By Julie Stephenson, Director of Community Development
“Humans are social creatures: in this simple and obvious fact lies both the problem and the solution to the current crisis of loneliness”. In his groundbreaking book, Together – The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, makes a case for loneliness as a public health concern: “a root cause and contributor to many of the epidemics sweeping the world today from alcohol and drug addiction to violence to depression and anxiety. Loneliness is affecting not only our health but also how our children experience school, how we perform in the workplace, and the sense of division and polarization in our society. But, at the center of our loneliness is our innate desire to connect. We have evolved to participate in community, to forge lasting bonds with others, to help one another, and to share life experiences. We are, simply, better together.”
Better together was the simple vision that created the Healthy Neighbors Caring Communities Collaboration in the summer of 2020. Organizations in southwest Wisconsin decided to pool expertise, ideas and resources to create information relevant and specific for citizens in our region. The first focus area of the collaboration was community efforts to keep the region safe from COVID-19. Evidence-based information was featured in area newspapers sponsored and supported by: Grant Regional Health Center, Gunderson Boscobel Area Hospital and Clinics, Iowa County Health Department and Iowa County Emergency Management, Southwest Health, Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, The Richland Hospital, Inc and Uplands Hills Health.
I’m personally proud and energized to be working in collaborations with these and other organizations toward the just cause of providing clear and relevant information for people living and working in southwest Wisconsin. I fully believe that most people will do their share to keep their communities healthy and thriving, if they are empowered with the tools and information to do so. These communication campaigns are just one way of cutting through some of the noise and misinformation to get at the heart of what matters most to our neighbors and communities – our health and well-being. Without that, not much else matters.
Most of us are experiencing heightened anxiety right now, and in turn, on top of everything else we are exhausted from being anxious all the time. Our human need to connect without a safe opportunity to do so, the lingering health and financial impacts of global COVID crisis, and the bitterly divided state of our American culture has taken a toll on our mental health. This vicious cycle of constant and unmanaged stress can become a dangerous game of ‘chasing our tails’. And even if we eliminate one or more stressful elements from our daily lives, the long-term impacts of being overwhelmed and exhausted can remain until you intentionally break your stress cycle.
The newest informational campaign from The Healthy Neighbors Caring Communities Collaboration focuses on mental health and brings new awareness of practical ways to disrupt chronic stress. The “Break Your Stress Cycle” campaign was created to share strategies for managing stress and burnout due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to our friends and neighbors right here in southwest Wisconsin. Our most recent collaborators on this campaign are Big Radio WEKZ, WBGR, SWCAP Farm Well Program, Southwest Health, Southwest Wisconsin Behavior Health Partnership, Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Upland Hills Health and Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
This regional team rooted their work using the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle as our guide to create six practical steps to help us all break our stress cycle and battle back against burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Burnout can show up as: cynicism, emotional exhaustion and helplessness. The campaign, much like the book, can benefit anyone who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything they have to do, yet still worry they aren’t doing ‘enough.’ The mission of the campaign is to normalize the things you can do to #breakyourstresscycle before you deal with the more serious problems. The six simple practices that “Break Your Stress Cycle” are Breathing, Affection, Creative Expression, Laughter, Physical Activity and Positive Social Interaction. These activities are based on evidence from medical professionals and have been shown to reduce anxiety and boost mood. Find even more resources and information about this campaign by visiting www.swbhp.org and clicking on the Break Your Stress Cycle page.
Remembering that we are better together will strengthen our homes, workplaces and communities. We were not meant to live, work or struggle alone. Whether dealing with COVID-19 or chronic stress, I believe collaborative ventures like Healthy Neighbors Caring Communities can focus us on the healing power of connection, and empower us all to do what we can to keep each other and our region safe and pulling forward together.