There has never been a better time to celebrate the ways in which COMMUNITY matters to our lives and health than right now. In this time of social distancing the power of community has really come to the forefront for me in a way it never has before. I’ve felt aches for a casual gathering of friends around a dinner table and have come to realize how much of this time spent in community I truly took for granted!
I’ve also seen the ways that we’ve been forced to become creative in how we connect with one another and how it’s reinforced the fact that as humans, meaningful social connections are integral to our wellbeing.
When on any healing journey to improve our health and wellbeing, we might not immediately think of community as an essential pillar.
What are the first things you think of when it comes to improving your health?
Food, exercise and medications are usually the foundations we focus on to bring our bodies back into balance. While these pieces are absolutely essential to health, they don’t always take into account the whole picture. I like to tell my clients that even if we are eating all the “right” foods but are feeling disconnected from what’s actually going on in our body, totally stressed out and socially isolated by our symptoms and restrictive diet, no amount of kale or bone broth is going to completely pull us out of that.
In addition to nutrition and exercise, there are key primary foods, or non-food sources of nourishment that fuel us in our lives and contribute to optimal health.
Primary foods are things like meaningful relationships, community, spirituality and fulfilling work.
We all thrive with strong social relationships, and studies have confirmed that these relationships foster physical and emotional wellbeing. Meaningful social activity is a really important pillar of health, even for us introverts !
A 2010 meta-analysis found that the influence of social relationships on the risk of mortality are comparable with well-established risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity ! Isn’t that amazing?
One of the hallmarks of the famous “Blue Zones,” the regions around the world where people are living significantly longer and healthier lives, is the prioritization of community and social interaction. Research has shown that supportive social interactions enhance health in part through their positive impact on immune and endocrine regulation .
Aside from the new barriers of social distancing, dealing with a chronic illness can be really isolating on it’s own. We might feel like no one understands what we are really going through and our symptoms like fatigue and pain might prevent us from engaging in social activities we want to. Even if we have intentions to be social, however, having a chronic illness can sometimes make it hard to keep commitments or plans with others due to the variability of how we feel.
So how do we balance the deep need for nourishing social interactions with taking care of ourselves?
Being social and in community doesn’t have to mean giving away all of your energy. I find that clearly communicating my reality to others helps to set the boundaries I need to ensure I’m taking care of myself and protecting my energy. When speaking to others, It may help to explain that your symptoms are variable and sometimes you need to cancel plans (even if that’s a phone call or a Zoom chat!) in order to take care of yourself. Assure them you value their relationship and spending time with them is important to you. I personally love the phrase, “Say yes more than you want to but say no whenever you need to,” and allow that to guide my balance between showing up when it’s important and deeply honoring my own personal boundaries.
I want to highlight here as well that community and social connection does not have to be about quantity. Just a single, good-quality social interaction can set off a chemical cascade in the body, increasing oxytocin and decreasing stress, and giving a sense of meaning and connection .
If you’ve found yourself isolated socially during this time while managing chronic illness, can you allow yourself some meaningful social time with supportive friends or family? If you don’t have a supportive community to reach out to, can you join a meet-up group in your area of others who are on a similar path as you? It’s times like this I’m so grateful for this Autoimmune Sisters community and encourage you to come connect, share your thoughts and know that we are all here for you! Surrounding yourself with people passionate about living a full and healthy life has the power to nourish us in so many profound ways.
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11752480/, https://academic.oup.com/ppar/article/27/4/127/4782506