One of the most powerful weapons we have in the fight against depression is connection.
Backed by research by the New Economics Foundation as one of the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’, the strength of our connections are very much linked with the quality of our life.
You could say it’s in our DNA.
As our species evolved, connection – in the form of belonging to a supportive, cooperative and protective tribe – was a matter of life and death, a necessity for survival in harsh environments where food could be scarce and the human predator could easily become prey. Ejection from the tribe could be a death sentence.
And while the risks of predation are thankfully no longer a daily concern, we remain a social species that is hard-wired for connection. However, loneliness has risen in recent decades as family and community connections have loosened and people spend less time together.
Of all the things that Covid brought home to us, perhaps the power of connection was the most significant.
As the loneliness and isolation of repeated lockdowns took its toll on the nation’s mental health, the call for connection, for community, became louder and clearer than ever. And in an age where life can be increasingly busy and fragmented, it’s a lesson we needed to be reminded of.
Studies have shown that feeling lonely can raise cortisol levels (stress hormone) as much as being physically attacked. It is also associated with weakened immune systems and other debilitating physical health impacts.
Mutually supportive relationships with others – family, friends, colleagues – play an important role is sustaining a sense of positive wellbeing. These relationships are the cornerstones of our daily lives and we should make the time and effort to positively invest in and nurture them.
And that’s not all.
The value of connection extends beyond our relationships with others. Johann Hari’s excellent, thought-provoking 2018 book, ‘Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions’, proposes a number of connections that are important to us, and that our modern way of life is compromising.
These include the following:
Most of us will spend a massive portion of our life at work, so it stands to reason that contentment at work is an important pillar of our wellbeing. Feeling that our hard work and effort contributes to something meaningful is important to us.
Anybody that has worked in a monotonous, ‘soul destroying’ job will understand how this type of work can exhaust us and darken our mood. Engaging work, that provides us with a greater degree of control over our outcomes, and that offers us autonomy in the way we work, is most positively related to our wellbeing.
Status and respect
As a social species, whose evolution and continuing survival has depended in large part on our ability to cooperate with each other, status and respect among our fellows is very important to us. As we have seen, without it, we could have ended up as prey.
In a world of gross inequalities and huge gaps in wealth and status, those that are lower in the hierarchy are more likely to become depressed and withdraw, a submissive response that signals, ‘I am no threat, leave me alone’.
The natural world
It is suggested that we have an instinctive love of nature, and there is a strong association between living in green areas and lower depression levels. Being in nature can arouse in us feelings of awe, and being part of and connected to something beautiful and so much bigger than ourselves.
Being in nature can take us out of our own mind and ego, and its grandness can help us to gain a sense of perspective on our individual problems.
Just as the growth in junk food has had a detrimental effect on our waistlines, so a growth of ‘junk values’ has been detrimental to our mental health. Increasing consumerism, materialism, and the need to be seen to be living the perfect ‘Instalife’, have caused us to look to external measures of our value and worth.
Even if we subscribe to and embrace this modern way of living, most of us know deep within us that the true sources of happiness, wellbeing, and self-worth lie elsewhere, in nourishing our soul through values such as friendship, compassion, and empathy.
A hopeful, secure future
Hope is one of the most powerful forces there is. When we are fighting depression and it all seems too much, it is the small glimmers of hope that can give us the strength to continue to put one foot in front of the other.
Zero hours contracts, rising costs of living, austerity – these are all examples of how modern life can foster feelings of insecurity and erode our hopes for a better future. We need to feel not only a sense of hope, but also a sense of agency and control over our futures in order to feel secure and content.
The most important relationship of all
There’s a relationship we haven’t mentioned that needs to be highlighted. The longest, most important relationship that any of us will ever have – the one that we have with ourselves.
Many people will come and go throughout the story of your life, yet when the final page of your story arrives there is only one person guaranteed to be on it – you.
It’s worth keeping in mind.
For how much do we sacrifice of ourselves in seeking to meet the approval, and win the affections and esteem, of other people?
How many dreams do we leave to silently shrivel in the rearview as we dance through life to the tune of others’ expectations of us?
How much time do we actively invest in building a deep, loving, compassionate relationship with ourselves? In getting to know ourselves as well as we possibly can, so that we can tend to our own needs and desires, and nurture and nourish ourselves, body and soul?
To not rely on somebody else to fill our gaps, but instead to gratefully accept the gifts of loving relationships and friendships that are powered by mutual want and not by need?
And to participate fully in our relationships as the imperfect whole that we are, not as anybody else’s half.
Click here for vlog on connecting the dots.