Who want to share wisdom and perspectives that fuel your growth. Who are willing to reveal the messy sides of their own life lessons. They help you recognize your capacity to grow, adapt, and be resilient.

Insecurity during times of change can prevent us from reaching out

Source: Image by Sudowoodo on Shutterstock

Here are some ways to build a nourishing network that elevates your well-being and helps you find joy and momentum:

  1. Reflect on who is already on your TEAM. What types of people in your family, friend group, work and other communities you participate in can you confide in?
  2. When in a new circumstance, scan to see who might be a potential TEAM member. Consider taking the risk of reaching out to start building trust and connection. Chances are you are going through similar emotions. Positive peer support is shown to be amongst the most protective factors for mental health.
  3. Set boundaries. If someone in your life is demonstrating unhelpful behaviors, communicate to renegotiate and change those trends, or disengage as needed. What might you say to draw needed lines with unhealthy interactions?
  4. Adjust your bandwidth for trust. Are your boundaries too thick or too thin? Are you coping with past hurts and mistrust? Does social anxiety or insecurity prevent you from opening up and building reciprocal trust? Do you tend to trust too quickly and get let down? What types of healing activities can you consider to help you work through this?
  5. Use the resources in front of you. In your setting is there a leader or someone designated to help provide support during unsettling moments? (Such as HR departments, wellness coaches, supportive programming, therapists, staff, etc). These resources are there for a reason. Don’t let stigma or pride talk you out of taking advantage of them.
  6. Be diligent. Even if things don’t go well immediately, be patient. You won’t click with everyone. It takes time to find alignment in relationships. Stay resilient. Don’t let negative experience taint you with a mindset that no one can be trusted and that you’ll never find the connection you seek. It takes time.

During times of change and challenge, we need each other. Having a TEAM that embodies reciprocity can help build protective bonds to help us thrive and optimize mental health.


Lee, K. (2018). Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking. Learn What it Takes to Be More Agile, Mindful and Connected in Today’s World. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI.

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