Based on a conversation with Va’Ronda Varnado, FNP
Carving out space for yourself within a supportive community isn’t just a luxury — it’s a necessity for good health. If you’re wondering what a network of friends, family, acquaintances, and like-minded individuals can do to benefit your well-being, consider this: humans are inherently social creatures. Because of that biological fact, we need to be connected to those around us in order to survive and thrive. The social and cultural bonds that form between members of a community are the foundation for a support system that boosts individuals’ physical and mental health.
While all of that may sound reasonable within the context of our predecessors who lived in communal dwellings and relied on one another for food, clothing, childcare, and more, you may be wondering how the benefits of community translate to modern life. It turns out that staying connected to friends and family positively impacts an individual’s health along three dimensions: 1) Behaviorally, 2) Psychosocially, and 3) Physiologically. Here’s how that breaks down:
What does the research show?
The benefits of human connection aren’t just theoretical; they’re scientifically proven. Numerous studies have demonstrated the connection between strong relationships with others and happiness, better health, and longevity. There are also studies that demonstrate the relationship between social isolation and its negative impact on an individual’s health. To put it simply, having meaningful connections with family and friends creates a go-to network of people you can trust and lean on for support in both good times and bad, and that security can go a long way in improving your overall well-being.
Here are just a few of the most significant studies on that matter and what their findings reveal about the impact of community on individual health:
Consequences of loneliness
It’s impossible to discuss the myriad beneficial aspects of community without acknowledging the flip side of the equation: the potentially devastating consequences of loneliness and isolation. A lack of community can create physical and psychological problems, including alcoholism and drug use, altered brain function, progression of Alzheimer’s disease, decreased memory and learning ability, and increased stress levels. Individuals with weak social connections to others also have elevated rates of depression and suicide.
Investing in your relationships with others is just as important to your well-being as exercise, a healthy diet, and routine medical checkups. Living in and making time to be active members of communities in which individuals look out for each others’ needs are important sources of social and mental support.
How to find your community
If you’re not already part of a close-knit community, you may be wondering how to seek out a supportive network. “While building community may seem like an easy task, it can be especially difficult for introverts,” says Ezra medical provider, Va’Ronda Varnado, FNP. For anyone in the early stages of community building, Varnado suggests starting with a simple online search for local meetups or community events that suit your interests. “The first step is to know yourself and seek out others with similar passions,” she says. “Finding your community will require an effort but the physical and emotional benefits are worth it.”
Here are a few more tips for getting started:
And if you already have a community, but you feel you’ve lost the spark of connection and closeness, it’s never too late to reconnect. “With travel restrictions now eased, it’s a great time to reconnect with our family and friends,” Varnado says.