Self-care is a commonly discussed concept, and rightfully so. Be it a walk in nature, coffee with a friend, or a date night, taking time to intentionally show ourselves love, care, and respect is critical for well-being. Once you’ve taken care of yourself, caring for the community around you can tremendously enhance your overall well-being.
Community care involves spending time investing and nurturing the people and spaces around you: your neighborhood and your neighbors, your workplace and your coworkers, your family and your friends are all examples of communities you may care for and those that may care for you. According to David McMillan of Vanderbilt University, a “sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (1976).
Being together in community will not only help us survive the stressful aspects of life, it will allow us to thrive in a system of togetherness. By nurturing those around us, we in turn are able to nurture ourselves. Engaging in acts of service like volunteering or calling a friend to check-in, we are pouring care into the relationships that connect us to the world around us. The Stanford Medicine Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education cites research that showed that “a lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.” Whereas a strong social connection strengthens your immune system, expedites disease recovery, and may likely add years onto your life.
When it comes to emotional or mental health, “people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression…they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.”
As we approach the new year, consider where and with whom you find a sense of community, and how you might care for your community. Reach out to see how you can engage. Have any special talents, unique skills, or passions? Share them with your community. Not sure where to start? There are many local groups – churches, schools, and nonprofits that will have ideas for you. Find out what your friends and neighbors are doing in the community, or just do a quick Google search. You’re bound to find something that you’ll love, and research tells us if you care for your community, your community will care for you.
Lynette Spencer is a licensed clinical social worker and co-owner of Action Consulting and Therapy in Geneva, Illinois.