Social isolation research is receiving more funding because the number of people living alone is growing steadily. Roughly 30% of Americans older than 65 live alone, and after the age of 85 that number jumps to 50%. People without regular social connection have been shown to have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more systemic inflammation, and higher levels of stress hormones. Heart disease, already the number one cause of death in the US, is even more common in people that experience social isolation. How can we buffer the negative symptoms associated with loneliness at the individual and community levels? An article written by Ross Chapin (architect and author) makes some practical suggestions on how to build up community and the sense of belonging right where you live. He recommends:
- Putting a picnic table in the front yard and having the occasional meal there. Take the opportunity to greet the neighbors who pass by, and invite them to bring a dish to share.
- Plant a vegetable garden in the front yard and invite your neighbors to participate.
- Add layers of privacy without building high fences. Planting a bed of perennial flowers in front of a low fence, or perhaps growing shrubbery that stays below waist level can achieve privacy while maintaining a welcoming atmosphere.
- Organize summer potluck street parties.
- Set up a book lending cupboard in your neighborhood. Give it a roof and a door with glass panes so that the books are protected, yet on display.
- Build resilience together by creating a neighborhood survey of assets, skills, and needs for times of crisis. Not only will this be helpful in an emergency, it can facilitate neighborly Do-It-Yourself projects that turn into closer friendships.
- Be a good neighbor. Shifting your focus occasionally to the betterment of your external environment can take many forms: checking in on neighbors who are under the weather, a free lemonade stand for walkers during the summer (or cheerfully paying for a cup if kids are selling it), and offering a cool bowl of water to the neighborhood dogs can all build up goodwill and increase your sense of belonging.
“Neighborhoods are more than houses in proximity.” – Ross Chapin
-New York Times article on social isolation
-Yes! Magazine article on loving where you live
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dani0010/6254751243
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