A colleague recently quoted the Louis Armstrong song “Hello Brother” to me. The lyrics include:
“You can travel all around the world and back
You can fly or sail or ride a railroad track
But no matter where you go you’re gonna find
Never miss a local story.
That people have the same things on their minds.”
The words reminded me that, regardless of our differences and all that can divide us, our most fundamental needs and wants are the same: Wanting good health and a good quality of life for ourselves and our loved ones unites us. This is as true today as it was when the song was written.
As I think about our community and how it will change with the projected 40 percent population growth expected in the next 20 years, it occurs to me that the families, households and neighborhoods that are the building blocks of our community are changing rapidly. And yet, despite these changes, our most fundamental needs remain the same.
As the components of our communities change, how do we ensure good health and good quality of life for ourselves and our loved ones? The answer to this question is multifaceted, but our ability to adapt is an important factor.
By definition, resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Resilience isn’t something you are born with; it is a skill that develops along with cognitive and emotional skills, and having strong relationships with family and friends makes a person more resilient. Similarly, community resilience is a term that describes a community’s ability to adapt to and overcome adversity. The more resilient a community is, the faster it recovers from disaster. Just as with people, a community’s resilience increases with social connections.
Within the Thurston Thrives campaign is a focus on improving community resilience. Data show that having strong social connections improves the health of individuals and communities alike — having families, neighbors and friends to turn to reduces the negative impacts of stress, thereby improving our health. In addition, being socially connected and supported helps us feel cared for and valued, helps us cope with major life events, and reduces loneliness, all of which improve our health.
Social supports also reduce our risk for mental and physical health problems and premature death; they make us, and our community, healthier and more resilient.
What can you do to become more resilient and improve your health? You can start by simply talking to and getting to know your neighbors. Consider the following as you look for more ways to improve your health and quality of life, and those of your loved ones.
The number of social connections we have can decline as we age. Our families and friends grow older too, which can mean losing key social supports. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, and can have tangible health implications. The health of people who need assistance with housekeeping, transportation or caring for themselves, for example, can decline as social connections become limited.
Adapting to these changes can mean moving to a community that provides supportive resources for some, while for others it can mean “aging in place,” and developing new relationships with people who can be relied on for support.
Young people now live in a world that is connected instantaneously and electronically. But electronic connections can lack meaningful support. In the fast-moving world of 2015, having positive connections with, and support from, parents, trusted adults or friends, helps protect youth from a wide range of health issues including substance use, depression and suicide. Having strong relationships during times of distress can be the difference between an adolescent learning to cope effectively with challenges, or relying on alcohol and drugs during difficult times, which will have lasting impacts on a person’s health and quality of life.
The importance of building resilience through social connectedness cannot be overstated. The Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE Study), an ongoing study by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, found that certain difficult life experiences are risk factors for chronic illness, death and poor quality of life in the United States. Simply having someone to talk to about these experiences can help us move beyond them and improve our health.
As our community’s population grows, we can choose to seek cover and hide, or we can choose to adapt to, improve, and embrace our new and changing world. Our communities will look and feel different than they do now — they will have an increasing mix of incomes, ethnicities, ages and cultures. But they don’t have to be isolated from one aother; they can be connected.
Let’s embrace the change. Let’s improve the quality of life of those who will follow in our footsteps. Let’s build a strong, healthy and resilient community. How? You can start by talking to your neighbors.