In 2013, Mark Hyman, MD, a well-known functional medicine doctor led thousands of people from the same church through a wellness plan that incorporated the pillars of functional medicine with social connection, and in his words, “the results were astounding”.
He goes on to say that although the nutrition portion was excellent, the real reason so many people lost weight and even reversed dis-ease was because they had each other. They had community. As a physician who practices a holistic model, Dr. Hyman is aware of the research showing the sometime serious health consequences of isolation and loneliness. Below is his list of 8 ways to cultivate a healthy community which in turn supports improved health, wellbeing and healing.
- Eat with others. One study of more than 50 firehouses found that those who ate together had better group performance than those that didn’t. The firefighters who shared meals with their platoon members equated this to an act of family bonding. Try to reach out to one friend or family member each week and ask if you can share a meal together; it’s a great way to catch up, listen, and be heard.
- Volunteer. This is the perfect way to get involved in something you personally care about, plus you’ll be supporting those in need within your community and connecting with others who want to do the same. Offer to visit the elderly, read to kids at a children’s hospital, or take care of animals at the local shelter. There are numerous ways to get involved! Pick something that speaks to you.
- Take a class. It’s always a great time to learn, and taking a class is a great way to support a healthy brain while meeting new people who have the same interests. Check out your local college or community center and see what’s available; you can also look at local business for classes in pottery, cooking, yoga, whatever! Are you an expert in something you’d like to share? Then volunteer to teach a class to pass that knowledge on to others.
- Prioritize spending time with your loved ones. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the demands of a busy life. A packed schedule doesn’t mean you’re really experiencing a strong level of human connection. Studies have shown that even those who live with others can feel lonely and isolated, meaning the quality of our relationships is extremely important to our health. Make an effort to plan special experiences with your friends and family.
- Say thanks. When someone in your life takes the time to do something nice for you, be sure to give them a genuine “Thank you.” Pick up the phone or send a nice card, it will show them how much their action meant to you and strengthen your relationship with that person. On that same note, think about what you can do to show someone in your life a little extra unexpected kindness.
- Adopt a pet. If you’re feeling lonely, getting a four-legged friend can be a really fun solution. Dogs are especially helpful in this sense because, in addition to keeping you company, they get you out of the house and make it easy to meet and chat with other dog owners while you’re enjoying a walk outdoors or spending time at the park.
- Organize an event. Take the initiative to plan a community event—chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the people that want to get involved and the number of connections you make in the process. Steps like this are really beneficial for building long-lasting community relationships and one event can lead to many more!
- Check in on others. Do you have an elderly widowed neighbor, or maybe your sibling is recently divorced and living alone, or your daughter just went through a tough breakup. Check in on the people in your life who might be lonely or isolated; even if it seems like this might be a phase for them, it’s important to let them know they’re not alone and that they have a support system ready and willing to help.
He ends his article with the following words. “While it might seem intimidating to branch out of loneliness, it can do wonders for your health, attitude, and mindset. Even if you’re not lonely, think about what you can do to work on the relationships you have and help others who might be feeling isolated.”
I will add that if you are dealing with a cancer (or its treatment), that creates significantly debilitating symptoms, you have to choose social connection interventions that match your current physical and emotional energy levels so as not to drain yourself. That said, there is powerful healing mojo in harnessing the powers of community and service.
Image courtesy of www.creativelyunited.org/the-power-of-community/