By Dayna Mason
For many people the holidays are filled with the delights of twinkle lights, holiday music, cookie decorating, gift giving, family gatherings and parties. But for some people the holidays can be a time of loneliness and isolation.
Social isolation is one of the most common predictors of depression. During the holidays, people who feel disconnected often avoid social interactions. Unfortunately, withdrawing makes the feelings of loneliness even worse.
And not only can social isolation lead to depression, some believe it is the cause of addiction. In a popular TED Talk titled “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong,” British journalist, Johann Hari, discusses research into the underlying causes of addiction and concludes that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. His theory concurs with many addiction specialists who believe that addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, but about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings.
In a series of studies in the late 1970s, referred to as, “Rat Park,” Canadian psychologist, Bruce K Alexander, concluded that drugs do not cause addiction, that it is their living conditions and not any addictive property of the drug itself. To test his hypothesis, Alexander built Rat Park, a large housing colony, 200 times the floor area of a standard laboratory cage. There were 16–20 rats of both sexes in residence, food, balls and wheels for play, and enough space for mating. He offered one bottle of pure water and one bottle of heroin water. The rats ignored the heroin. Essentially, with a little bit of social stimulation and connection, addiction disappeared. Even rats who’d previously been isolated and drinking the heroin water left it alone once they were introduced to the rat park.
We need social stimulation and connection to thrive—we need our own Rat Park—community and connection.
This season, if you feel overwhelmed, be sure to slow down and take care of yourself. If you feel depressed, don’t isolate. Instead, look for opportunities to connect with others.
Simple Ideas to Reduce Stress and Connect with Others:
- Serve. Volunteering is a great way to feel connected to others. Check out the Union Gospel Mission: www.ugm.org
- Walk. Take a walk each day. Just 15 mins a day can elevate mood and alleviate stress.
- Gratitude. Start each day thinking of three things you are grateful for.
- Reach out to others. Invite someone to coffee, take a gift basket to a neighbor, perform a random act of kindness.
- Notice goodness in people. Look for opportunities to genuinely compliment someone or acknowledge their kindness.
- Say no. It’s okay to say no. It can be tempting to say yes to every request and invitation during the holidays but honor yourself by not answering immediately. Give yourself time to decide if it’s something you want to do and have time for.
- Appreciation. Take some time throughout the season to let a few of the people in your life know what you appreciate about them.
- Music. Listen to music you love, sing along and move to the sound. In your automobile this is referred to as “car dancing” and highly recommended.
- Laugh. Watch a funny movie, listen to a comedian, or just be silly with your friends. Visit the Tin Theater for Movies and Comedy night: www.tintheater.com/calendar/
- Give. The holidays are a time of giving, so give. Give love, to yourself and to others, if for no other reason than it feels good.
Enjoy this vibrant season and take time to care for yourself and reach out to others, especially those who may be struggling and alone.