“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.” – Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness
Most humans spent much of 2020 at home, or at the very least, not out with others. We were not able to gather in groups, which shut down many of our community rituals. We could not gather with loved ones, honor the dead at funerals, or celebrate a wedding with friends and family. Sports, entertainment, restaurants, bars, our everyday hangouts – all closed for a time. We’ve quickly adapted to find new ways to connect with each other and stay in touch. But community is important, and we need more than the virtual world to feel a healthy sense of connection.
Why Community Matters
“Originally we needed community for protection and safety. But in modern times, what I see a lot is that people desire community in order to be mirrored. We need to be seen and delighted in for who we are and our gifts and talents,” says therapist, Lindsay Spratt, LCSW. “
If you grow up in a toxic environment or with a parent who wasn’t able to mirror you, then you’ll seek that mirroring from others. We grow and expand depending on our experience with our family community to be able to stretch and reach out to those who aren’t part of that group.”
Mirroring is an important factor in a sense of belonging and connection, feeling that your gifts are needed and helpful to others. Community helps us understand our place in the world and allows us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We care about those around us and not simply our own needs. We are offered the opportunity to invest of ourselves, our time, energy, and talents. Community mirroring helps us see what our talents are and how we can support a collective vision.
Or as Spratt affirms, “You’ll hear people talk about chosen family. We are hardwired for community and we need to be mirrored, so we will find others who we can give us healthy mirroring, and to whom we can reciprocate that need.”
Even If You Prefer To Be Alone
I love spending time alone and especially hiking alone. When people come along talking loudly, smoking cigarettes, reeking of perfume or cologne, I get annoyed. Being by myself in nature is a way for me to recharge and reconnect with the Earth. I avoid other hikers whenever possible.
In decades of hiking, I’ve only ever gotten lost once. Hiking a trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, I thought I’d surely come upon the road soon and find a tourist to give me a ride back to my car. In that moment I needed the help of my hiking community. But the trail actually took me farther away from the road. I ended up about 15 miles into the backwoods and was picked up by local firemen after calling for help
One of the things that went through my mind when it was getting dark and I realized I was utterly lost was, “I wish there were humans around.” It made me chuckle to realize that when the journey gets tough, I actually did want human connection. I’m not quite the lone wolf I may have once thought.
Impacts of Loneliness and Isolation
The human need for connection has been pushed to the limit during a world-wide pandemic. More and more people have turned to social media and video chat to connect with each other – and Zoom is now a household name. But if you use social media as a substitute for in-person community, your sense of loneliness and disconnection will likely worsen.
According to the CDC, loneliness and isolation are linked to serious health conditions, including an increased risk of dementia. 1/3 of Americans have not interacted with their neighbors. There are over 328 million people in the U.S so that’s a lot of people not connecting with the community that is right next door. Despite numerous ways to connect through technological devices, loneliness is on the rise, as research as shown. Lack of human connection can be more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.
The Canadian Mental Health Association goes as far as to say that social connection can “lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk.”
Health insurance company Cigna conducted a survey of 20,000 Americans to examine the behaviors driving loneliness in the United States (https://www.multivu.com/players/English/8294451-cigna-us-loneliness-survey/). They tabled the results into the U.S. Loneliness Index, which found loneliness is at epidemic levels:
- Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
- One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) has been called “the loneliest generation” and claims to be in worse health than older generations. And yet for a generation that was raised on the internet and technology, the index also shows that social media use alone is not necessarily a predictor of loneliness. As the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index says, “Respondents defined as very heavy users of social media had a loneliness score of (43.5), that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).”
Therefore, social media is not fully to blame for the sense of loneliness that so many currently experience. Cigna’s survey was released in 2018, so a worldwide pandemic is also not fully to blame for our disconnection, either. Many people lacked community long before social media or the pandemic, and the roots of our disconnection.run deep into the Western way of engaging with the world.
Ways To Connect
Finding community can sometimes feel intimidating, but there are ways to ease into meeting others and finding common ground.
The CMHA lists ways to connect with others:
- Join a new club, or try out a group activity
- Reach out to an old friend you’ve lost touch with
- Volunteer for a cause you care about
- Eat lunch in a communal space
- Introduce yourself to your neighbors
- Ask someone for help when you need it
- Do a random act of kindness
I would add:
- Spend less time on social media – pick 1 day a week to “fast” from it
- Go outside and take a walk or a hike – connect with nature
- Watch shows and movies that expand your mind, get you to think
A sense of inner connection can help us connect more easefully with community. When you are comfortable within yourself there will be less anxiety to connect with others. Social media and TV tend to be numbing agents. Find ways to open your mind. Get curious. Follow that curiosity to find others who are open and curious.
Humans need other humans. We need community. We are part of a collective of beings that are like us, even if we feel totally different. Our humanness is our common denominator that connects us like nothing else can. Ultimately, the connection of being in community can heal, through support, feeling seen and understood, and knowing that we are loved.
Bloom Post is a freelance writer, ceremonialist, teacher, and author of the books Shaman’s Toolbox: Practical Tools for Powerful Transformation and Plant Spirit Totems. For more information: www.BloomPost.com