Wellbeing in Community

As we make our way out of a turbulent couple of years, I can’t help but wonder what lessons or moments of growth have arisen in our personal lives and communities.  
Rachel is a well-loved guide of Yoga Nidra & The LYT® yoga method. Rachel works with the powerful practices of deep healing rest & high focus, smart & functional movement.
Rachel is a well-loved guide of Yoga Nidra & The LYT® yoga method. Rachel works with the powerful practices of deep healing rest & high focus, smart & functional movement.

As a specialist in helping others to access better wellbeing, I’ve witnessed a growing need amongst the community for more support and structure in order to prioritise the wellbeing of everybody.

I’ve also become aware that wellbeing has many connotations and is perhaps misunderstood or is unavailable to those who do not know how to access it.

It begs the question, who is accountable for the wellbeing of a community and what does this wellbeing even look like?

There can be a vagueness to the term wellbeing, so here let’s consider how wellbeing can be realised in day-to-day and community life.

The definition of wellbeing is “a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterised by health, happiness, and prosperity.”

Health and happiness often come hand-in-hand, and both are needed for prosperity. When our mental and physical needs are not met, the possibility to thrive and prosper becomes greatly reduced. Our emotions are often indications of our current level of health and happiness, they play a role as messengers between our physical state and our mental state. Fatigue, chronic pain, high blood pressure, addictions, intolerances, depression and anxiety are some of the most common struggles that are prevalent in today’s communities.

I believe that education is a key part of empowering communities and their ability to prioritise wellbeing, so let’s talk about the autonomic nervous systems (ANS). The ANS is a component of the peripheral nervous system that regulates involuntary physiological processes such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and sexual arousal. A huge 80% of the communication that passes through the ANS information highway travels from our body to our brain, leaving only 20% passing from the brain to the body. So what does this mean? The body informs the brain of what is going on and the brain then responds appropriately. The brain constantly receives feedback from the body that we are unwell or unable to perform at full function until that message gets changed, compensations are created or the issue is resolved.

What does wellbeing have to do with the nervous system? Our ANS regulates important processes like breathing, digestion, heart and blood function and sexual functions. These all have a huge influence on our health and wellbeing, and if left in a state of dysfunction, can lead to more serious illnesses.

It is hypothesised that many conditions and diagnoses arise partly from a dysregulated nervous system. As you can imagine, if one or any of the vital processes mentioned above are compromised, then the ANS sends a red flag to the brain for assistance.

A big part of wellbeing is maintaining the internal systems and processes of our body. How well our body is digesting and managing food and nutrients, how fully we breathe, how well we move and vary our heart rate with activity and our ability to have safe and intimate interactions with each other.

Many people are struggling, often silently, in one or more of these areas. Factors like high stress, shame, frustration, anger and sadness are reasons why people feel unable to address issues and receive appropriate support. Without acknowledgement or treatment, health declines over a period of time until we become burnt out, day-to-day life becomes restricted and exhausting or a diagnosis is given.

Our nervous system automatically co-regulates with the environment it is in. This is a function that we developed to help us to survive. How do we see others tending to and taking care of their health and needs? And what was modelled to us as a healthy way of being as we grew up? This is why structure plays such a key role in the development of a wellbeing culture. As humans, we are wired to attach and co-regulate with those around us to create safety and thrive. Our brains haven’t changed that much over the years, and we still need a community to help us to grow and develop. We benefit from interdependency instead of solely relying on others or thinking we can do everything alone. However, for such interdependency to be achieved, we need safety and inclusivity.

Community starts with communication, and when thinking of how to create better wellbeing, gathering resources is a great place to start, especially in smaller communities where there are fewer resources. It’s so important to recognise the resources that are already available. These could be commercial or individual resources that improve the services and education in the community. Identifying the knowledge and services that are accessible provides an unlimited source of development and growth.

For community wellbeing, everybody needs to feel safe and connected and believe that they are a fundamental part of the infrastructure. Everybody needs to feel included, valued and listened to. There should be an emphasis on open dialogues, as well as places and groups where conversations, creativity and collaborations can be nurtured and developed. This all helps to provide an environment where individuals can begin to explore and improve their own sense of wellbeing. When given the opportunity to take ownership over their personal growth, people also feel connected to giving back to their community. Prosperity isn’t purely an individual pursuit; it becomes more valuable and fulfilling when it positively affects the environment.

Meeting the needs of a community can look like providing opportunities for all of the above to be available and encouraged in all structures. Workplaces, education institutes, recreational enterprises, and health and medical services can consciously start to consider whether wellbeing is present in infrastructure. This could involve asking themselves the following questions.

  • “How is the wellbeing of our employees?”
  • “What kind of struggles do our employees have?”
  • “What information are we getting from employees and how good is the communication between employees and the employer?”
  • “What is working and what isn’t working?”
  • “What could be improved in our systems and operations to emphasis wellbeing?”

Asking employees and/or members of the community seemingly simple questions like “what would make this better?”, “what are you struggling with the most?”, “If there was one thing you could change, what would it be?” or, “what do you need to be able to prioritise your wellbeing?” could have a significant impact on wellbeing.

It may seem silly or pointless, but the process of showing genuine interest in the wellbeing of people is incredibly effective.

In a culture where being vulnerable, not knowing the answer or seeming unavailable can be rejected as weakness, it’s not difficult to understand why people have a hard time voicing their needs. Most are just looking for a more human way to exist instead of trying so hard to live up to unsustainable ways of working and living.

If you are looking for a place to start, simply ask yourself, “where are my needs not being met?” The chances are, that your environment may not be enabling you to easily meet your needs.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he describes the layers of human needs that influence our behaviour. These needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation. Building programmes, environments and structures that enable people to identify their own needs in these categories ultimately empower individuals to take action. It is important to acknowledge that these needs can look different for everybody, and that’s OK.

So who is responsible for the wellbeing of a community? It’s not up to one person, and important questions need to be asked to the right people, like why rates of sick leave, depression, stress and anxiety are so high, and what could we do to support people and improve this? Ultimately, it’s up to everybody to recognise and seek out change and take responsibility where they can.

Here are some ways in which communities can start to increase wellbeing:

  • Social and recreational groups (the arts, music, expression, exercise and learning new things)
  • Spaces for development and collaboration (co-working spaces, courses and culture)
  • Emphasis on education about wellbeing (integration of health and lifestyle in schools and workspaces)
  • Variation and opportunities (innovation, concepts and projects)

One thing I would like to leave you with is this. Are you curious about what better wellbeing could look like for you and your community? Are you able to visualise and see new possibilities for yourself and the people around you? When you start to see the potential in things, you are acknowledging the possibility of change.

Change can be purposeful, inclusive and regenerative. Perhaps this is the key to community wellbeing.

Meditation. Free.