By Dani Williamson, MSN, FNP
So much of our identity is wrapped around our community. The people we spend the most time with, socially, work wise, church wise, family wise and more. When I think of community I am reminded of the philosophy of Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche. Vanier believes that at the heart of everyone lies in the insatiable need for community and belonging, which in turn validates our sense of worth.
Recent research has shown that we are the loneliest society thus far. Cigna published a survey that revealed nearly half of Americans always or sometimes feel alone (46%) or left out of social circles (47%). 54% revealed they always or sometimes feel no one knows them well. They have no close friends to share with or do life with. A 2015 study from UCLA discovered that when people are socially isolated our body experiences cellular changes that result in systemic chronic inflammation, predisposing the lonely to conditions like heart disease, stroke, metastatic cancer as well as Alzheimer’s disease. A 2015 review of data from seventy studies that followed a total of 3.4 million people over seven years, found that lonely people had a 26% increased risk of dying. The percentage rose to 32% if they lived alone.
Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2010). Loneliness is worse for you than obesity (Holt-Lunstad, 2010). Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression (Valtorta et al, 2016, James et al, 2011, Cacioppo et al, 2006). Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26-32% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015).
Our young people are at the center of the loneliness and lack of community epidemic. With the rise in social media, it is more difficult to connect face to face and have in-person community and socialization. Even though the Cigna study did not find a correlation between social media and loneliness, I find that difficult to believe. The Cigna study discovered that the younger generation is struggling with isolation and loneliness. Members of Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, had a higher overall loneliness score than any other age range.
What are we going to do about this epidemic? This epidemic that has systemic health consequences for those struggling with loneliness. How are we going to cultivate community for these people? Below are a few of my favorite ways to cultivate community. I moved here alone with two small children thirteen years ago and had to make my own community. I realized a few years ago that I was isolated, raising children and working all the time. I had let my closest friends drift apart from me due to being ‘busy’. I made a conscious decision to change that. I started a party at Arrington Vineyards twice a year and invited everyone I know and want to reconnect with. It has been a great way to connect others together and cultivate the friendships we all long for. Plus, you don’t have to clean up at your house when it’s over. Make it easy for youself, and get started reconnecting or connecting with those you know or want to know.
• Get involved with community organizations and activities for which you are passionate.
• Find a church that has community groups and join one.
• Hold a neighborhood drive or yard sale.
• Reach out to others in need. Giving back is one way to cultivate community.
• Celebrate the good times with anyone you choose. Make the time to celebrate life.
• Get involved in school organizations if you are a student.
• Volunteer anywhere that interests you.
• Join a Meetup Group, we have so many great ones here in Williamson County.
• Start a support group for whatever it is you are interested in.
Put the phone down, close the laptop, and get outside and find an organization or group that interests you and start cultivating the community we all long to be a part of. You got this!