Depression impacts all the areas of your life, including your social one. Maintaining relationships when you can’t even get out of bed is all but impossible. When I look back on my late teens and early twenties I see just how many friendships dissolved because I felt so down and helpless that I couldn’t put any effort into them. It’s pretty sad, but at that time the isolation that comes with depression was large and in charge, to put it bluntly.
While I do sometimes wish I could go back and do things differently, I know that it’s a waste of my time. Instead I want to address the social isolation that can be the consequence of depression and at times, a cause. Even though I am not currently depressed, I still find myself wanting to isolate at times. Now to be clear, I’m not talking about the need for privacy or solitude; this is different. I’m talking about how feelings of worthlessness and shame bring up the desire to lock myself at home where I feel safe; where no one can see what a “loser” I am. Being alone means the only one who can judge me is myself. For some reason I am able to take punches from myself instead of the imagined ones from other people. This habit of isolating myself when I’m experiencing difficulties or uncomfortable feelings is very ingrained in my personality. This urge to isolate is something in which I have to be vigilantly aware. That said, I am no longer angry at myself when sometimes I want to just run away and bury my head under the sand. I now understand where it comes from and why it’s not likely to up and disappear. Instead of waiting for some magical moment when I will wake up and be “normal,” I accept it and take action.
Honestly, isolating might feel good at the moment but the effects can last a lifetime.
I have worked really hard for the past 18 years at reconnecting with people from my past and building and maintaining strong friendships in the present. Having good friends plays an important role in living a happy and healthy life; friends make your life richer and the bonds of friendship support us through the difficult times. And when you are feeling down, nothing beats picking up the phone and talking about it with a good friend. Good friends can listen and mirror reality, getting you back on the right track.
It doesn’t take an expert to know that social isolation affects your mental health, but did you know that social isolation affects your physical health, as well?
A scientific study co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that a lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder. It also found that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. This is quite a powerful reason why we need to do all we can to address this learned behavior and replace it with something nurturing.
Now, when those difficult feelings and emotions arise, I challenge myself to strive towards fighting against the urge to run and hide. It might feel uncomfortable (sometimes really uncomfortable) but knowing it will help me with my mental and physical health, I’m willing to do so.