This Way of Socializing Cuts Depression Risk in Half


Wait for it . . . because I’m about to blow the lid off this thing: did you know that regular, in-person, face-to-face communication decreases your risk of mental illness? Shocking, right?

Or maybe not. And yet, few of us, (especially those who suffer from depression, trauma, substance abuse, etc.) have strong, supportive, and consistent social bonds.  In a recent study, Dr. Alan Teo investigated how the methods in which people communicate affect well-being.  He found that not all forms of socializing are created equal; and that socializing via facebook, phone, or email was not as valuable as in-person communication. Statistics from the study showed that people who met up with friends & family 3x/week or more had an almost 50% less risk of depression than people who did not.

So what does this mean for mental health, and how can yoga and holistic health come into play here? Well, for one, I think this supports the validity and importance of peer support groups like AA, NA, SMART Recovery, or NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) because they provide vital social networks for people who are at-risk of isolation due to mental illness.   It also argues for the value of checking out a yoga or meditation group in your community! Often these are places where you can meet like-minded people (plus, many studios host community events in addition to classes for additional socialization opportunities) I also think it provides an important argument for integrating meditation and Mindfulness philosophy into treatment for some clients.  Here are a few additional arguments as to why:

  • Loving Kindness meditation has been show to increase compassion and feelings of social connectedness. Therefore, one may argue that by practicing this form of meditation a person can cultivate a sense of support and connection that decrease their risk for depression.
  • In a TED Talk given in June of this year, Johann Hari, argues that floor space in homes has continually gone up while social connections have gone down.  He correlates increase in mental illness and addictions with increased social isolation and advocates for re-prioritizing our lives with an emphasis on social bonds versus material possessions and collecting of “stuff.”
  • One of the CORE components of yoga is the concept of Universal Consciousness: the idea & belief that we are all connected. In subscribing to this belief, we come to the inherent realization that we are never truly alone & that our actions have wide impact on the world around us.

Now, I know that it’s very easy to say “Hey, you are depressed, you should go out and socialize more!” OR, “You know, your addiction has really isolated you from friends and family, maybe you should go out there and meet some new people.” But putting this into practice when you are already feeling isolated and downtrodden is a much different thing.  I get that.

In fact, I had a very slight taste of this when I traveled to meet a friend in Austin, Texas last week and accidentally arrived a day early.  For the first 24 hours I was completely isolated, with no social support network, and extremely anxious.  Through my yoga practice, I took this as an opportunity to reflect on how this mirrors the experiences my clients have and wondered how I could take this temporary isolation as a learning opportunity. Determined, I challenged myself to resist the urge to withdraw to my hotel and get out into the Austin community, trying to soak up any little bit of socialization that I could find.

And let me tell you: it’s hard when you are starting from scratch.  There is no way around that fact.  So in those instances, I think the best thing to do is start anywhere – to scrounge out any little bit of face-to-face interaction you can find so as to build on your social skills and carve out additional opportunities for connection.  Here’s what I did to find a little bit of community in Austin. While I realize these are superficial bonds and not lifelong relationships, I would argue that being among people instead of spending an entire day by myself made my time alone more enjoyable.  I share these here not because I want to come off as some sort of expert (“hey, I was totally isolated for ONE day & I dealt with it, so you should to!” PLEASE do not think that is my intention here). Instead, I hope I can provide just a few little ideas to practice getting out into the community, to grease your social skills a little bit, and become increasingly comfortable with meeting new people (because the more you do, the easier it will be) :

So without further adieu, here are some ways I pushed my personal boundaries a bit in Texas and forced myself to interact with people in ways I normally would not:

  • Arranged to stay in an Air BnB versus a traditional hotel (basically, rented an apartment attached to someone’s house versus stayed in a hotel). This forced me to interact with a real-live local instead of hide out in my room watching HBO all day.
  • Took my first ride share ever (Uber, Lyft, etc).
  • Ate dinner at a local foodie joint & sat the bar, where I was able to chat with the bartender about the food scene in Austin and compare and contrast her culture in Texas with mine in Rhode Island. In fact, while in Texas alone, I forced myself to eat every meal in a restaurant, seated at a bar or table rather than opting for fast-food or takeout.
  • Spent an afternoon thrifting at a local vintage shop, trying on clothes with the help of the shop owner (she helped me pick out some GREAT stuff and provided me with a map of other vintage shops in the area).
  • Went to two different coffee shops to read a book and make occasional chit-chat with the baristas. Sat near the entry way, at a shared bench seat with another customer rather than hiding out in some tucked-away corner in the back
  • Greeted just about everyone I met on the street (and found out my “neighbor” and I have the exact same kind of dog).
  • Through the joy of Facebook, discovered that an old college friend lived locally and made plans to meet up with her and her girlfriends for dinner.  Then did it. (how often do people approach us on Facebook saying “we should catch up,” and how often do we ACTUALLY take people up on that offer?!).  Well, I did it, and it was super-fun and wonderful, so perhaps you should consider it too.

My list is nothing fancy or groundbreaking, but I hope that it encourages a few people to go out in the community and stretch their social boundaries just a little bit. In doing so, perhaps you will find that socializing isn’t quite as bad as you had anticipated and lead you to do it more and more often.  Then, one day, you may work yourself up to being that person who goes out with friends and family 3x/week and finds yourself at decreased risk for depression.