The Importance of Community, and a Few Tips To Build One!
by Madeline Stewart
Community and social connection is a significant contributor to overall health and happiness, yet it doesn't often receive the limelight it deserves. We have probably all seen posts, articles, and stories about what foods bring us health, and what workout is going to solve all our problems, but how many posts do you see about community? In my case, not very many, unless I go searching for them. Yet, science has proven that a lack of social connection is more detrimental to our overall health than smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity. In addition, science demonstrates that social connections can improve our longevity by 50%, strengthen our immune system, decrease depression and anxiety, improve our sense of well being, our empathy, and our ability to be present for others. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true, and a lack of social connection can decrease our life expectancy, make us more susceptible to depression and anxiety, and make us more vulnerable to disease and death. These are not small impacts, research has shown that a lack of social connection is more impactful on our overall health than traditional risk factors like a limited physical activity and a poor diet.
Even with all this research, there is a considerable decline in reported social connection in our country; 25% of our population reports not having a single close friend to confide in. That is 1 in every 4 people! The increase in social media connection is not reflected by an increase in real social connection.
However, we are all unique individuals, and how social connection represents in my life may and should be different than it does in yours. The research does not reflect a number of connections that are required to achieve a community, but rather emphasize a sense of belonging and an inner feeling that we are socially connected. Therefore, communities, like humans, come in all shapes and sizes.
Finding community can be challenging, especially as we grow into increasingly busy schedules of jobs, family, children, etc. So below are a few quick tips for increasing your sense of social connection and building your community:
Find others to share your passions with. Do you love running trails, reading books, nurturing house plants, cooking gourmet foods, etc.? Find a group in your area is organized around that activity. Take cooking classes, join a trail running group, a book club, or a house plant group. Usually, a quick google search can show you when and where. If in doubt try meetup.com
Interact with people in your immediate community. Talk to and get to know the baristas at your local coffee shop, say hello to your neighbors and ask them how they are. Over time, these small daily connections can lead to a more profound sense of belonging. If you really hit it off with someone, don't be afraid to ask them on a friend date, or invite them to come to one of your passion groups.
Make space in your life for connection. This can be the hardest part. Social connections take nurturing and attention to maintain, and so does our health. Social connection is a feedback loop, the more we put in, the more we can get back out. So look at your schedule and find a little wiggle room for maintaining the connections you have made. Once you have found the space, make plans, put down your phone, disconnect from the outside world and connect to the person or people in front of you at this moment, in real time. Make this a habit.
Bonus tip: Read and follow along with the work of Brene Brown.
This topic may seem more overwhelming for some than others, and it is essential to know yourself and your limit. If you are more of an introvert, you might not require the same level of social connection that I do, and you will also want to make sure there is the time in your schedule to be along and reset. However, every single one of us needs connection and community, and the great beauty in this is the fact that by establishing a strong community we are improving not only our own health but the health of every person in our community.