Reaching out to friends may ward off depression and other issues
Editor’s note: the good doctor is out of town this week, so we are running one of our favorite columns that’s perfect for the time of the season.
One of my favorite things to do on a rainy, muggy, summer day is to curl up with a huge glass of iced tea and a favorite book…or watch a classic movie with a big bowl of popcorn, usually a couple of snoring pups by my side hogging the sofa. It doesn’t have to be a cold winter day to crave comfort and isolation. Soaring temps and humidity send many of us inside just as quickly. Lazy daze of summer?
Perhaps you have your own version of curling up on the sofa. For some, it’s lacing up the running shoes or jumping on the bike. A brisk hike in nature might do the trick, too. You fill up on the endorphin surge until the sensations wash over you signaling that all’s right with your world. A friend of mine grabs her sketchpad, a chocolaty gelato, and heads to a nearby park to let her mind clear while she draws for hours, allowing her creative juices flow outward while the sweet indulgence flows in.
Soothing oneself definitely has its place, and you’ve heard me tout those virtues regularly. Not everyone suffers from the typical Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that we tend to think of: The one in winter when the lack of daylight (and vitamin D) encourages a depressed mood and low energy level. Some folks suffer the blues when the summer seems to drag on and on, and the arrival of cooler weather and fall foliage seems to take forever to get here. And here we are at the start of September. Yep, it’s been summer for a while now.
Regardless of the kinds of weather or season that may affect your own moods, there is definitely a place for healthy distraction and quiet comfort, and knowing how to soothe oneself to balance out the busy-ness—or the moodiness—of life is an important, healthy coping skill. It often comes down to simply giving yourself permission to do so, to be someone who learns when to unplug, unwind, and just breathe. To just be, guilt-free.
Of course, there is an “isolation line” that, when crossed, may look like staying in bed feeling unable to face the world, surrounded by empty diet soda cans and Moon Pie wrappers. And with this depression comes greater vulnerability to illness and accidents.
At the other end of the spectrum, “gym mania” has its drawbacks as well. The addiction to the endorphin rush is also an addiction to avoidance, and what you’ll find is that, as with overuse of any drug, your relationships and your quality of life will suffer. You may sport some impressive guns and a six-pack, but once your systems calm down, you’re back to feeling whatever it is you’re trying to avoid feeling.
So, along with practicing moderation, perhaps most important to remember is this: After the treadmill, after the movie’s over and the bag of Oreos is empty, the healthiest tool in your bag may be reaching out to connect with others.
I read an interesting article in Men’s Health (“Be As Healthy As the Wealthy” by Laurence Roy Stains) that explored the connection between good self-care by way of social interaction, and longevity. While there are many ways to manage health and minimize depression (see above), the article explored the benefits of reaching out to others as a way to stave off depression and maintain overall health. Put bluntly, a person who is socially isolated has a greater risk of deadly disease than one with better social connections. Back in the 1990s, a Harvard study of social integration and mortality supported this notion and found that people who were most isolated were four times more likely to die of cancer as their well-connected peers. Ouch.
So let’s keep in mind that curling up on the sofa, and curls at the gym, have their benefits. But so does connecting with good friends. My rule of thumb with my own patients is that if it feels at all possible to reach out, then do it. Even when it’s hard. Make the call. Set the lunch date. Go for a walk together. It will remind you that you are alive, valued, and loved.
There’ll be time to cozy up with an old Bogey and Hepburn classic later.
Until next time: “There is relief from anguish in action.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, author, minister, and educator in private practice in Chattanooga. Contact him at DrRPH.com, visit his wellness center at WellNestChattanooga.com