On Friday afternoon a school friend of mine that lives overseas called me (we haven’t had any contact for 18 months) to ask if her son could come stay on Saturday night as he was travelling through Sydney for 24 hours. “Yes of course he can stay,” I replied,” but I need to tell you more,” she said. “He is travelling with three friends so can you put them up as well please?”
As both our children are currently travelling overseas, I knew that the timing was perfect. So, within 24 hours we had four strangers living in our house.
They have just left after staying in our home overnight. I am sitting here wishing that it could have been for longer. My husband and I had a wonderful time with them. We all had a leisurely dinner together on Saturday night and we loved learning about them and their travels. They appreciated being in our home where they got to eat a delicious home cooked meal, have a refreshing shower (backpackers don’t have those often) and sleep in a clean, warm bed.
So how important is it for our health to belong to a community and to care for other people bedsides ourselves?
Dr Mark Hyman,M.D. , says: “ The power of community to create health is far greater than any physician, clinic or hospital.”
Have you heard of the term Blue Zone? A Blue Zone is used to describe a geographic area in which people have low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else. The people of one of the Blue Zones, Icaria (an island in Greece), are famous for their open-door lifestyle and broad invitations to visitors to join them for a slow, friendly meal. Can you see a connection?
So what are the benefits to interacting with people?
- It stimulates the brain and keeps you sharp.
- It lowers blood pressure and boosts longevity.
- Talking to someone for just 10 minutes a day improves memory.
- Makes us less likely to be overwhelmed by stress factors in the environment.
- Provides a sense of comfort and safety as well as higher confidence levels.
At the other end, isolation can:
- Hamper our ability to function in a normal and healthy way because a lot of energy is inadvertently spent on “combating” loneliness.
- Lead to feelings of nervousness, anxiety and even paranoia. That’s why if you went to a party with a few friends as opposed to by yourself, you are more likely to feel comfortable and have fun in the first scenario.
- Literally break your heart as it’s associated with eroded arteries, high blood pressure and irregular circulatory function.
- Heighten one’s awareness of perceived threat. Suddenly, you don’t just feel awkward flying solo at a party, you’re feeling weird about going to the coffee-shop or even buying your groceries.
By proactively creating community around us – with friends, club memberships, work colleagues, attending religious services and even neighbourhood acquaintances – we strengthen our ability to socialise and in turn, support our brains and our bodies.
So the next time your girlfriend calls for a catch up don’t say you’d rather stay at home. Pick yourself up and go meet her- because you now know that you can live a longer, healthier life by connecting with others.
Younger, Sara Gottfried, M.D.,(Harper Collins, 2017)