Often when focusing on health people think of areas such as exercise, nutrition, sleep and stress management, and for good reason. Research is highlighting another area to consider, when thinking about health. It’s community. Why? Loneliness is more likely to contribute to poor health than:
- low levels of physical activity,
- being overweight,
- high blood pressure,
- exposure to air pollution,
- alcohol consumption, and
- smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
Humans require connection and acceptance. We evolved in close family groups or tribes, but in modern times we’ve taken to living away from our extended family and the friends we grew up with.
If you’re lonely, supporting your health can come from seeking out, or building community; whether through work relationships, the local school community, sporting or special interest clubs, spiritual or religious groups, or charity organisations.
Taking that first step can be daunting, but most of these types of groups are looking for new members, and are very welcoming. If that is too much to start with, you could do what my friend did. She recently moved overseas, and has used a ‘friendship’ app to help her meet people she may want to include in her friendship group. It’s like a dating app, and needs to be approached in the same cautious manner, but can be a great way to meet new people.
If you are living far from family and friends, and are feeling lonely, communications are so great these days, you can call someone on the other side of the planet, and it’s virtually free. Keep in touch with those you care about, they can be a great support to you while you are finding your feet in your new environment.
Our busy lifestyle can get in the way of keeping in-touch with loved ones even if they are close by. Be intentional about maintaining contact, it’s worth the investment. Perhaps you can put a reminder in your phone to make a call periodically.
When you’re out and about, smile at people; more often than not you’ll get a friendly smile in response, and that in itself is a form of connection, which may lead to friendship.
If you already have great community connections, what can you do to help someone who may be new to your neighbourhood or workplace to help them settle in? Random acts of kindness not only feel good in the moment, they have benefits for your health too.
Creating a new community for yourself may take you out of your comfort zone, but with one step at a time you may be surprised by not only feeling happier, but feeling healthier.