We hear it all the time: community is important for health and happiness. It seems as if every article I’ve read lately has been on this topic:
- Is it really postpartum depression or should it be called postpartum neglect (from the community/social network).
- Social and emotional support is protective for health.
- Is new technology increasing social isolation?
- What are the impacts of social isolation on older adults?
- A sense of belonging among college students is a strong predictor of degree completion.
These are just a few diverse examples of how the impact of community has been brought to the forefront of public attention, and for good reason!
There isn’t much I can say that you haven’t heard before, but social/community involvement is not an option. As our society has evolved into one that is much more independent and even egoistic, we’ve lost our reliance on community to meet certain needs. I always thought this was evident in comparing small towns to large cities. Often, when something tragic happens in a small town, the community joins together to provide whatever assistance they can, then turning outward for any needs that cannot be met. In larger cities it seems to work differently. Of course there are exceptions in large cities, but these seem to occur among tight social networks such as workplaces, churches, or other community groups.
Regardless, if you are doubting your sense of community, I urge you to start forming multiple social groups/networks as soon as possible. There are ways to be involved at any stage of life:
- Expecting/fostering/adoptive/waiting/new moms: join a group with those in a similar situation. The other people in your group will know what you’re going through and can be an excellent resource for when you feel overwhelmed.
- Parents of small children: join a play group through your community or church.
- Children/teens: join an organization, sports team, fine arts group, youth group, or anything that interests you. Teens, if you can’t find something in your area, look into DoSomething.org.
- College students: Although you don’t want to neglect your studies, join a few different student organizations. Most colleges have something for everyone, so consider joining at least two so that you can meet completely different groups of people.
- Young or recently single: I cannot tell you how important preventing social isolation is among this group. Sure, you have friends, but this is often a time of great change. It is also a time where you begin to have a harder time meeting people. Try anything! Sports teams, work teams, gym groups, church small groups, community groups, etc. One of the best ways to get involved is to volunteer at a few local places.
- Married people of all ages: Have both couple friends and individual friends. This is certainly a challenge, especially if you are married without kids. It seems like many people are married with kids, but married people without kids are often harder to find. If you have any tips for meeting people in this sub-group, let me know.
- Older adults: Hopefully you’ve been building networks for your entire life, but people unfortunately move and pass away. Stay involved with your church, get out of the house if you can, visit local events for people in your age range. Many schools even have “senior reading buddies” or something similar. If you are in a community setting, don’t be afraid of those people around you. They may not be the people you’re used to, they may even be bitter, grouchy, or mean, but if you meet enough people you’re sure to find a few you like.
If you’re looking for volunteering opportunities at any age, just think of what you want to accomplish. I heard one time that, instead of thinking of what makes you happy and doing that, you should think of what makes you really mad and do something about it. So, what really makes you mad or sad? If you don’t want a single child or person to go hungry, look up related organizations in your area, such as a local food bank or something like Snack Pak 4 Kids. If you still can’t find anything, try Volunteer Match.org.
Staying connected can help reduce depression and increase general health and well being. “Perceived isolation has been linked to higher blood pressure, more susceptibility to flu and other infectious diseases, loss of impulse control (not being able to resist unhealthy foods or behaviors, for example), and earlier onset of dementia” (4). On a more basic level, this is why I recommend workout buddies or groups to keep you motivated. I might fail on my own, but if I involve other people I am much more likely to succeed. These relationships should be nurtured in the same way you would eat healthy food or get a bit of exercise.
What are your tips for staying connected?