If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen that over the past couple of weeks I’ve been taking some of the connections I’ve made online offline. Since starting my blog and social media accounts, the connections I’ve made with like-minded people have undoubtedly been my favourite part of the whole experience. Taking these connections offline and connecting in person has been another step and I’ve found the experience so inspiring and uplifting.
There is a growing sense of loneliness across the world – I’ve previously written another blog on this which you can find here: https://thelifestylepill.org/2019/02/10/loneliness/ – in this blog I talk about our inherent nature as social creatures, modern society, the health consequences of a lack of connection and tips to help you find connection.
Meaningful connection could be seen as the antithesis of loneliness. In a blog about community (here: https://thelifestylepill.org/2018/12/30/community/) I discuss how the Blue Zones have created inbuilt connections throughout life, leading them to have healthier lives, and some of the scientific evidence about the health benefits of community.
Thinking about this more, an anecdotal story that often comes to mind when I’m discussing the power of connection is one from the author Johann Hari and his book ‘Lost connections’. He tells the story of a doctor working in East London and his patients coming to him for help struggling with their mental health. A common theme throughout was deep seated loneliness. One women he saw was struggling with anxiety and depression. Behind the GP surgery was a small area of scrubland, he asked if she would come twice a week with other patients who were struggling and help turn this scrubland into a garden. This was challenging for many at first, yet as time passed these individuals reconnected with both nature an each other. A metaphor one patient used was ‘as the flowers began to bloom, they began to bloom’. They had built a small community who looked after not only their garden, but each-other. These new-found connections helped improve their mental wellbeing by tackling the root-cause of the problem.
Social prescribing is a relatively new initiative within the NHS. Social prescribers are now available through many GP surgeries, if you think you might benefit from connecting with one ask your GP surgery if there is one available in your practice. Social prescribing acknowledges that health is determined by social, economic and environmental factors and aims to help people in a holistic manner. An underpinning theme is to help support people to take greater control of their own health. Social prescribers help individuals identify what would improve their health & wellbeing, connecting them to community groups which could benefit them. Many activities, often within voluntary or community sectors, are available. Examples could be arts, group learning, volunteering, gardening, cookery and sport activities.
Picture source: https://www.england.nhs.uk/personalisedcare/social-prescribing/
To read more about social prescribing and some of the evidence supporting it see this webpage: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/social-prescribing.
I am a GP trainee in Dorset. Locally we have a great public health hub GPs or patients can refer themselves to called Live Well Dorset.
Picture source: https://www.livewelldorset.co.uk/
Whist their 4 pillars of support are get active, lose weight, stop smoking and drink less, the groups they can signpost individuals too are also great for creating connections. If you live in Dorset and are looking for some support I recommend checking out their ‘activity finder’ where you can find groups near where you live that you might like to join. Even if you don’t live locally, why not check it out to get ideas of what to look for in your own area!?
Making meaningful connections is an inherent part of what it means to be human. It is unsurprising, therefore, that is a fundamental component of health and happiness. In an age where connections are becoming ever more virtual, it is all the more important we don’t forget the value of true human connection.