The people you surround yourself with play a bigger role in your life than you may think. Today, I want to float the idea of community and why it matters for your health. You may be surprised…
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” – Herman Melville
It’s very easy for those of us who suffer from chronic illness to crawl into our respective caves and hide from the world. Especially as we navigate just what our personal symptoms mean. Let’s face it, when you’re deeply fatigued, in pain, experiencing the stress of diagnosis (or yet to be diagnosed) and doing your best to live an AIP way of life – the thought of facing people can just seem too damn much.
What if having strong community matters for your health?
Increasingly, studies into the idea of human connection and community clearly illustrate that a tight network of good friends can have a hugely beneficial impact on your health.
Whether you’re enjoying a quiet meal with your partner, catching up with a girlfriend at your local café or leaning on a mate for support during a particularly tough time, really good friends are the ones who are there for you when you need them most. And science shows us that this loyalty can have a profoundly positive impact on our health.
Close friendships have been linked to benefits in physical, mental, and emotional health.
Want an evidence-based understanding of just why this idea of building a strong community of good mates is so important?
1. Community strengthens your immune system
It makes sense that we kick things off with the immune system.
And, with good reason. There is an established correlation between the social support you receive from friendship and your immune system. A 2010 meta-analysis of 148 different research studies found that “people with stronger social relationships had a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships.”
The results indicated that people with good friends tend to have stronger immune systems and anti-inflammatory responses that can lead to a reduction in even the risk of illness. This includes cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and some cancers.
2. Community can give you better overall health
According to this article published by the Mayo Clinic, having a small number of meaningful and rewarding friendships promotes your overall health.
Simply by having a few good friends in your life encourages you to swap out poor habits for healthier ones. Whether it’s by encouraging you to make choices that serve you, encourage you to focus on a nutrient dense diet, increase your incidental movement, or the opportunity to manage stress through play, the influence your friends provide can help to mitigate the risks of many health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity, and depression.
3. Community can make you happier
Who doesn’t want to be happier?
One of the best ways to get out of your own head (which can include a negative spiral that comes from experiencing chronic illness) and find more joy is to turn to your happy friends. This becomes especially important as we age. Socializing with happy people can rub off on you when you’re feeling blue.
Research also suggests that you can amp up your happiness quotient by actively building friendships instead of waiting for them to come to you.
According to a study published in the Journal of Psychology and Aging, Dr Denis Gerstorf, of Humboldt University in Berlin states, “Our results indicate that living a socially active life and prioritizing social goals are associated with higher late-life satisfaction and less severe declines toward the end of life.”
4. Community can help you lower your stress levels
Remember that 2010 meta-analysis I mentioned? It looks like friendship and community can also play a role in the way your body processes stress. This is super important for those of us with chronic illness as it tends to be a tricky area to mitigate.
There is evidence to show that spending time with your mate sharing what’s going on with you can help with reducing cortisol levels. This can have both a calming effect and make you feel good. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Of course, if you’re like me and you want to double down on your stress management – you could always aim for some blue space (or green space) at the same time!
5. Community can improve your self-esteem
The isolation and shame that often accompanies chronic illness can do a real number on your self-esteem.
Understanding friends can help to build confidence and self-esteem. They do this by offering a shoulder, cheering us on when we need it and offering different perspectives. The sense of connection that comes from spending time with a good friend can bring a sense of meaning when life feels particularly hard.
The moral of this story is that your community matters for your health. Even when it doesn’t feel like it does.
Fostering a small circle of good friends is something that should be part of your health toolbox. If you don’t already have a few reliable, good friends you can call on – now’s the time to think about that.
Making new friends doesn’t have to be difficult. Consider some of these suggestions:
- Become a regular at your local café. It’s a great way to meet people in your neighbourhood.
- Volunteer. You’ll meet loads of new people and you’ll feel good. Bonus!
- Check out your local church or join the local choir. Singing releases loads of good ‘happy’ endorphins.
- Take a class. Learning a new skill with like-minded people is a great way to make new friends.
- Join the next AIP Reset. It’s 30-days of back-to-basics AIP with others from around the world who understand.
- Check out AIP Mentorship and join the crew (We’re a #bloodyfabulous and friendly bunch of women living an AIP way of life)