The power of community
In a previous post looking at the habits and lifestyle of people living in blue zones one of the aspects looked at was the importance of community, not only our own family but need for strong friendships. This isn’t a surprise, I think we all know the importance of having people in our lives who have our backs. It may however suprise you to learn that strong social networks appear to reduce our risk of heart disease, some cancers, make it more likely we will survive a health crisis and quite simply increase our chance of living a long healthy life.
But in the modern world it isn’t always that simple, working patterns, less interaction between neighbours, moving far from home all play into people becoming more isolated. Then throw in social anxiety, a divorce or caring responsibilities and it can seem impossible to expand our social circles never mind be part of a community.
This all makes the advise of having strong community links for the benefit of our health seem like empty words so what do we do?
Honestly it’s not an easy situation but I have had to rebuild my circle from scratch more than once, in my early 20s after a big relationship break up, in my 30s when I moved to a different town and then in recent years when after a long period of caring for my daughter I found I had lost many friends during her illness. Here’s a list of ideas based on what I found worked for me:-
- Be open to opportunities for new friendships, if you really hit it off with someone ask them out to coffee, the worst that will happen is they politely say no.
- Join stuff, all the stuff! Anything that takes your interest, book clubs, Spanish classes, true crime groups, gyms. Really anything that you will enjoy that also gives you a chance to meet people. The enjoying the actual activity is an important aspect as it might be that there is no one there that you gel with but it gives you an activity to look forward during the week regardless. That in itself is confidence building
- Be open to trying entirely new experiences, maybe you actually are a budding surfer or ariel yogi.
- Apps these days are amazing, there are meet new friends apps such as peanut and one of my favourites MeetUp which has events and get togethers close by listed. Although I have yet to find something in my town via MeetUp I have joined a couple of really fun groups in the nearest city.
- Realise that you are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that is actually ok, there may be places where you just don’t fit. If that is the case just move on, it’s impossible to make yourself fit somewhere you don’t and wastes time you could be spending on other more fruitful situations. A rule of thumb as to whether you don’t fit somewhere is if you stop going does anyone from that social situation or group stay in touch or reach out? If the answer is no, especially if you’ve been part of that group for sometime chances are they aren’t your people or your friends. If people from that group actively shun you once you are no longer part of their network they absolutely were never friends in the first place. Harsh, but better to figure it out sooner rather than later.
- To a lesser degree the same applies to individuals, if you only ever reach out and it is never reciprocated as far as suggesting plans etc question if that person is actually there for you. There are times when people are just overwhelmed with work or family responsibilities which is understandable but there are also people who will just take advantage. Before my daughter developed cancer I had some what I thought were really close friends, I was always in the supportive role of their lives and dramas. The second my daughter became ill and I was the one needing support two of my oldest friends vanished and I didn’t hear from them again. I am now much more aware of the signs of people who will use me to their benefit. Building your community means finding people who will support you, not just people who want your support.
- It is even more likely there will be places you don’t fit if like me you are neurodiverse. Don’t worry though your weird soul friends are out there and you will thrive all the more when you find them!
- Re-connect with old friends, if you stopped seeing each other due to circumstance rather than a break in the friendship there is a good chance that whatever was there before still is. It can be tricky to reach out out of the blue but most of the time we are actually thrilled to hear from someone we share history with.
- Once you start to build your little community of friends be patient, each new friendship is like a seedling. Some will grow others may not. Focus on the friendships that are growing and nurture them with your time.
- Make plans. This is an obvious one, but it can be very easy to put off seeing people over and over again. Especially if busy with work and family. I don’t think I’ve ever made time for a friend and regretted it, even when I’m exhausted.
- Most of all enjoy the process, it can be daunting as an adult to make new friends, but it can also be a huge amount of fun if you let it!
Good luck and here’s to all the beautiful people in our lives who bring joy to our days, wine to our glasses and laughter to our bellies and nourishment to our souls! I am very lucky to have a batch of people in my corner now who I know have my back and who I hope realise I have theirs.