Did you know that according to the latest research, our genes can be turned on or off based on our social environment? These findings are huge in terms of what role our environments play in our overall health and wellness. Psychological researchers George Slavich and Steven Cole of the University of California, Los Angeles refer to this blossoming field as “human social genomics.”
Powerful Connection Between Social Isolation and Illness
Research shows that loneliness is a strong predictor of premature death, worse mental health, lower quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease, and is a much stronger predictor than merely living alone, in both men and women.
In 2007 Cole found that, compared to socially connected individuals, people who experience chronic social isolation show reduced antiviral immune response gene activity, which leaves them vulnerable to viral infections like the common cold. These individuals also showed increased expression of genes involved in inflammation, which underlies the progression of chronic diseases like metabolic syndrome, heart disease, certain cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2010 survey of more than 3,000 adults in the US found that more than a third of respondents aged 45 and older were categorized as lonely.
Younger adults aged 45-49 reported higher rates of loneliness than adults aged 70 and older.
Lonely adults were significantly more likely to report poor health than non-lonely adults.
Dr. Mark Hyman talks about the importance of community in this video. Our genes can actually be turned on and off based on our community connections.
People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.
As for my personal experience with community, I never appreciated the importance of having people around me until I left the corporate office and my team I’d been working with together for a number of years. Working remote, with health coaches and other team members working out of their homes or offices, I realized how much I miss the casual conversations around the water cooler, the energy giving hugs, and the opportunity to be heard and to listen to each other’s obstacles in life. There were days and still are, where I drive to a coffee shop or store just to be among people. The effects are real so we want to be proactive about finding a community and engaging with them often.
8 Ways to Build Stronger Community
Find a community of like minded people (same hobbies, church, book club, new moms, etc.)
Volunteer – Do small favors for people or random acts of kindness. These acts are very powerful to increase social connections. Also, when you do something for someone else, it takes your mind off of yourself.
Sit down with family and friends and share a meal - there’s a study Mark Hyman shared finding that people who ate together had better group performance than those that didn’t. Also, research shows that family mealtime has a wealth of health benefits, especially for children. Kids who ate more meals together with their families tended to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods, and vitamins, and ate less junk food.
Work for greater social connections. Plan to spend time with a friend instead of catching up via text. Make plans to go to lunch, a comedy club, concerts, and events…besides enjoying the program you’ll often meet new people
Don’t want to put yourself out there like that? Get a pet. Here is another study talking about all sorts of health benefits for pet owners.
Focus on quality not quantity. A coffee date with a friend with whom you have an authentic connection will do more to decrease your loneliness than having thousands of Facebook friends or Instagram followers.
Take a social media break. Research supports that when people pull back from social media, they become much more intentional in seeking out real relationships.
Seek out the help of a professional counselor or coach. Feeling lonely is sometimes a symptom of depression. A therapist or life coach can help you work through this and develop strategies for reconnecting with others.
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