Why Supporting Local Small Businesses Is Good For Your Health

An essential component to being and staying healthy is being socially connected.  Food is medicine; connection is also medicine.

The health benefits of social connections span from enhanced mood to lower blood pressure and result in decreased mortality. Lisa Berkman and Leonard Syme completed the landmark study in 1979 that showed people with strong social ties were 3 times less likely to die than those who were less connected to others.

“In fact, they found close social ties to be a protective factor with regard to health: People who had unhealthy habits such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity but embraced close social ties lived longer than those who had more health promoting habits but lacked these important social connections.

From the current body of medical research, it is evident that social connection has substantial impacts in many categories of health from weight management, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. Some psychiatrists go so far as comparing social connection to vitamins: ‘just as we need vitamin C each day, we also need a dose of the human moment—positive contact with other people.’ They advocate for adding connection to our list of essentials in addition to food, water, vitamins, and minerals.

“Thus, like in Maslow’s 'Hierarchy of Needs,' connection distills down to a vital human need. Inquiring about social connection, prescribing it, and using it as treatment as well as prevention, in combination with medicinal therapies in areas where the research supports such practice, could indeed be the social cure for which the United States has been longing

~ Jessica Martino et al., “The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness

Unfortunately, among the costs of the shift to working from home and replacing people in the workplace with automation and artificial intelligence is that we are becoming increasingly isolated; we have fewer regular, daily interactions with people, and, thus, fewer opportunities to make friends and build community.  The price of relying on automated systems, artificial intelligence, and megacorporations as a regular part of life is disconnection, social isolation, loneliness, and poor health.  

Research shows that both social isolation and loneliness are associated with poor health outcomes.  Social isolation is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as, “the lack of relationships with others and little to no social support or contact”. Loneliness is defined as, “feeling alone or disconnected from others”, and is a reflection of the difference between someone’s actual and desired level of connection.  

Social isolation significantly increases the risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that rivals those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.  Poor social relationships, characterized by social isolation or loneliness, are associated with an increase in risk of heart disease and stroke.  Social isolation is associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia. Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.  If you’re already sick, loneliness is associated with an increased risk of death, an increased risk of hospitalization, and an increased risk of emergency department visits. 

Having a chronic illness worsens the problem, especially if you have a little-known and/or invisible illness, such as Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins).  (April is Sjogren’s awareness month, so of course I’m going to take this opportunity to raise awareness of Sjogren’s.)  People with Sjogren’s are often socially isolated because their limitations, disabilities, and/or susceptibility to infection prevent them from participating in social activities.  They are also frequently lonely because they lack the psycho-social support that comes with having a more recognizable disease, such as breast cancer.  The lack of awareness of Sjogren’s and the rampant misinformation on otherwise credible websites, such as the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, which mischaracterize Sjogren’s as a syndrome that is rare, mild, and limited to just sicca (dryness), make it easy for people with Sjogren’s to feel lonely.  How can you not be lonely and disconnected when your symptoms and pain are dismissed, diminished, and or psychologized by your doctors, family, and/or friends? 

While the adverse effects of social isolation and loneliness on human health have been well-documented, there is little data on what interventions work to prevent social isolation and loneliness.  I’ve found that regularly frequenting local small businesses can stave off social isolation and loneliness and increase your chances of making friends.  The value of small businesses is that your interactions will most likely be with humans not robots.  These seemingly small and anonymous, but regular connections with small business owners and their employees: the cashier who knows your name, the vendors at the farmer’s market who always slip an extra something into your bag, the coffee shop owner who starts your order as you walk in the door, the checkout guy who enters your member pin before you do because he knows you; all these seemingly little things make you feel less anonymous, are validating, provide you with the opportunity to make friends and, ultimately, boost your mood and your health.  

My business, like so many other small businesses, especially farm-to-fork businesses and services, is predicated on relationships with growers and vendors I know, supporting both my ends and theirs.  A rising tide floats all boats.  Symbiosis, interconnectedness, and hyperlocal are the very definitions of community. 

I met Elissa Kennedy an ICF-certified holistic life coach, in July of 2022 through an online networking group for small business owners.  Over coffee, I expressed my wish for a networking group just for women small business owners.  By October, Elissa had founded Davis Area Women’s Network (DAWN), a local, supportive community for women from all walks of life, not just business owners, here in Davis and the surrounding area, providing a safe space for women to connect and learn from each other.  Elissa created DAWN to revive the culture of a village, where people know and support each other, with a natural elder system that values cross-generational and cross-cultural connections.  Over the past year DAWN has grown and connected with over 350 women.  The next DAWN party is at Stonegate Country Club on Thursday, April 18, at 6 pm.  Please visit www.dawncommunity.org for tickets. 

Whether you attend or not, find ways to invest in your local community and support small businesses, especially local ones.  It’s not just good for them and the community, it’s also good for you and your health.

 A version of this blog post is published in my local newspaper, the Davis Enterprise.  You may have to create a free account to read the article

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