February is finally here after the long dark month of January, and the days are getting a little bit longer, which is nice to see. The shops are full of hearts, chocolates and teddy bears, which has led me to reflect on the importance of relationships. When I say relationships, I don’t just mean the romantic type, I mean relationships with all those people who are important in your life: friends, work colleagues, sisters, brothers, in-laws, aunties, uncles, parents and grandparents, and so on. I feel lucky to have so many positive relationships, but it’s not always easy, especially if you are struggling with depression or anxiety.
When we are depressed we often want to hide away from the world. It’s just too much to put on that social ‘mask’, and we can find ourselves staying indoors more. Whilst this may feel like a bit of a relief at times, in the long run isolating ourselves only fuels our depression, as it gives us too much time to dwell on negatives, and our relationships can suffer. If you keep saying no to people’s invitations then eventually they will dry up, and that will add to the loneliness you’re feeling.
Likewise when we are anxious just getting out the house can seem too overwhelming. We may, for example, worry about having a panic attack if we meet up with friends, and we may worry a lot about what people are thinking of us, again risking cutting ourselves off and limiting our relationships with others.
Relationships, and the love they bring, can be the thing that gets us through depression and anxiety, the thing that gives us strength and hope for the future.
In a report published by the Mental Health Foundation in 2016, they recognised the importance of relationships, saying: “Extensive evidence shows that having good-quality relationships can help us to live longer and happier lives with fewer mental health problems. Having close, positive relationships can give us a purpose and sense of belonging.”
The Commission for Loneliness was set up by the late MP Jo Cox, and recently it was announced that Tracey Crouch has been appointed as Minister for Loneliness. The fact that this role even exists shows how important relationships are to our wellbeing. A related report stated that ‘loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and affects 9 million people in the UK’.
So, this month try and reach out and connect with those around you. Send a text, return those missed calls, or suggest a meet up with someone. If you want to meet new people, look into volunteering opportunities, courses at your local college, or ask at your local library what is happening in the area – there’s so much going on when you start to look around, and so many people you can connect with.