May Newsletter – Growing Community: A Life-Long Investment

Social support is important for our health and our well-being. I expound on the importance of community in my book, and yet like other women who strive to be independent after divorce, we can sometimes become so focused on work and family that we might look up one day and find ourselves isolated.

We can get so used to doing all that keeps us “busy,” retreating to our favorite TV schedules on given nights, and becoming comfortable in our routine that we don’t even recognize that we are not socializing as we used to, or as we may need to. Some people favor their peace and flexibility without commitment to an organization or regular appearance somewhere. There is a level of freedom to choose to come and go without any expectation upon us. But is there a health related “price to pay” for our choice to remain alone.

Research by NIH, as reported by Dr. Dean Ornish, found that a support group was one of the most powerful interventions to stress, depression and the perception of isolation. Dr. Ornish concludes that “…feelings of connection can be healing in the real sense of the word: to bring together, to make whole. The ability to be intimate has long been seen as a key to emotional health; I believe it is essential to the health of our hearts as well.” Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford Medical School discovered that “metastatic breast cancer patients who joined support groups lived nearly twice as long as those receiving only medical care.”

The role of technology brings up pros and cons. We may be as glued to our internet as the TV and decline invitations to be social; and yet, for many, the internet allows people to connect to like minded conversations that they may never find in their local community.

The Healing Brain summarizes research that lists benefits from group life “for our very health and survival.” “…interaction with the larger social world of others draws our attention outside of ourselves, enlarges our focus, enhances our ability to cope, and seems to make the brain reactions more stable and the person less vulnerable to disease.”

Another way to improve upon our social interactions, and reap the benefits of such, is to regularly engage in giving! The same endorphins and natural opiates one may experience from exercise or meditation can sometimes be stimulated from doing good for others—such as volunteering. I’m impressed at how often you will find on a hospital floor of stroke victims, a volunteer who has survived and able to visit others to offer care and encouragement.

As we look to a growing percentage of “boomers” retiring, and as even more are finding themselves widows, widowers or divorced, it becomes ever more important to have people in our lives that we can call community. When we either have no family, or have family at a distance, it is comforting to have caring individuals near to contact in a crisis. Our children can become so busy with jobs and raising their families that communication or visits can be infrequent. Establishing an extended community provides not only a sense of belonging, but encourages an identity and sense of enrichment in place of isolation. Growing your community is not only essential to your well-being, but is a life-long investment—as important as any investment we can make.