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Why do therapists harp on developing and maintaining relationships rather than avoiding connections, isolating, and doing everything yourself? The answer is that there are many physical and mental health benefits from being in social networks.
Nick Hopkins of the University of Dundee in the U.K. (“Karma of the Crowd” by Laura Spinney, National Geographic, 2/14, p. 130), answers the question of why belonging to a crowd might enhance health through shared identity: “You think in terms of ‘we’ rather than “I,’” which changes your relationship with people. “What happens is a fundamental shift from seeing people as other to seeing them as intimate.” The article goes on to say that, “Support is given and received, competition turns into cooperation, and people are able to realize their goals in a way they wouldn’t be able to alone. That elicits positive emotions that make them not only more resilient to hardship but also healthier.”
Need some proof. Apparently, “Very socially connected people tend to have lower levels of molecules associated with inflammation circulating in their blood…and are less likely to die of heart disease and some cancers, and there’s some evidence that they are less vulnerable to age-related cognitive decline. They respond better to vaccinations. Their wounds may even heal faster.” This is science speaking. Interesting, huh?
The article isn’t talking about physically being in a crowd, but rather belonging to a social network and “sharing a group identity.” This happens in any ongoing group, which is why I encourage disregulated eaters to join my Food and Feelings message board. As stated above, our body systems may actually change when we feel we “belong.” Moreover, the shift from “I” to “we” creates a positive psychological shift. Says psychologist Mark Levine of the University of Exeter, U.K., “Belonging to the crowd can change the way you see the world. It can alter your perception.”
Think about how being in a group has changed you for the better. How did it transform your thinking or behavior? How did it alter your thoughts, feelings or actions around self-care for the better? When you’re in the right crowd—when people are emotionally healthy—you start to identify with others in it. Your identity begins to shift to be more like them and you start to pick up their habits and attitudes. But, be careful, if you’re in an unhealthy crowd, you may become more like them as well. As you move toward “normal” eating, consider how groups will benefit you. If you’ve never had a positive group experience, you’re missing a transformative experience.
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