The global pandemic has dealt a big blow to communities everywhere. In our local areas, businesses and facilities have closed, people have temporarily set aside their hobbies and many are still working from home to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Some find themselves tired and unable to focus, while others are experiencing higher levels of stress. The IFS claim that mental health worsened by 8.4% during the first two months of the pandemic. Many put this down to disruption in routine and the lack of normality in our everyday lives. But one constant that we are all missing from our lives is our sense of community.

While we meet with friends online, there are people in our lives we no longer see. Shopkeepers and people on the street, at the gym or in the library. We have kept in touch with our closest friends, but the reality of social distancing is that it doesn’t allow for us to connect with many of those who add colour to our lives.

At the heart of health

Connecting with our community provides us with vital health benefits. Social events that no are no longer running used to offer support to vulnerable people in the community. But these events are a positive for everyone. They provide means to expand your social network and make new friendships, with would be a massive boon in the current climate.

Engaging with friends, family and the rest of your community lowers your stress levels. A 2010 study showed that those who form part of healthy social circles are less likely to die prematurely than those who are alone. The sweet spot is actually having a friend who lives a mile away, right in the heart of your community! Likewise, those who have friends are less likely to develop dementia.

The communities we are born in have a much greater influence on our overall health than even healthcare does. Factors like the economy in your community, as well as the housing or education available have real effects on your well-being.

More than just a business

Another impact of the pandemic is the closure of our most frequented businesses. Due to the lack of people using them, they risk suffering financially if they open. The sad fact is, many of the businesses we love might not exist if things go back to normal. With unemployment in the US at 10.2% as of July 2020, we clearly aren’t out of the woods yet.

Independent businesses are vital to the local community. We as customers build relationships with them and they add vibrancy and variation to our lives. Their disappearance adds to the feeling of burnout that lockdown brings.

The ability to contribute to local businesses not only has benefits for you, such as higher quality service or personal relationships with your food, it also helps the community itself. For every $100 spent at local businesses, $68 dollars stays in the community.

Family businesses in particular really help communities thrive. They are employers and community hubs that contribute via philanthropy and other initiatives. Andrew Nisbet, founder of catering company Nisbets said that: “I would encourage ambitious founders to seriously consider this … keep your company within the family. Not only will you benefit, the country and our local communities will too.”

Help others to help yourself

Another way our community benefits us is that it gives us the opportunity to help others. Volunteering your time, money and energy can be a great way to help yourself by improving the lives of others. This is especially true if you’re experiencing the classic symptoms of burnout – exhaustion, poor performance, falling ill, or a drop in creativity.

There have been studies that show a neural link between generosity and happiness. But even random acts of kindness to your neighbour may not be possible given the current situation. With community facilities currently shut, there is a real lack of opportunity to give back.

Places like retirement homes and community centres that once provide volunteering options to enrich our lives and the lives of others are off-limits. However, there are many charity initiatives that are helping to assist vulnerable or shielding people at this difficult time if you look hard enough.

The digital dilemma

Part of the reason the lockdown was so hard for people is because the virtual world is not yet capable of replacing our real life communities. When the only people we see are our immediate family or those we live with, there are bound to be side-effects.

While in the modern world there are a variety of methods for us to keep in touch online, namely social media and video calling, these tricks to help us hold onto our sanity during lockdown pale in comparison to the real thing.

The digital age has revolutionised our lives. We are bombarded with more information than ever, but this can be too much to handle. One thing global digitisation hasn’t been able to do is replace real human contact. Only engaging with our communities online, while an important stopgap during lockdown, has led to psychological and physical issues that will have lasting effects.

The removal of a sense of community is one of the major blows that lockdown has dealt. Whereas we were all once part of a network of family, friends, and wider members of the community, we now are cut off from that support.

No person is an island. We are all interconnected. The coronavirus crisis has made that clear. In order to protect ourselves from the effects of ‘lockdown fatigue’, we need the safety net of our communities now more than ever.