Our sense of community, and feeling connected with others, is one of the most powerful factors that affects our health. Most doctors do devote time to discussing the importance of diet, exercise and stress management as being essential for optimal health and disease prevention. Indeed, these are the foundations of optimal health. But the importance of human connection, community and our sense of belonging is equally important for our health.
Researchers have found that loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of premature death by 30%. Scientist found that feeling social isolation has the same risk factors to health as smoking 15 cigarettes/day or being alcoholic. And social isolation was found to be worse for your health than not exercising and twice as worse as being obese.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that is increasingly more isolating. It is more common these days for our nuclear family unit to be miles away from our extended family. Biologically speaking, parents with young children should be surrounded by a large extended family to help with raising children and taking care of the home. This is not the norm these days. Also our growing reliance on social technology rather than face to face interaction is making us feel even more isolated. Spending time on our smartphones usually translates to feeling less connected to others and our relationships becoming more superficial and less rewarding. Amazingly, a third of all children view themselves as less important than their parents’ cell phones. This is truly tragic and only serves to make children feel more lonely and less connected to their family community.
There is not a universal prescription for escaping loneliness and feeling a greater sense of connection and belonging, but here are a few suggestions to consider:
- Make social connection a priority. Our lives get busy and we’re tired at the end of the day and sometimes it’s just easier to put on our sweats and turn on the TV than meet a friend for dinner or plan a hike with a buddy. These moments of social interaction are essential. It does not have to be 3x/week – but think about making plans with a friend once a week or even once or twice a month.
- Join a temple, church or spiritual community.
- Join a bookclub.
- Connect with office colleagues.
- Interested in a hobby like knitting or scrapbooking? There are usually group meetups to discuss and grow your interests.
- Sign up to take a class you’re interested in at your local community college or University.
- Want to get your nails done? Ask a friend if they want to join you.
- Commit to staying off your phone when you’re with family or friends.
- Next time you reach for your phone – pause. Ask yourself if you’re feeling uneasy or bored not having your phone on you. Do you really need to check instagram or the news again? Get comfortable with those moments of boredom and instead appreciate your surroundings or make an effort to connect with someone face to face.
Dr. Maggie Ney is co-director of the Women’s Clinic at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine and specializes in women’s health and healthy aging. You can make an appointment with her by calling 310-451-8880 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org