‘Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter’ (Izaak Walton)
Recently I have been reminded of the importance of community and connectedness in our lives. I attended a workshop at an apartment that was part of a community project in Adelaide, and was impressed by the atmosphere and shared gardens and spaces.
I also spend time each week at a coastal town called Goolwa where the sense of community is more evident than in the city. I went for a walk there one Sunday morning and stopped to have a coffee and read the paper at a coffee shop, only to find I had forgotten to take my reading glasses. When the owner came with the coffee they also brought me their own glasses to use!
In addition, I have been working with an online community for some time now, via facebook (Dr Cate Howell), my website (www.drcatehowell.com.au) and the radio. I do a regular radio show called Health Talk on FIVEaa in Adelaide, and often come across people who listen in regularly. All part of community and connectedness!
So what is community? The Oxford Dictionaries provide various definitions:
• A group of people living together and practising common ownership.
• The process of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.
• The people of a district or country considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities.
And connectedness is defined as:
• Joining together to provide access and communication.
• Associate or relate in some respect.
• Feeling connected to others.
In my work in mental counseling and mental health, community and connectedness are very important. Having social support is said to be a protective factor for our mental health, and it is generally agreed that social connections play an important role in maintaining a sense of well-being. Feeling connected to others contributes toward a sense of belonging, and loneliness can be a form of disconnectedness.
At the beginning of therapy with an individual, I often explore and discuss their values in different domains of their life, including family and friends, work and community. Quite often there is a gap between what they value in relation to community and what is actually happening. Connecting more with community can be helpful in these instances.
We are social beings and relationships are central to our lives, whether they are with loved ones, friends, people in our community or coworkers. Hence nurturing relationships with acquaintances, friends, or family is worthwhile. And by getting involved in the community, good links can be made with local people. Taking a course, or joining a club or support group can be helpful too.
Empathy (or being able to step into someone else’s shoes and share the feelings of another) is one attribute that is important in relating to others. The roots of empathy develop in our early years as we relate to caregivers and learn about empathy in play, and we continue to learn empathy as we relate to others in our families and at school, and as the brain matures. When we are empathic, we become attuned to and connect with others.
I will finish this blog with another story. When my son was a baby and I was on maternity leave, I would often take him for a walk and again stop for a coffee at times (this seems to be a theme in life for me!) at a local bakery and coffee shop. I got to know the owner and there was often an older woman there doing crosswords. The owner said that she spent a lot of time there and lived locally. He knew that she had had some mental health problems. One day he told me how she had not come in for a few days and he was worried. So he called the Police and they went to check on her and found her unwell and needing a hospital admission. This was community and connectedness in action, and I have never forgotten about his kindness.
I also recently asked my facebook community to comment on their communities. Interestingly, several people from the country responded, and talked about what facilities there were in their towns. Others commented on living in accommodation that involved a sense of community. Yet another, highlighted the importance of communication, another important ‘C’ to mention. The message overall in this blog is to consider your sense of community and connectedness, and look at ways of developing it more over time. Your sense of wellbeing and enjoyment will grow too!
• Howell, C. (2013). Intuition Unlock the Power. Exisle, New South Wales.
• Howell, C. (2009). Keeping the Blues Away: The ten-step guide to reducing the relapse of depression. Radcliffe Publishing, Oxford, UK.
• Howell, C. and Murphy, M. (2011). Release Your Worries: A guide to letting go of stress and anxiety. Exisle Publishing, New South Wales.