Making social connections is an essential part of maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle for everyone. Engaging with your community can be a great way to maintain social connections. For example, attending a local exercise group, social group or volunteering.
Benefits of connecting to your community
For older adults, social connection has many benefits including preventing feelings of loneliness, improved mental and physical health, and a greater sense of belonging. Age UK report on growing evidence that people with good connections to community groups (including friends and family) could have better brain health, better thinking skills and slower cognitive decline.
According to NHS England, “The benefits of social participation are significant. Those with rich social networks have been shown to be more likely to be happier with their lives, less likely to report poor health or depression, and experience fewer heart attacks.”
Our tips for making social connections in the community:
- Go easy on yourself: Take small, gentle steps toward building social connections. Perhaps you could introduce yourself to your local library or community centre by dropping in or by phone.
- Explore what’s out there: Clubs, classes, social groups and volunteering opportunities can help you to meet new people based on activities that are interesting to you. These could be in-person or even online groups (which can be beneficial to join from home!) Your local council, library or community centre is likely to have information on community groups that you could join.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for support: If you are finding it difficult to explore social opportunities you can reach out within your community for support. Link workers and social navigators/prescribers may be available through your GP surgery or charities such as your local Age UK. Friends or family members can also support you to find local groups that are right for you, or even go with you for the first time. This can give you the encouragement and confidence to take that first step.
- Befriending services: If you have difficulty getting out or prefer more one-to-one connection, befriending services have become increasingly popular and commonplace. Many community organisations or charities provide befriending services in person or by telephone so that there is something for everyone.
- Stay active: Staying physically active can also be a great way to meet new people, for example through an exercise group or walking club.
- Consider digital: Using technology can help you stay in contact with people remotely, or even meet new friends on online community groups (we even have a Holly Health community Facebook group!). Many well-known charities have monitored groups for safe online engagement. You can also improve your tech skills by signing up for online or in-person computer classes run by local councils, community centres or libraries. This in itself could be a way of being part of a group and meeting new people.
- Consider getting a furry friend: Animals can bring several benefits to our physical and mental health. Getting a cat or dog can help to keep you active and be a catalyst for social interaction, such as through a local dog walking group. If you’re not in a position to get a pet, how about offering to help out a friend or neighbour with feeding their cat, walking their dog or joining them on their dog walks?
How can Holly Health support you to make social connections?
If you have the Holly Health app, you can set up habits to help to grow or maintain your social connections. These are: “reach out to someone you love”, “attend an exercise class/group” and “attend a community social group”. Once you have set these habits up based on your preferences, the Holly Health app can send you gentle reminds to keep up this habit.
Taking the leap
It is very common for many people to feel nervous or apprehensive to try something new, such as a community group. Remember that every member was also once in your shoes as a new group member. We all differ in how much we want to be in the company of others but we do share the fundamental need to interact with people. You can also ensure that any groups you connect with are trusted by finding those run or endorsed by reliable sources such as well-known charities or your local council. By taking the leap and getting involved you can experience increased socialisation, improved mental and physical health, and a greater sense of belonging. So, call that friend you’ve been meaning to, or go down to your local library to explore what’s covered in your area – you may be surprised at what’s available.