Treating Depression with Community
Human connection is essential to living a happy, well-adjusted life. It’s as fundamental to your health as food and water. When faced with trauma, loss, or significant life changes, the need to have a community around you is paramount, and actually allows you to remain connected to what makes you unique.
Major depression affects nearly 16.2 million adults at some point in their lifetime. It’s one of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S. and can limit your ability to participate in activities that you once enjoyed. As much as depression tells you that you want to be alone, social connection might be exactly what you need.
Understanding the science of self and connections
You might think of yourself as independent or self-sufficient. However, science tells us that you are wired to connect. A region in your brain called the “medial prefrontal cortex” is activated when you think about yourself. Interestingly, this same region of the brain is stimulated when someone tries to convince you to believe something they are telling you, whether it be a friend or a commercial that wants you to purchase a specific brand of car insurance. Scientists are intrigued by the fact that the area of your brain that separates you from others also allows you to have the same values and beliefs of those closest to you. This creates a sense of social harmony.
Social connection is powerful
Have you ever noticed how you feel different when you work on a project alone versus when you’re in a team? Think of a time you had to study for an upcoming test. The task might have felt daunting when you were plowing through content with your earbuds in and your nose to the books. However, inviting one other person into your study routine can make you feel more motivated to reach the goal.
Research shows that when we work together, we actually take on the goals, emotions, and motivations of someone we feel even slightly connected to in the moment. This explains why total strangers can come together in the face of tragic events to work towards one common goal. The power of social connection might be stronger than you think, especially in today’s society when it’s common to see families or friends at dinner each looking at their phones and not connecting over a meal. This lack of connection in families might be one reason why we fail to raise our kids to live as happy adults.
Ways to connect
The idea of social connection might make you nervous or anxious. If you’ve recently dealt with a major life change or incident-triggered depression or anxiety, the thought of heading into a group of strangers might be overwhelming. These feelings are precisely why you must be intentional about your connections and learn how to enjoy your life again by getting involved in some new activities.
Get Up and Move
Joining team sports can be therapeutic. Not only are you getting physical activity that is great for your mental and physical health but being on a team gives you an opportunity to connect with others towards a common goal. Participating in team activities gives you an outlet for negative emotions, a chance to develop relationships with others, and is an excellent way to boost your self-esteem. Find a local community center or gym that offers a basketball league, martial arts class, or soccer team.
Let Your Creative Juices Flow
There is something healing about art. When you combine the healing power of creative therapy with a community, you might find the exact combination you need to heal your depression. You can try an art class, join a group dance lesson or things like local book clubs. All of these activities can minimize sadness, increase energy, and provide an excellent opportunity to connect with others in the class who might be going through a similar situation.
Find a Support Group
Discovering connections through organized support groups is a good way to help yourself when dealing with depression. Many people find motivation, education, and inspiration when they connect with others and a counselor in a controlled environment.
It’s important to note that different cultures have varying beliefs about support groups and community when dealing with mental health. Some cultures believe that pain should be felt behind closed doors, while others embrace community as a way to heal. No matter what your beliefs might be, you can find a culturally sensitive healthcare program that offers the mental health assistance you need.
Connect Over a Common Mission
Serving others can heal a hurting spirit. You don’t have to go far to get the benefits of volunteering. There are many simple ways to help the people next door or in other areas of your city.
Something as simple as mowing your neighbor’s yard or taking out their trash cans can give you warm, positive feelings and might spur conversations with others in your community. Or, you can find volunteer opportunities that resonate with who are as an individual. If you love animals, consider volunteering at a shelter. If reading and learning are what motivates you, look for community service opportunities at a local library or a school reading to children. When you participate in activities you enjoy, it’s easier to stay committed, and you might find friendships with others who share the same passions.
Enjoy the Outdoors
Soaking in a little sunshine, breathing in fresh air, and raising your heart rate can help you forget about your worries. Hiking helps anxiety and depression and can offer community. Find a hiking group at a local park or call a close friend or family member and invite them on a morning or afternoon hike. Pack a light meal or snacks and take some time to sit in Mother Nature’s splendor and share memories or stories of happy times in your life.
You were born for community and adventure. Life is meant to be lived with others. Try a few of these strategies to increase your community connections and thrive in a happy, well-adjusted life.