The Ultimate Gift: Community
When I quit my job last winter and started working from home as a full-time freelancer, I had planned ahead economically. I had purchased my own insurance, transferred my 401(k), started a new retirement account and had saved up a cushion in case my first several months were less than fruitful.
But where I hadn’t planned ahead? Emotionally. It was going to be all sunshine and butterflies, with no alarm-setting, fewer stressful meetings and zero threat of layoffs. Yes, all of those details were true, but there was also zero built-in human connection during working hours (unless I had an interview or a working lunch). I still had dinner plans (to explore our ever-expanding metro food scene—you know, doing the tough “research” for dsm’s Savor section), but from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., my only company might be my laptop. For my particular Myers-Briggs type—which one online quiz site describes as “enthusiastic, diplomatic, skilled communicators who value connection with people”—all this alone time hit me hard within a few weeks. Even in just 36 hours of completely solo time, I started to feel “off.”
Turns out, there’s a lot of science that confirms nearly all of us are uncomfortable when we spend too much time alone. Some me time is good. In fact, it’s vital for your sanity and overall self-care strategy. But if you have too much, your mental and physical health might go up in smoke.
A recent survey by the health insurance company Cigna found that nearly half of all American participants report feeling alone or left out sometimes or always, and health experts chimed in to say that this loneliness epidemic is as detrimental to a person’s health as smoking 15(!) cigarettes each and every day. Being lonely is worse for your overall well-being than obesity, high blood pressure or a daily smoking habit.
Past scientific research discovered that those with strong social connections, be they friends, family or co-workers, heal from diseases more quickly and have stronger immune systems, higher self-esteem and lower levels of depression. They might even live longer.
I’m blessed with some amazing friends and family—not to mention a welcoming community here in
Des Moines. But I wasn’t tapping into this network in the same way that I had before because I was so hell-bent on hitting every deadline and cranking out more work. But after seeing this shocking science and feeling the effects personally, I joined a boutique gym (see page 166) so I could multitask and squeeze in my workout and some human time. When dinner plans with friends fell through, I’d take myself to a movie or pop into a local restaurant for a solo dinner on the town. I’d tote my computer along to a coffee shop, even for just a few hours a couple of days a week. Yes, I’d be a bit less productive since I’d get distracted or chat with the people nearby, but is an extra $100 worth potentially losing extra hours of life down the road?
If you’re struggling to find your community, join a club. Try a cooking class. Volunteer. Or see a show at the Civic Center … simply being surrounded by other silent humans can help increase your energy and improve your mood.
As we enter the holiday season, be sure to take time for you. Then build in time for your people. Turns out, they’re one of life’s greatest gifts.
Karla Walsh is a freelance writer, restaurant brand manager and spin instructor. If you’re seeking ideas about where to find your community—or just need a listening ear—contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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