By Steph Lavelle, Vitrual Assistant
The importance of feeling closely connected to friends, family or our community is being recognised, just as important as a healthy diet, exercise and getting enough sleep. We all know the basics of living a healthy and happy life but how many of us recognise the value in feeling connected to the community around us? As human beings we are intrinsically wired for connection, which means we need to feel accepted and included in order to live a high quality of life. Research now supports this with various studies showing a correlation with feeling connected helping to lower the risk of anxiety and depression and increasing the longevity of our lives.
Feeling social connection is crucial for our wellbeing as it improves our physical and mental health. If we feel disconnected from our community we are more likely to self isolate, increasing feelings of loneliness. This increase in loneliness has the potential to create increased mental health issues and inflammation in our bodies, with inflammation leading to illness and disease. So, when we are actively involved in our community and engaging with others positively we are receiving the feedback and reinforcement that tells our brain we are appreciated and important, increasing the feel good hormones in our body, which helps to minimise inflammation in our cells and negative beliefs and feelings which in turn decrease mental illness.
Brene Brown, who specialises in social connection, states, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick”. This realisation after 2 decades of clinical observations shows the magnitude to which the power of connection influences our lives in every area.
We live in a time where it is more important than ever to reach out and connect with the world around us, we are currently experiencing the highest levels of mental health issues, loneliness and disease ever known, yet we also pride ourselves on our level of independence and busy-ness. This inclination to glorify constantly being unavailable and capable without support is creating a division of the connection we are so desperately in need of.
Most importantly now, we are living in a community that has recently experienced extreme trauma via the 2019/20 bushfires. This community spans our country given the extremity of the catastrophic conditions we as a whole experienced. When we experience such extreme trauma it is crucial to understand the mental health impact these conditions perpetuate throughout our community. While we all felt the overwhelming support and community spirit offered during and immediately following these fires, for those directly affected, through loss of property, income and most tragically, life, initially were in survival mode and the mental health implications will not be felt for anywhere from 6 months up to 2 years following the traumatic experience. It is not until those directly affected have had time to move from survival mode, ie. rebuilding to have somewhere to live or house their animals and machinery, doing what’s needed to pay the bills while they worry about rebuilding their livelihoods, dealing with insurance companies for immediate relief etc., and life returns to a situation where their trauma is less acknowledged and life is back to normal for those around them so they feel their lives should be back to “normal” as well, that an honest assessment of mental health impact can be made. Knowing this displays the potency of connection and its role to help in the prevention of depression, anxiety, loneliness and increased risk of disease.
The most interesting fact about connection, is that researchers agree the benefits of connection are based on your subjective sense of connection. This means that even if you are an introvert and find it difficult to interact with others or you are in a social setting surrounded by strangers, as long as you feel accepted and included within your surrounds then you will still receive the benefits of feeling connected. How many times have you been in a group of people you know yet felt alone or unimportant? Just as this situation is set to increase feelings of rejection, loneliness and sadness leading to negative implications for our body physically, mentally and emotionally. Whereas being around like minded people and feeling valued and understood increases our sense of connection and imparts the wonderful benefits of this magnificent aspect of life.
A critical benefit of creating and maintaining connection within our lives is the increase researchers have proven in compassion, understanding and acceptance that we show to others and ourselves. Ultimately one of the most important outcomes of fostering a sense of connection within yourself is opening your heart and mind to be more loving towards yourself and others, therefore making choices that bring you greater joy and peace in life every day. When we feel joy and peace in our lives every day we are more likely to believe in ourselves and live a life we feel passionate about leading to a more fulfilling life where we feel confident to blossom and share our unique brilliance for all to benefit.