Strong, supportive relationships are one of the best safeguards against depression. In fact, studies have found that good social support helps to protect both our psychological and physical health. Sharing our lives with others is pleasurable and helps us feel better at times when we feel down. The process of talking about our problems and being listened to by someone who cares can be healing by itself.
Friends provide us with many important things such as emotional support, practical assistance and information, a different perspective on our problems, a sense of personal worth and belonging, and ideas for solving problems.
Being depressed often makes us feel alone
Normal conversation and interaction with people becomes difficult, and there is a heaviness in our heart that can make even basic communication feel like hard work. As we assume that we have nothing to offer, it is tempting to withdraw – physically and emotionally. While curling up into our shell makes us feel safe, it also gives us more opportunity to dwell on our problems. The more we ruminate, the worse we feel.
Most people we interact with can usually guess that something is wrong, although people might misinterpret our withdrawal as rudeness or even rejection of them. For this reason, it is usually helpful to talk to people in our lives and to explain that we are going through a difficult time. Letting people know that we feel down or depressed can relieve a lot of pressure and sometimes bring additional unexpected support. It is particularly important to talk honestly with the people who care about us the most – our family members and close friends.
Talking is Therapeutic
Talking is therapeutic, and sharing our concerns can make us feel better. However, sometimes a problem arises when we talk about our issues – people who tell us what we should do. The problem with receiving advice is that other people solutions might not be right for you – it might not even be right for them! It is easy to take advice when you don’t have to take it yourself.
The best way to avoid gratuitous advice is to tell people how they can help. Let them know that you appreciate their support and their willingness to listen, and that this in itself helps you to feel better. Let them know that they cannot solve your problems for you (although you might value some of their suggestions) as only you can work out what is right for you. This may actually come as a relief – once people realize that all they need to do is listen, they can relax and just be there for you.
Remember that others have limits
A second thing to be aware of is other people’s limits. Talking too much and for too long about your misery can sometimes drive people away. While some friends are happy to listen to our problems indefinitely, others have a short listening span. It is important to be sensitive to people’s limits and to know when to stop. If you feel a strong need to talk about your issues but do not want to push the friendship, try writing in a diary, talk into a tape recorder or seeing a therapist.
Do things with other people
One of the best ways to use our available social support is to do things with people, that is, combine social interaction with an interest or activity. Go to the movies, meet someone for coffee, go for a walk with a friend, go out for dinner or go along to see a show. If you feel well enough, challenge yourself to do something more physically active, such as a run in the park, a swim, or lifting weights at the gym. Activities such as these provide the opportunity to enjoy the company of others without focusing exclusively on our problems. If you can pay attention to the activity itself and to the lives of the people you are sharing it with, the experience will be all the more satisfying both you and your friend.
Daniel T. Lukasik, Esq.