Lifestyle 

Belonging To Groups Are Good For Our Health

by Janette Ward
This month I write about the many benefits we experience when we are part of a group or community.

Being a part of a group is essential to my wellbeing. I belong to many groups – these include my family group, friendship groups, work groups and other special interest groups doing yoga, dancing and spiritual development etc. They add such value to my life. As they are places I feel I belong.

Belonging means acceptance. A sense of belonging is a human need and something we all want. It leads to motivation, health and happiness. When we are connected to others, we recognize that we are very similar, that we all struggle and we are not alone.

My company name is Circles Work because my work involves being in groups with people in circles. Sitting in a circle allows us to experience each other as equals. People have met in circles for centuries, for example, the mythical round table of King Arthur. My experience is that belonging to a group can lead to positive change, mutual support and understanding.

One way to work on increasing your sense of belonging is to join a group of people with whom you have something in common (be it an experience or interest). The end of a group session can leave you feeling excited, exhilarated and looking forward to the next one. It might take effort, courage and some confidence to join a social or community group. However online groups can have similar benefits and they cover any subject i.e. mumsnet, craft groups, cookery groups, games like scrabble etc.

I wasn’t surprised to discover that there is an impressive body of evidence that shows that being a member of a group is hugely beneficial, maybe even more important than a good diet and regular exercise when it comes to our health.

It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of group, whether family or friendship, religious/spiritual or community group, sports group, book club, walking groups and craft groups. Singing groups where you do not need to audition are amazing to reduce stress and leave you with that feel good factor.

Being part of even just one group can help you live longer. According to Harvard scientist Robert D Putnam in his book Bowling Alone “As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half”. So powerful is the link between health and connection that those with poor social relationships are 50% more likely to die than those with just ‘adequate’ social relationships.

It can also protect your heart. Heart disease is generally lower for those who have social networks. According to American research, the risk of death from heart disease diminishes if you belong to more than one social group. Also being in a wide variety of different social groups means that you are likely to be happier and have a stronger immune system, so less likely to catch colds.

Many of the groups I facilitate in Circles Work are for adults and young people who are often looking to develop emotional and mental resilience, give and receive support and develop strategies to look after themselves better and to achieve their potential. Overwhelmingly the feedback I receive is that group participants have more confidence and an increase in self-esteem and often make meaningful friendships. Some people come along and say that they are not ‘group people’ but before long, they have changed their mind. Some of the things participants have said are: “I can’t believe how much I enjoyed being in a group, I never thought people could be so kind and supportive. I never felt judged and I learnt so much about myself” and “I realise that I am not alone, that other people think like I do and have had similar experiences, I believe for the first time in a very long time that I matter and that I have something to offer.”

I wish you success in finding groups, where you feel accepted, appreciated, supported and interested. If you would like to know more about the groups facilitated through Circles Work please check out www.circleswork.co.uk or janette@circleswork.co.uk

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