And the cycle goes on, getting worse as it goes.
We were created to crave the company of others. Babies can not physically thrive without positive social interaction. As adults, our problems are more difficult to face and our blessings are less meaningful without the support of loved ones.
Unfortunately, one of the first things that happens when a person becomes depressed is that they begin to pull away from their social network. They begin turning down invitations to social events, stop initiating time with others, and even stop communicating by phone. The depressed person feels like this is what helps them cope, it almost feels like a security blanket, a hiding away from the world and all of its trouble.
But isolation is anything but healthy, especially for a person who is depressed.
Isolation, or lack of social support, is a huge risk factor for depression. “People who lack a supportive social network face an increased risk of becoming depressed, and of remaining depressed once an episode strikes.” (The Depression Cure, Stephen Ilardi).
If you are depressed and you feel yourself pulling away from friends and family, you need to know that this will only hurt you. Remind yourself that your intense desire to curl up on the couch by yourself is your depression talking, and it’s not what you really need. This is one of those time that you must do hard things if you want to get well.
In my article last week I encouraged you to insist on solitude. You may be thinking that I’m contradicting myself now, by telling you to get out with friends. It is important that you know the difference between solitude and isolation, at least in the context of this series. Solitude is a time of pulling away from the noise of the world to be refreshed and rejuvenated. Solitude is healthy and necessary. Isolation, on the other hand, is not healthy. It doesn’t involve rejuvenating activities like time in prayer or journaling. Isolation usually gives way to rumination (obsessing over the negative things) and other unhealthy activities.
If you’re not depressed but you have been before, be proactive; build that social network now. Find the people and the activities that will serve as insurance against isolation should depression ever knock on your door again.
If you are battling depression right now, here are some tips to help you get up off the couch and back into healthy social interactions
If you’ve really pulled away and the thought of being with people is overwhelming, start with an activity that will require very little involvement on your part, like going to eat at a restaurant. Just the minimal conversation you’ll have with your server and seeing the other people in the restaurant can help you to feel like the world is still turning and people are still going about their daily lives. Just don’t get stuck here. Make it a goal to embrace more meaningful social interaction. I know it’s hard, but it’s part of the healing, you need to be socially involved.
Ask your friends to help you:
If engaging in social activity is difficult for you then initiating it will be even more difficult. It may feel impossible. Tell a friend what you’re dealing with; the depression itself and how difficult it is for you to be socially active. Tell her that you’re not avoiding her because of anything she has done or because it’s what you really want. Ask her to check up on you and give her permission to be persistent with invitations to lunch, or coffee, or whatever.
Use the time with friends to take a break from your troubles:
This is not to say that you can’t ever talk about your situation. Of course you need friends in whom you can confide and who will listen to and pray for you. But sometimes you just need to be with people and focus on the good things in life. Even if you don’t feel it at first, if you commit to vocalizing positive things, you will find yourself focusing on positive things. Your social interactions will be more rewarding and you’ll find it easier to seek out a social interaction in the future.
Avoid toxic relationships:
Ok, I’m giving you permission to avoid one type of social interaction. You need social support, not social sabotage. To the extent possible, try to avoid social situations and individuals that will emphasize your negative feelings or make it more difficult for you to focus on healing. Toxic relationships can include people who are constantly saying things that make you feel unworthy or defensive. People who insist on complaining, even if not about you, are also toxic to a depressed person. Find positive people.
Depression will try to pull you away from the very thing that can lift you out of the darkness. Don’t give in. Insist on time with friends.
- Go to church and talk to at least three people (More than “fine thanks, how are you?”)
- Call one friend and arrange a lunch or coffee date
- Cut ties with any social interactions that feed your depression
As for me, I took my own advice and had lunch with a friend followed by watching the kids feed the ducks. (That’s them in the picture.)