On November 3rd, I had the opportunity to attend the “We Are Made to Connect” college tour. The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is traveling to universities across the country, talking to students about incorporating moments of connection on a daily basis. There is a growing loneliness problem among college-aged students, and that social disconnection presents profound physical and mental health risks. In a world dominated by digital media presence, especially in a post-pandemic environment, connecting with loved ones can be forgotten or taken for granted. By expressing gratitude, offering support, and asking for help, these moments of connection can improve our well-being. During his UW visit, Dr. Murthy conversed with Lily Cornell Silver, the creator of Mind Wide Open. The discussion revolved around how young adults can benefit from staying connected, especially when dealing with the immense pressures that come with higher education.
At the end of the talk, Dr. Murthy encouraged the audience to participate in the 5-for-5 Connection Challenge: five actions for five days. Each day, we perform a simple action that expresses gratitude, offers support, or asks for help. Then, we take a moment and reflect on how that action made us feel. It really is that simple, yet when Dr. Murthy first introduced the challenge, my immediate reaction was stress. Not because I refused to recognize loneliness as an epidemic, and not because I was indifferent, but because it was the midst of midterms, and I convinced myself I did not have the time. Whenever I am overwhelmed with schoolwork, I prioritize it to a point where I become so narrow minded that I think of little else. Therefore, I initially viewed this challenge as another item on my ever-growing to-do list.
Yet my stress quickly faded the moment we did the first action at the event. Dr. Murthy challenged us to message someone important in our lives and express gratitude. I chose to reach out to one of my best friends and told her how much I love and appreciate her. My mood instantly lifted, and lifted even more at her response a few minutes later. Reaching out to my best friend made me feel good, and what surprised me was how rare that feeling had been lately. I immediately questioned why I used midterms as an excuse to disregard my relationships, and in turn, my well-being. Which proves Dr. Murthy’s point verbatim, because connecting with others was not a priority for me. In that moment, it allowed me to take a step back and reevaluate my core values. My friends and family are the most important parts of my life, and it was terrifying to see how quickly I had forgotten that.
I figured that if I were to do the 5-for-5 Connection Challenge to its full potential, I should focus on what will help me grow the most. Expressing gratitude and offering support comes naturally to me, but asking for help has always been difficult. I often keep my problems to myself, not wanting to burden anyone. For my actions, I prioritized asking my loved ones for help. It was initially terrifying; I had to talk myself into it more times than I care to admit. Yet when I opened up and expressed what was on my mind, I quickly realized I was not the only one with these burdens. Not only were my friends and family able to offer support, but I was able to offer support in turn. After doing an action each day for five days, a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, a weight I had no idea I was even carrying. While becoming more forthcoming is a journey, and I know I still have a long way to go, this first step was so crucial, and I am thankful that I found the courage to do it.
Dr. Murthy is encouraging college students nationwide to participate in the 5-for-5 Connection Challenge. After such a positive experience completing it myself, I cannot recommend participating enough. In an age where social media prevails, it is all too easy to compare ourselves to others, which can feel undeniably isolating. By completing this challenge, it made me much more appreciative of my support system.
Click here to learn more. If you do complete the 5-for-5 Connection Challenge, you can share your experience online with the hashtag #MadeToConnect. You can also email MadeToConnect@hhs.gov to share your story.