No man is an island/Entire of itself/Every man is a piece of the continent/A part of the main.

John Donne wrote these words in the Seventeenth century but I think the sentiment still firmly holds. It is impossible to stand entirely alone and live a successful, fulfilled life – as humans we need connection, we thrive within community.

Impact on healh

But it is not just our emotional welfare that benefits from being joined with others; our social networks can have a significant impact on our health. One international study showed that over seven years, those with adequate social relationships had a 50% greater survival rate compared with people with poor social relationships. Social networks have been shown to be as powerful predictors of mortality as common lifestyle and clinical risks such as moderate smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and high cholesterol and blood pressure.

Looked at from the other angle, a lack of social networks and support, combined with chronic loneliness – which is experienced by 5% of adults in England – causes long-term damage to physiological health. This can be seen in increased stress hormones, as well as poorer immune function and cardiovascular health.

Loneliness, or lack of community and connection can also make it harder to maintain resilience and self-regulate our behaviours. Engaging in unhealthy behaviours then leads to more stress entering our lives and so the cycle continues.

Brené Brown defines connection as:

The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

The social support that results in this life-affirming connection can include a range of provisions: emotional support in the form of expressions of empathy, love and trust; instrumental support of aid and services; informational support given as advice and information; and appraisal support or information useful for self-evaluation.

My own communities

Recognising the importance of community, I have sought to involve myself in a variety of groups, drawing support from a diverse range of people. There’s my business community, BNI; we are all business owners who use each other’s services and act as sounding boards for one another. This is invaluable for me as I get to learn from the experience of others in a similar situation to my own within a supportive space.

I’m also a member of the BPS and the International Society for Coaching Psychology. As well as trusted sources of information for my profession, these societies have provided friendships and support from likeminded people with whom I have a shared passion. My role could be somewhat isolating if it weren’t for these very real connections I have forged.

The last work-related group I really cherish is Found & Flourish, which I mentioned in my last newsletter. They are an online membership for female founders and such a supportive and joyful community to be a part of; their events offer great learning opportunities and the chance to build new connections with other women running their own businesses.

In my personal life my main group of friends are people I’ve met through the gym, in work settings and at the school gates and they have all become integral elements of my support network. Each person brings their own unique element and together we create a sense of support, belonging and joy for one another.

We all have the need to feel that we belong, are understood, and valued – having a social network that enables this is vital for wellbeing and longevity. Who do you draw support from? Where are your strongest connections and communities? How could you build on them?

If you are interested in starting up a conversation around the importance of community or the other ways in which resilience can be improved, just drop me a line at lauretta@laurettacundy.co.uk or call me on 07837993241.

(For more information on the studies mentioned above you can refer to the following resources: Health Matters from Public Health England and The King’s Fund.)