So much has changed in the past year: From our priorities to how we think about our health (and our mental health) to our everyday routines.

Our relationships with others are one of the many pillars of life that have also been fractured. It can be overwhelming to navigate our community ties—especially because with change often comes anxiety and a host of emotions that can be difficult to process.

But the connections that make up our lives play an important role in our mental health—and it's a commanality we share globally, too.

"It's similar to the African concept of Ubuntu," psychologist, licensed professional counselor, and educator Dr. Rufus Tony Spann explained. "At it's core, it means personhood and interconnectedness with the community—and connecting with the essence of being human and being in community can help us heal collectively. I believe healing ourselves and our community could mean all people could live healthier lives."

It not only helps improve our health, it's critical for us to thrive "especially for someone with mental illness who is already experiencing the common symptoms of loneliness and isolation,” Stephanie Gilbert, AMFT explains via The National Alliance on Mental Illness.

After a life-changing experience like the global pandemic we’ve all endured, remember that there’s no right or wrong to feel when it comes to navigating community ties. Below are some tips to keep in mind as you reflect on where community fits in your self-care routine.

Create space for how you feel

After such an extended period of solitude: Socializing and reconnecting is going to stir up feelings for all of us. The most important thing you can do is to truly give yourself space to feel any and all emotions that might come up. As you re-understand your relationship with others, you might also have to dive deep into reflecting on your relationship with yourself.

One way to get started on this is reflecting on how you’ve connected with others before. How have those previous experiences impacted you? How did they make you feel?

Maybe you feel guilty for letting some relationships fall off recently, or feel overwhelmed by the relationship to your community you currently have.

Maybe you’re frustrated by giving a lot and not receiving what you need in return, or maybe past experiences have you feeling you need to prioritize strengthening existing relationships.

All of those feelings—and more—are valid.

Pinpointing how you feel with tools like this feeling wheel can help you get specific—and when you get specific, you’re better able to understand what you're looking for and how you can address that with community care and self-care practices.

Know it’s OK to ease into things

Sometimes there’s external pressure to be on the same timeline as others when it comes to so many things. But the truth is that we all have different experiences in life that lead us down different paths at different times—and that’s a beautiful thing.

Easing into community-centered activities might be hard if you’ve had negative experiences in the past, are feeling anxious about connecting with others, or are still trying to understand what your personal boundaries are.

“Connection is one of our core human needs, so it makes sense that the stakes feel high,” host Jamila Reddy explains in a new meditation for the Shine app, all about reflecting on what community means to you. “But when it comes to socializing and going from solitude to connection-space—don’t rush your process. Getting back into the swing of things may take time—and that’s OK.”

One way to ease into community relationships might be reflecting on what you value in community or what your needs are. From there, you can better understand what your goals are (maybe building a new community or strengthening the bonds you have currently) and work backwards, creating small steps to achieve those goals. But remember: Whether it takes a few weeks, a few months, or more—it’s OK to go at a pace set by you.

Give yourself permission to let go of guilt

As years go on and we continue to experience life, we outgrow so much: Music, books, films—and sometimes your friendships.

If you’ve experienced this shift, you know it can be a jarring one. Realizing that a friendship might no longer be healthy for you or coming to terms with the fact you might not be on the same page with those you once cared deeply for can be really hard. Sometimes it can even trigger feelings of guilt.

But it’s human to grow and change in all areas of life. Instead of trying to push through those feelings of guilt, remember that with growth comes new priorities—and that’s OK. Dr. Spann suggets cultivating a mindfulness practice to stay grounded in the present to combat that guilt.

"One of the hardest things for some people is to forgive themselves as they journey through their lives," Dr. Spann explains. "Grounding yourself through your day and being present with love and forgiveness can help us navigate the harder lessons in life. Remember, as humans, we don’t have all the answers, and mistakes will be made; however, learning and living through the mistakes can help us grow."

Another way to reporitize relationships without letting them go completely is by “repotting” your friendships. It’s a phrase that digital strategist Ryan Hubbard coined to explain how some relationships need to be nurtured in new environments. By inviting a new context to the dynamic—like seeing a work friend on the weekends in a new environment—you’re able to grow in new ways.

“Sometimes you’ve got a friend at work, and you see them every day, but the pot that plant is in at work is quite small,” Hubbard explained to The Atlantic. “It’s going to reach the size of the pot, and that’s it. If you want it to be a bigger, deeper friendship, you need to repot it to a bigger context.”

Don’t forget to make time for yourself, too

While relationships with others are important, the most important relationship we have is the one with ourselves. Without pouring into yourself, cultivating systems of community care that are helpful for both you and those around you can be hard—and can sometimes even lead to caregiving burnout.

Making time to recharge and reconnect with yourself is an important element that allows you to enter community spaces with energy and abundance. Taking a step back to put your relationship first can help you zoom out and see things from a bigger picture. That perspective can be so valuable when it comes to setting boundaries and reflecting on whether or not you’re a part of communities that prioritize the same values as you do.