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Connection and Community: A Critical Combination

Three ways connection makes a difference.

Connection and community

How is connection and community, or lack thereof, affecting your personal and professional life? You’ve likely heard from family, friends, fellow co-workers, clients, fitness class participants and other gym-goers that they’re still struggling to reconnect following the lockdown. You have probably been challenged in new ways, too. Fortunately, fostering relationships and human connection is one way to help all of us cope, recover and begin to flourish once more. Here are three ways in which connection makes a difference.

Connection Helps Us Cope with Stress

Simply having familiar people around can buffer us from certain stressors (Boothby & Clark 2018).

In fact, research suggests that how we perceive our social support heavily affects how we manage our stress. The stress-buffering hypothesis states that if our assessment is that we have enough social support, we will be more likely to manage our stress better (McKinley 2020; Cohen & Wills 1985). McKinley, a researcher at Western University in Ontario, further suggests that bringing social support to light is important during a stressful situation like COVID-19 (McKinley 2020).

Social support can also prevent us from engaging in less-healthy coping strategies. A recent study examined reported alcohol consumption and social support among nearly 2,000 students at a university in northeast Ohio following the announcement of the school’s closure in spring 2020. Overall, students indicated that their alcohol intake rose—in both amount and frequency—post-closure, with the greatest increases occurring among students reporting more symptoms of depression and anxiety. On the other hand, alcohol consumption was lower overall among students who perceived they had strong social support (Lechner et al. 2020). Thus, social support may aid people in managing new challenges.

Community Fosters Resilience

Supportive relationships can boost our ability to bounce back from stressful circumstances, also referred to as resilience. Though each individual’s specific situation and response will be different, those with positive, healthy relationships are shown to have greater well-being than people without these connections, even when both groups face the same hardships (Gittell 2016).

Connection and Community Help US Flourish

Human connection can help us not only rebound from difficulties but actually flourish. According to Seligman (2011), to flourish is to go beyond simple happiness and well-being. Flourishing—or increasing a person’s level of flourishing—is the goal of Seligman’s PERMA Theory of Well-Being. According to this theory, we can increase our level of flourishing by increasing five key elements that make up the mnemonic PERMA: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. Thus, developing positive relationships can lead to greater levels of flourishing (Seligman 2011; Seligman 2018).

We’re All Connected

A fitness facility can be much more than a space for people to work out. It can be a home for employees to grow and develop, as well as a place that cares about each member’s overall well-being.

By actively working on our relationships and creating more opportunities for positive interactions with others, we can work toward a world where more people feel connected. We can create spaces where people feel welcome and where they can develop not only their physical well-being but their social well-being, as well. Our actions now can create a more positive future for the fitness industry and beyond.

Olivia Ellis, MS

Olivia Ellis, MS, is a doctorate student studying Positive Developmental Psychology at Claremont Graduate University and specializes in integrating positive psychology into the fitness industry. She is an adjunct professor, personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and previously worked on the management side of fitness.

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