Bill Merrington offers advice on getting the most of of 2020

As we continue to look at how to be well and happy, we have reached R in PERMA (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievements). Research shows that an individual is more at risk of illness if they are socially isolated and lack meaningful relationships.

A way of assessing this is to ask whether you have someone to phone in the middle of the night that would come to your aid.

It’s helpful to have a variety of support ranging from family to friends, neighbours and community groups.

Most people rate connectedness and shared enjoyment with loved ones as some of the most important of life experiences.

These connections all help to form part of our identity.

We shouldn’t be surprised about the importance of relationships.

No person is an island. Right from birth, our survival is dependent upon forming a relationship with our chief care-giver.

Food, protection, warmth and love all come from our first encounter with our carer.

Research shows that the brain scans of neglected babies were different from those who were cared for and loved. This is a physiological difference, which shows the importance of having meaningful relationships.

Relationships begin with conversation. This is an activity that engages multiple mental skills. It involves listening, asking questions, congruence, reasoning, language and memory. It also means you have to be up to date with the topics of the day including politics, sport, local news and even the weather!

There are many ways of initiating the beginning of relationships. This might include walking through your neighbourhood and making a point to say hello to people.

Offering to babysit provides more contact with adults as well as children.

Joining any local activity group or engaging with a charity, as a volunteer is a good way to begin.

The broader one's relationships are reveals a greater degree of being resilient in life.

This leads to how well we bounce back after a personal difficulty. The greater the web of encounters we have had can provide strength to recover from problems and personal setbacks. An individual can help to lift us up when we are down.

We have to recognise that not all relationships are healthy.

Some friendships begin fine with love and care but can deteriorate into bickering and arguments. Such relationships can cause stress and dissatisfaction and even become toxic to one's health.

Even when we join charities and support groups, there can also be the danger of being hurt by selfish attitudes.

But this simply reminds us that we cannot take relationships for granted.

We have to attend and nurture them if we want to keep them healthy and active.

Neglect and conflict are the two big killers of any relationship. We tend to drift into relationships but can easily drift out of them without recognising the signs. Fostering good relationships are key if we want good health.

To maintain friendships we have to first give time to them. It is when we take them for granted that we can neglect them by not giving time to the encounter. A relaxed environment where we can have time to chat works best. But to make this work we have to choose to be ‘present.’ It is so easy to be with someone while your mind is elsewhere. How often have you seen people out for a meal together, who spend most of their time looking at their phones texting or just searching the internet? This is not giving off a healthy message that you want to be there with them.

We all need to feel appreciated and nurtured. Any developing and healthy relationship requires kind words and acts of appreciation. Frequent displays of interest and care are essential. Hopefully this is then equally returned back to you providing affirmation and an uplift in ones emotional wellbeing. Perhaps the most important part of relationships is having someone who actively listens. To hear your view point without judgment greatly enhances connectivity with a person and reduces any sense of loneliness.

Relationships in the end are all about our willingness to communicate. Learning to talk respectfully in a calm way without aggression is key. We may not realise how much passion and force we place in our communication that causes others to back off. If others suggest that we are speaking aggressively, then probably we are and need to step back and take stock of how we are communicating. A willingness to apologise and say sorry can be a huge turning point in a relationship and aids it moving forward.

The key is not to take any relationship for granted. All relationships of any kind need constant attention and reinvigoration. Next week we will look at the importance of having meaning in one's life.

Dr Bill Merrington is a private therapist and chartered psychologist working in the York district ( or contact