It Takes A Village

The idea of belonging to a “community” may be something that many of us take for granted until, perhaps, we need something from them. We all know that a community is helpful to have
during the more challenging times in our lives such as the birth of a baby, illness, injury, or loss of employment but maybe don’t acknowledge its role or importance in our lives outside of those times. Community has been a part of the societal structure for as long as we have been recording history, though not necessarily under that name. We have relied on the presence of other humans to assist in our ability to provide all the basic needs to one another but is there more to it than simply sustenance, shelter, and survival? Historians and scientists alike think there is.

The human body is built to be a part of a community and putting time and effort into interacting with others and developing human connection will inevitably bring you both physical and mental health benefits. Additionally, people who are more affluent tend to have longer life expectancies and less illnesses than those on the other end of the spectrum which could lead to the inference that having greater accesses to the rewards of being a part of a community and simply “belonging” can have a direct impact on your health. The structure of modern societies and communities has become the subject of much research in order to increase the understanding of the social determinants of health.

Part of the challenges that face those in lower socioeconomic groups is that they have less/different access to education, healthy food options, health care, and physical activity. This limited access will directly impact health but also indirectly as it can result in increased stress, depression, anxiety and insomnia which in turn increase the risk of many other chronic diseases. Creating a community then can be critical in ensuring that everyone belongs and has similar access to these things that many of us don’t even consider on a daily basis.

We don’t always have control over our individual circumstances such as proximity to family, income, and medical conditions but we do have control over the relationships that we form with others around us and the community we form. One thing is clear from observing and researching other cultures and that is that we are all better when we are working together to help one another. All of us will be, at one time or another, at both ends of the spectrum - needing help and able to provide help.

Every community, from small towns such as Fernie to larger cities can benefit from strategies that will optimize the health of everyone by seemingly small but frequent actions taken by individuals. The first step in establishing or strengthening your community is connection. Human connection is suffering largely due to the presence of devices that enable us to communicate without even looking at one another and also provide a steady stream of distraction to take us away from the here and now. In an effort to increase the frequency and quality of human connection in your life, consider setting aside your devices at meals or during conversations or even for large chunks of the day, limiting the amount of time you spend mindlessly browsing through your apps.

Through improved connections, we become more aware of what is happening in the lives of those in our community which makes it easier to offer assistance when someone needs a bit of help and to ask for it when you are in need. Small acts of giving and receiving add up to reduced stress, improved mood and better sleep and ultimately, better health. A true community is the sum of human connections. If you work at making these connections every day (and for some it is much more natural than for others), you will undoubtedly end up with a sense of the community you have created and fostered and the end result will be a support system that lifts up the people who need it at minimal cost to those providing the support. Not only does this improve the day to day lives of the people in your community, but there will be an overall increase in the sense of well-being, life-satisfaction, and health. Finally, this community will become the framework for your children’s communities, allowing them to grow up with the values of your community and carry them into their own. It truly does take a village to look after one another.

Photo by Courtney Baker