When we think of factors that influence our physical and mental health, we often think of diet and exercise. The missing piece of this puzzle is social connectedness and community. Listed in “40 Developmental Assets” developed by the South Fraser Valley Regional Child & Youth Committee in partnership with Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives Association, are elements of community. If it is instrumental in healthy development in children, wouldn’t it serve people of all ages?
Living to Age 90?
I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio) a few weeks ago when I heard the report of a study that talked about the effects of community on peoples’ health. For people who have a supportive community, the rate of heart attacks and stroke decreases; blood pressure is lower. In my reading of January’s Reader’s Digest, I came across a story about a Greek island where people are 2.5 times more likely than Americans to reach the age of 90 and men are 4 times more likely than American men to reach the age of 90. The article bespeaks their diet and schedule. It mentions visiting with friends each day but, unfortunately, does not mention it as a factor in longevity and health. I think the author missed the proverbial boat.
We are Social Beings
Most of us turn to family, friends, clergy and others when we’re having a hard time. People are designed as social beings. Pascal Vrticka, a Social Neurologist, said in an article in the Huffington Post: “We are, so to speak, biologically hard-wired for interacting with others, and are thus said to be endowed with a “‘social brain’.”
Increasingly, in our American society, we are becoming more isolated. When you go to the large grocery chains, there are numerous check-out stations where we no longer have to talk to anyone. We can do all of our grocery shopping without having a social interaction. And the prevalence of on-line shopping is increasing. We can look for what we want, get additional information, find sales and purchase our items. All without having a conversation with anyone.
Sociologists House, Landis and Umberson quote the following in their recent study:
Recent scientific work has established both a theoretical basis and strong empirical evidence for a causal impact of social relationships on health. Prospective studies, which control for baseline health status, consistently show increased risk of death among persons with a low quantity, and sometimes low quality, of social relationships. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies of humans and animals also suggest that social isolation is a major risk factor for mortality from widely varying causes. The mechanisms through which social relationships affect health and the factors that promote or inhibit the development and maintenance of social relationships remain to be explored.
Depression and Isolation
Isolating yourself and being/feeling depressed can happen in either order. Someone who is depressed often isolates him or herself; someone who isolates him or herself can start feeling depressed. This can definitely be seen with the recent weather patterns. Many people who ended up staying at home for days because of the recent storms say they “need to get out”, they feel like they have “cabin fever”.
How to Find Community
Many of my clients have “increasing my support system”, meaning friends and community, as one of their therapy goals. If you are feeling bereft of community, think about what you enjoy or used to enjoy. Find a group that does that:
- If you like hiking, find a person or a group of people who like to hike.
- If you like knitting, contact a knitting store and see if they have any groups that get together in their store.
- If you have a spiritual connection, perhaps visiting a faith community to see if it could help meet your needs.
- The internet can be a wonderful resource for “meetup” groups. Go to meetup.com to see what options are available. If you don’t see a group that interests you, you can start your own meetup group.
Dr. Christiane Northrup on her recent PBS special said supportive communities enhance our immune systems. Think, “Community is Immunity!” Community supports our physical health, our mental health, our spiritual health and our relational health.
If all of this is overwhelming or you just need help, call me at (303) 444-2003 to schedule an appointment.