While I think we have to address the way we eat, I believe that having support and a community behind you is often left out of the equation. You have probably experienced the health-promoting effects of your closest relationships already. Every time your partner makes you laugh, or your best friend patiently listens to you unload about your latest drama, or your mom gives you a giant hug—your healing speeds up just a tad. Even connecting with our pets can help boost our health by increasing how much oxytocin the body releases. This creates a feeling of happiness. My little Moosey man (tiny dog in my stories on IG) is sitting on my lap right now, making working on a Sunday much more enjoyable.
What Does Science Say About Being in a Community?
According to several studies (and my own experience), the “secret” to healing is a strong community. Yep, you read that right; studies show that having a social network or a group of people to which you feel connected significantly strengthens your immune system, lowers stress, boosts mood, decreases mortality, and supports overall wellbeing in humans. There’s even more substantial evidence of this for women in particular. This was a fascinating snippet from the article on how women react differently to stress:
Researchers now suspect that women have a more extensive behavioral repertoire than just fight or flight. Dr. Klein says it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is released, as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend to children and gather with other women instead. Studies suggest that more oxytocin is released when she engages in this tending or befriending, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone---which men have in high levels when they're under stress---seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.
What I've Learned About Community
I worked 1:1 with clients for many years and finally just created a group program in the fall of 2020 and wish I did it SO much sooner. At the end of this program, we all wanted to stay together. We were sad we wouldn't have our regular Zoom calls and online community to connect. One of the most critical feedback I got from the program was how much they liked the group aspect. I even got this from women that didn't participate as much in the group as others. When I asked more questions about this, the response I got was that even if the person didn't ask many questions, just listening to other women share their stories and troubleshooting efforts felt reassuring. They knew that they would be met by like-minded women on a similar journey when joining that call or going into the online community. Many women said they didn't think they would have done it if they didn't have the group.
Women's health is my whole world. I'm always talking with women about their health histories and stories. Sometimes it makes me forget that so many women don't have that. At the end of the last group, I wanted to keep the community going and continue to build on it. This led me to make the Hormone Healing Membership where anyone I have worked with can come to monthly Zoom classes and connect with other women. It's been so fun, just like the group program, and facilitating a supportive community has become a massive passion of mine.
On a more personal note, as I've gotten older, I've truly learned the value of community and friendships. When my husband joined the military and moved for the first time, it was a shock. I was away from friends and family for the first time, and my health took a dive. I had to learn how to make new friends and build a new community every time we moved. Being able to call a friend or neighbor to hang out and chat is so important. Even if it doesn't feel like it at the moment--you will never regret making those plans. One of my goals for 2021 is to make more fun plans ahead of time. Whether that be planning a trip home or something locally with friends, we cannot ignore this aspect of our health and prioritize it just like we do nutrition and lifestyle.
Ideas for Building a Supportive Community
In 2021, building a supportive community doesn't look the same as it has in the past. While it may feel harder to connect in person, you can get started with tons of online options. I've joined a mastermind group that is 100% online but ended up meeting up in person with some women in a smaller setting. It is possible, and I have a few ideas on how you can begin to do this (if you don't have a supportive community already).
One of the best ways to build a supportive community is to find people you connect with. Maybe you have a hobby you have wanted to pick back up or something you want to try for the first time. When you go to that class, whether it is on Zoom or in person, I think it's essential to make an effort to connect. This could mean talking to someone after or sending a private message during the class (you can do that in Zoom chats) to connect later.
Here are some ideas:
While the idea of building a supportive community is excellent, it does take time and intention. We have to prioritize time to connect with others. This often looks like reaching out to others and setting a date in our calendars. Maybe it's a longstanding meet-up with a friend or a weekly/monthly class you attend. Life happens, and we won't always attend, but creating that space for community, relationships, and FUN will be something you look forward to.
You can also build community and support by supporting others. Life gets busy, and we all have a lot on our plates, which is why taking the time to send someone you love a letter/surprise in the mail or reaching out to them to let them know you are there means so much to people. Whenever someone I care about reaches out to me, it reminds me of what matters in life. It's not working constantly or filling up my schedule with things I "should" be doing. It's taking time to connect and just be. Creating space for these moments is life-changing for you and those around you.
Often, the healing process begins by simply having a support system. Social interaction affects our hormones. Being a part of a community can be a game-changer. You can learn from others with similar experiences, have motivation during challenging times, and improve how you handle stress. I hope this inspires you to continue to build and grow your supportive community.