How to connect with your community
While living in regional Australia means a more peaceful way of life, it can have its drawbacks when it comes to easily connecting with likeminded people and this may leave you feeling isolated. Being surrounded by people who share the same interests and views is a great feeling and missing out on that regular connection can feel isolating and impact your mental wellbeing. Feeling isolated from others can adversely affect your energy and motivation levels, and is linked to drug and alcohol misuse, as well as mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. And over the longer term, isolation increases your risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and stroke.
“We are social creatures at the core, and it’s really important for us to be able to connect and communicate with other humans so that we can live optimally in terms of our physical and mental health,” says rural GP Dr Gabrielle Staniforth, based in Orange, NSW.
If you find the idea of connecting with new people daunting, or you just don’t know where to start, here are Dr Staniforth’s tips.
Use social media
Social media community pages are great places to connect with people in your area. The best part? Posting online can feel less daunting than approaching strangers face to face.
“You see people reaching out on Facebook all the time – particularly young mums, saying, ‘I’ve just moved to Orange and I really want to meet some people who are in the same space in life’. And you see other people go, ‘Oh, me too. I’d love to connect, let’s go and have a coffee’,” says Dr Staniforth.
Find community groups
Whether it’s art, card games or volunteering, every community has groups where people gather together. Being part of these can have real benefits for your wellbeing, says Dr Staniforth.
“Getting involved in community groups, like the Men’s Shed, art groups – whatever it is that you love – creates the opportunity to connect with like-minded people and foster that really important part of being a human.”
You could also consider joining community projects, such as Landcare or fundraising committees.
Get involved with sport
If you love to play sport, join a local team – and if there isn’t one in your area, why not start one? Dr Staniforth says that even if you don’t play sport yourself, attending local games is a great way to feel connected to the community. You could even volunteer to help organise matches.
“My husband’s involved in a sporting community, and I know that brings him so much, but that also has a flow-on effect for myself and my children because we go down to the club, and we watch him play on the weekends, and the kids run around and then they meet new people and I meet new people,” she says.
Learn a new skill
When Dr Staniforth first moved to Orange 11 years ago, she knew she needed to meet new people. But as an introvert, she was a little nervous. She roped in a friend from work and they signed up for a patchwork-quilting course in a small town half an hour away. The lesson: going into an environment where you’ll be learning something new can make you feel more at ease, because the focus isn’t on you.
“It’s a good example of how you can still push yourself outside your comfort zone, but still be in your comfort zone,” she shares. “So for me, doing the quiet activity and going with a friend who I felt comfortable with allowed me to explore that more uncomfortable environment of meeting new people.”