Dr. Helen Kingston is a family physician responsible for launching a remarkable project in an England town called Frome.
She noticed that many of her chronically ill patients lamented being treated as ‘a cluster of symptoms’ rather than as human beings.
In other words, they wanted to feel seen, heard, and truly cared about.
(If you have a doctor that makes you feel heard and understood, you’re lucky. It seems to be rare these days)
So with the help of the town council, Dr. Kingston decided to create a directory of support groups and volunteers to help connect ill or depressed people with the rest of the community. The volunteers were called ‘health connectors”.
She believed this would make these patients feel that they mattered and give them more purpose.
The results are dramatic, and say a lot about how critical connection is to being human.
While overall ER admissions in the region of Somerset, where the town of Frome is located, have risen 29 percent over the last few years, in Frome they have fallen by 17 percent.
It shouldn’t be surprising. It’s not new news that connection is healing, and that humans thrive on it. On the flip side, a lack of social connections causes depression, illness and weakened immune systems.
Now, let’s think about the implications of this study and apply them to what research says about loneliness in the workplace, which is worse amongst freelancers and remote employees.
The Harvard Business Review did a whole series on loneliness last year. Loneliness, a sense of disconnectedness and not belonging, threatens not just our physical health, but our jobs and economy as well.
Lonely employees perform poorly, are less engaged, switch jobs more often and cost employers an estimated billions of dollars.
At times, I am a part of those statistics, frankly. I work mostly from home, and I have for years.
I have a husband I adore and I have friends. I have hundreds of online connections, and people I talk to online regularly. I am not alone, per se.
Sometimes though, it’s just not enough. Like many of us in our modern world, I live thousands of miles away from my nearest family members. Everyone has busy lives, so it’s not easy to get together with friends.
Im no extrovert. I don’t need nor want constant human interaction, but I absolutely notice my motivation, concentration, and focus waning when I am feeling isolated from others for too long.
I become easily distracted and uninspired. The thought that there is a great big world ‘out there’ that I’m missing out on will start to weigh me down and make me feel sad.
I yearn for meaningful face to face interactions with peers and other smart world-changers during these times, and I feel amazing for a while after I’ve gotten my dose of connection.
One way I was able to increase connection in my world was by going out and having deep conversations with random strangers.
I’ve also recently started a podcast which allows me to have great conversations with some smart people.
As of this writing interviews are underway. I conduct them online, but face to face. It’s not quite the same as being in the same room with someone, but it’s a close second and allows me to talk to people around the world.
The fact is, being around other human beings, laughing, smiling, sharing, and even having brief friendly exchanges at the grocery store positively impact our brain biochemistry and make us feel really good.
We need regular human interaction and meaningful connections for our happiness and functioning.
Back to that part about 17 percent fewer emergency room admissions in Frome as a result of more connectedness.
Imagine what might happen if we deliberately work on the creation of more connection and community here in the U.S? If we start seeing and hearing each other better, and engaging more in community activities?
Well, we need to and I’m working on it.
Cigna did a study just few months ago from which they concluded loneliness was at epidemic levels in America.
It’s a fact that we’d be happier and healthier if we made more efforts at connection. We’d also be more productive, innovative, creative, engaged and everything else you get from being in a better state of mind.
Connection. It’s life and game changing. It’s the new currency and competitive edge.
You may not think of it often, but I want you to ask yourself right now: Is it possible that you are lonely? Do you have daily interactions with people that make you smile or feel helpful to them? Do you have confidantes that you can call at any time, people with whom you can easily be vulnerable and have deeper and more meaningful engagements?
If not, it may be time to consider remedying your predicament. In a future post, I’ll give you tips on where to begin, and how. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me via email or comment below if you have any questions.