Belonging

Belonging

Have you been feeling sad, anxious or hopeless lately?  If these feelings persist you may need to sit down with your physician and get to the bottom of them.  Sometimes, however, the best “medicine” is to become actively involved in a group or organization.

Eons ago living in a tribe was essential to our survival.  Over time and with the advent of the internet, surviving without community has become more and more doable.  Many folks who come in to see me, however, report that although they can survive in isolation they don’t thrive without regular human contact.  They’ve figured out that belonging to a group provides more benefits than mere survival and that without any communal involvement they tend to suffer, both physically and emotionally.

According to the Ontario Clearinghouse of Prevention, “Part of being healthy is belonging – to a family, a community, a society.  It makes us feel good.  It makes us healthy.  It makes us want to reach out to others…”.  Here are some of the many benefits to group involvement:

  • Decreases the negative thinking that tends to accompany too much alone time.

  • Affords a social, emotional, and sometimes a material, support system

  • Establishes shared goals; a common cause

  • Provides us with a purpose and a feeling of belonging

  • Boosts self-esteem by making us a valued contributor to a shared mission

  • Imposes a kind of structure on it’s members

  • Can provide each member a unique identity within the group context

  • Allows the opportunity for a division of labor among it’s members

These are just some of the advantages of joining a group.  That said, how do you find one?  Over the years my patients have taught me so much about this topic; here’s some of what I’ve learned:

  • Join a neighborhood group or association or start your own.  A few years ago one of my clients started inviting some of his neighbors over for Sunday morning breakfasts.  It became a tradition and helped him create a sense of “family”; something he had been sorely missing.

  • Take a class sponsored by Adult Ed, a local business or nearby college, in a topic of interest to you.  Make a point to personally connect with some of your classmates and continue the tradition of meeting regularly, long after the class ends.

  • Even if you aren’t conversant with the internet get help using it to locate old friends from high school or college.  Create a progressive dinner, hiking group, or regular outing that brings you all together again on a regular basis.

  • Research local volunteer activities that hold meaning for you.  Many communities have a voluntary action center or other clearing house for a variety of volunteer options.  The benefits of volunteering can be two fold:  You meet other volunteers who share a similar passion, and you take your mind off your own troubles by helping someone else in need.

  • Join a church, synagogue or other house of worship.  Doing so will provide social, spiritual and emotional support, while offering you a myriad of activities with which to get involved.In the words of British poet John Donne:  “No man is an island”.   Don’t panic, however, if you can’t immediately find or form a group.  In the short-term, grab a book or your laptop and head to the nearest coffee shop.  At least you will be in the company of others as you sip your beverage of choice, and may even find yourself inadvertently starting your own coffee klatch!

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