Belonging is more than just a comfort, it’s a fundamental human need. The need for belonging is woven into the very fabric of our well-being. We strive for meaningful, lasting connections to groups and individuals that provide us with a sense of community and purpose. Over the past few decades, a growing body of research has shed light on the profound impact that belonging, or lack thereof, can have on our ability to experience a sense of wholeness. From lower rates of loneliness and depression to improved life satisfaction, social ties seem to act as a buffer against adversity.

Psychotherapist Angela Theisen’s research shows the deep connection that exists between our sense of belonging and our physical health. Her findings reveal that individuals who enjoy a strong sense of connection with friends, family, co-workers or community groups exhibit greater physical resilience. These social ties serve as a protective barrier against the physiological impacts of stress, effectively reducing health complications that often arise from isolation and loneliness. In stark contrast, those who lack such connections are at a considerably higher risk of developing physical health problems associated with chronic stress, including cardiovascular diseases, weakened immune function and other stress-related conditions. Theisen’s findings lend substantial weight to the growing evidence that maintaining meaningful connections is as crucial for our wellbeing as diet and exercise (Theisen, 2021).

In a study of 839 first-year college students across the U.S., those experiencing a close relationship with God reported not only better overall wellbeing but also improved mental health, encompassing aspects like happiness, life satisfaction and a diminished sense of loneliness. These students also displayed better physical health and a heightened sense of belonging on campus. Conversely, students grappling with spiritual struggles exhibited contrary trends, showing increased psychological distress, including anxiety and depression, and heightened stress levels. Interestingly, the research indicated that a close connection to God might act as a protective layer, mitigating the adverse effects of spiritual struggles on depression and loneliness. This suggests that for first-year students, alongside engaging in social activities, investing time in spiritual development or participating in campus religious groups could play a crucial role in fostering a sense of purpose and belonging during this critical life transition (Gilbertson, Brady, Ablorh, Logel, & Schnitker, 2022).

Indeed, the impact of feeling disconnected has a significant effect on mental wellbeing. In her article on belonging, psychologist Kendra Cherry (2023) discusses how a strong sense of belonging is linked to better mental health outcomes. Individuals with a deep sense of connection tend to be happier, experience less anxiety and depression, feel less lonely, maintain more hope and have fewer suicidal thoughts. Conversely, those lacking in meaningful community ties often struggle more with these issues. Cherry emphasizes that actively seeking and engaging with groups that align with your interests and values is not just about feeling involved — it also plays a crucial role in safeguarding your mental health.

If you’ve noticed your mood, outlook or stress levels worsening lately, it may be time to seek out new places to create those meaningful bonds. Whether it’s a book club, volunteering, religious group or special interest meet-up, feeling that you belong somewhere could make a world of difference. Finding a community that shares your passions and makes you feel understood could have cascading benefits across all areas of your wellbeing. From lower rates of anxiety and depression to improved physical health, robust social connections serve as a buffer during difficult times.

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References

Cherry, K. (2023). How to Increase Your Sense of Belonging. Retrieved from Verywell Mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-need-to-belong-2795393

Gilbertson, M. K., Brady, S. T., Ablorh, T., Logel, C., & Schnitker, S. A. (2022). Closeness to God, Spiritual Struggles, and Wellbeing in the First Year of College. Frontiers in Psychology.

Haim-Litevsky, D., Komemi, R., & Lipskaya-Velikovsky, L. (2023). Sense of Belonging, Meaningful Daily Life Participation, and Well-Being: Integrated Investigation. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Theisen, A. (2021). Is having a sense of belonging important. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic Health System: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/is-having-a-sense-of-belonging-important