Community is how we survive. It's how we protect and nurture each other. Physical proximity is what nourishes our minds, bodies, and souls.
The breakdown of community is at the center of our mental health crisis. Loneliness among Americans increased 200% from 1980 to 2010 and the number of people who say they didn’t have someone in their life to confide in dropped significantly from 1985 to 2004 (Latson, 2018, Seppala & Seppälä, 2017). Perceived social isolation is highly correlated with anxiety, depression and suicide, and the national suicide rate has risen by 31% since 2001 (Cacioppo, J. T. 2009, Mental Health By the Numbers). This was all before the pandemic hit.
Additionally, for all the benefits and conveniences technology has brought to our lives, we are still wrestling with the impact of screen time. In "Permission to Feel", Marc Brackett describes how high levels of screen time are associated with “less curiosity, self-control, and emotional stability.” Those who spend more time on screens are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Photo cred: Alex Knight from unsplash.com
I'm not saying we get rid of technology. I believe technology has helped us connect in ways we could have never imagined. However, I think there are also negative side effects that we need to recognize.
In order to temper the isolation so prevalent in our society, we need to prioritize community. Having meaningful connections in our lives strengthens our immune system, increases our self-confidence and "decreases mental health issues such as anxiety and depression" (Seppala & Seppälä, 2017).
However, experiencing connection is not simple. Community can both be beautiful and challenging. There are those we have common interests with and who share similar ideas about the world. There are people we can trust with our secrets and who will answer the phone when we are in need. People that we can work through problematic ideas in front of and you know that they will have our back. A community that brings us to our knees in laughter.
And then there are the challenging sides of community. Family members who trigger us. Friends with whom we have painful rifts. Ex-lovers who remind us of our worst moments. Co-workers with whom we can’t stand to be in the room. Loved ones who are brave enough to give us difficult feedback.
Both sides of this coin are necessary for a healthy, fulfilling and meaningful life. We need the nurturing of community for strength, safety, protection and confidence. And we need the challenging people in our lives who to show us our frustrations, our triggers, our inadequacies, our vulnerabilities. Isolation comes when we run away from ourselves and our pain. In order to reap the benefits of connection, we need to be able to lean into both kinds of relationships: the ones that make us uncomfortable and the ones that make us feel safe. Sources:
Cacioppo, J. T., & Patrick, W. (2009). Loneliness: human nature and the need for social connection. New York: Norton.
Latson, J. (2018). A Cure for Disconnection. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201803/cure-disconnection
Mental Health By the Numbers. (n.d.). Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://www.nami.org/mhstats
Seppala, E., & Seppälä, E. S. E. (2017, June 27). Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection. Retrieved from http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/