Julie Stephenson, Outreach Director, Southwest Health
Being part of a community, no matter how big or small, can positively affect your mental health and emotional well-being, which can help you live a longer, happier life. Community involvement provides a sense of belonging, pride, and social connection. Being involved in your community can also offer extra meaning and purpose to everyday life, helping you feel excited about upcoming activities, meeting new people, and being interested in something you wouldn’t normally interact with.
Communities aren’t just the places you live or go to school. They exist or can be created from a shared hobby, lived experience, or a common cause. For many, communicating with others through online forums where it’s easy to find people with a common interest, social media where you can meet people you have a shared connection with, or in person, where you meet people who live near you, can help you to have a healthier mindset, improved self-worth, and greater enjoyment of life.
It’s well-documented that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Additionally, studies from Stanford Medicine show connected people also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative, and, as a result, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being.
Unfortunately, the feedback loop can work in the other direction for those who lack social connection. Low levels of social connection are associated with a decline in physical and psychological health. After the isolation that COVID-19 brought on, everyone can feel the effects of not being around people for a long time. Maybe you find it difficult to start a conversation, your social battery doesn’t ever feel fully charged, or you can’t find the motivation to leave your home. Whatever you’re feeling, know that it’s normal and others are feeling it too.
Having people to talk to, depend on, and make new connections through hobbies or a social group can help reduce loneliness risk. As much as loneliness can hurt us, a social connection seems to not only undo these effects but can protect our physical and mental health in many ways. Numerous studies have examined the connection between social connection and well-being, and all find that one predicts the other. A Harvard study found that people with stronger social connections were the healthiest and happiest. Social connection over a lifetime was the key variable that predicted happiness and longevity.
So we know that connection is important for our current mental health and future physical health. But after spending years somewhat isolated and encouraged to not be around others, how do you make that switch? How can you start to build a connection with the community around you? You can take small steps to feel more included by the people around you by attending local events and meeting new people.
This is an excellent opportunity to support organizations around you, meet your neighbors, and discover new interests. Check out your community event calendar for more information. This can usually be found on your town’s website or social media pages. If you want to connect to your community right now, you’re in luck!
Berry Fest is an event Southwest Health looks forward to hosting each year. This year, you can come out and enjoy Berry Fest on July 19th from 4:30 to 7:30 PM. Community members gathering, eating delicious food, and doing activities for the kids is the perfect combination for building social connection. Activities enjoyed in past years promoted healthy minds and bodies, including reading, bike riding, learning about our local fire departments, and trying new, healthy foods. Some activities promote health and wellness by keeping kids active through dancing, walking and running, eating healthy, or just trying fresh fruit or vegetable and having fun! There are a variety of activities to do, appropriate for all ages and interests.
Platteville’s Hometown Festival Week is a flurry of activity celebrating the community. Events include Southwest Music Festival, Southwest Health’s Berry Festival, Farmers Markets, Ice Cream Social at Stone Cottage, and a Party in the Park “Salute to Volunteers.” Festivities start Saturday, July 16th. If you want more information about upcoming events and more ways to connect with your community, check out Platteville’s event page on their website https://www.platteville.com/events.
Remember, you’re not alone even if you feel a lack of connection. There are people around you feeling the same way. Take that first step to feel more connected to your community.