Four hundred people attended a self-help seminar in Stillorgan last night. The common dominator among those in attendance was the enduring experience of financial stress. The attendees jumped the hurdle of stigma associated with indebtedness to seek practical advice and tips for staying mentally resilient. The underlying theme of my talk was that no one is alone in crisis. Support is available. We have the capacity not only to cope in crisis but also to bounce back stronger. Our health is precious and we need to manage the very real stresses of indebtedness. There is a psychological boost felt when people in similar stressful circumstances come together. Realising that you are not alone strengthens your resolve. People need people. Together we are stronger.
I’ve often said that the greatest friend of depression is solitude. You do not have to live on your own to experience solitude. Many people detach themselves from the people who love them most. They remove themselves from the influence of objective advice from people who offer guidance that is neutral and fair. When we are stressed we cannot think straight. We are governed by our emotions. It’s very easy to engage in a continuous cycle of irrational, illogical and unhelpful thoughts when we decide to lock other people out of our lives. In such circumstances we join the dots without the evidence and draw conclusions without recourse to reason. Fear can fester when we decide to lock ourselves into a box with our own problems. This adds to the stress.
The reality is that we need to link with others when we are experiencing pressure – even if we don’t feel like it! One advantage of belonging to a group or community in which people help each other is that such groups are often better equipped and informed than a set of individuals to deal with threats from the outside. When people come together they intuitively realise there is strength in numbers, and take comfort in the company and support the surrounds them. To appreciate the impact of social connection on the state of our bodies we only need to consider what happens when it is abruptly cut off. Psychologists have shown that social ties and increased contact with family and friends are associated with a lower risk of illness. What’s more, a 2010 meta-analysis of 148 studies showed that social connection does not just help us survive health problems but the lack of it causes them. (Holt-Lundstad et al, 2010)