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  • Writer's pictureKelly Johnston, FNTP, RWP

The Science of Gathering

Connecting with our people is so important. I had the pleasure of getting together with fellow NTPs in Austin this past Saturday for a potluck meal, networking, and gab session, as is the monthly practice of this group. This gathering felt like an ice cold drink on a blistering summer day. Some of my tribe was missing, as one day never works for everybody, but this was a rich balm to my nutritional therapy soul for sure! It had been too long since I could manage to attend the monthly get-together two hours away. Kirsten opened her lovely farmhouse and we each brought something sumptuous yet simple for our feast. Beef bone broth, braised beef, faux cheesy spaghetti squash, carrot/purple cabbage salad, fruit salad with honey lime dressing, herbed goat cheese with rice crackers, faux cheese dip (nothing wrong with cheese - just had some dairy free among us), and iced pumpkin bars graced our table and our palates. We talked shop, we talked family, we played with very large dogs and enjoyed getting close to the cows and their calves, the goats, the donkeys, and chickens. The drive from the highway to her home in the earliest hints of dusk on this first cool fall weekend was worth the trip all by itself. Good food and a beautiful setting were soothing and satisfying, to be sure, but it was the connections, the grounding of friendships deepening over time, that made it truly worthwhile.

Do you have a tribe of people who are passionate for the same things you are? If we're blessed in this life, we have several. There's work community, church or faith community, community of people who love the same hobbies or sports that we do, and of course, family, just to name a few. Research shows that we are better together, that we thrive as individuals when we connect on a regular basis as community. We live longer, we're healthier, and we're happier when we identify with our people.

Studies have shown that social isolation puts us at higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer's Disease, and even death. Social connection, or the lack thereof, has even been shown to impact the ways our genes express themselves! Researcher Steve Cole found that the genes that respond to loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation in the body. So it appears that chronic loneliness plays a part in our ability to defend itself against illness and to keep inflammation at bay. Cognitive function is impacted as well. Social connection is an epigenetic factor on par with others traditionally deemed more significant (diet, sleep, exercise, etc.) according to research on the subject.

So what does this mean for us and our society, so connected through social media yet so disconnected in a personal, face-to-face kind of way? We know that social media, for all its digital chatter and engagement, can serve to isolate us from meaningful connection - research bears it out that being more involved in social media often makes us feel more alone. Yet we trade getting together in the flesh with a few close friends or family members for the habitual scroll of the newsfeed or story, often without realizing we're doing so. I've heard it said from friends connected by social media that nobody really needs to get together for reunions anymore. "Why bother, when we can stay updated on a daily basis through facebook or Instagram?", they say. I love a good social media dalliance as much as the next person, but I believe these studies are showing us why we should bother to set it aside in favor of real-life gatherings as often as we can manage it.

My nutritional therapy tribe does stay in contact via text and social media on a regular basis, usually daily, and for this I'm grateful. In fact, I can say that about almost every group I'm a part of, and it won't be changing any time soon. I'd like to think of these communications as the threads that keep us connected in between gatherings, but truly, it's the gatherings that keep us connected in between the digital conversations. The gatherings are where the foundation is laid. How did this group of like-minded individuals bond in the first place? It was through studying together, through learning a skill set together, through experiencing the ups and downs, the excitement and passion of formally entering a new field of study together. It was in those face-to-face meetings at regular intervals, the times together that we didn't want to see come to an end when our course of study was complete. Similar beginnings abound whether involving an educational endeavor or not - relationships form when people get together for a common purpose of any kind. And we are seeing the importance of relationship for mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Let's keep the science in mind and never stop going to the trouble to make these in-person meetings take place. There's way too much at stake, and there's way too much enjoyment to be had.

Is there a tribe of yours that you're needing to connect with soon? What is keeping you from making it happen?


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