I watched A LOT of boxsets in bed while eating ice cream straight out of the tub when I was feeling depressed. As it turns out, all this did was make me feel fatter, lonelier, misunderstood and resentful towards friends who I was losing touch with. So although it’s easy to tell yourself that no one wants to hang out with you when you’re feeling so low and that you’d be rubbish company, it’s important not to give in to those feelings and stay cooped up at home. On many occasions I’d have to force myself to go out and be sociable but end up shocking myself by having a reasonably enjoyable evening and feeling much better for having done so.
Research shows that good relationships - with friends, family and within our communities more generally - are really important for our mental health and wellbeing. They can make us happier, more secure, and better supported.
Strong, positive relationships with friends and family give us the emotional support we need to share our thoughts and feelings.
Developing social ties and connections within our communities can improve our sense of belonging and self-worth and give us a greater sense of purpose and meaning - all of which are vitally important to our mental wellbeing.
Make a plan. Be candid with a friend that you’re feeling low and tell them you need to book in some fun activities together. Warn them that there is a good chance you may have the urge to cancel on them on the day if you’re feeling low, but ask them to pretty much insist on seeing you even if you do try to bail. Make a plan that requires the minimum amount of resistance - ie arrange to meet near where you live, otherwise guaranteed your desire to leave the house will be zero when the rain is horizontal and you’ve got a 45 minute bus ride to (not) look forward to.
Volunteer locally. This is a great way to get involved in your local community. There’s lots of research about the benefits of volunteering - including gaining a sense of purpose and meaning, making new friends, developing new skills, gaining confidence and self-esteem, preventing feelings of isolation and even improving your job prospects.
Get a pet or, if that’s not practical, look into borrowing one. There’s lots of research about the mental health benefits of spending time with pets. Cats and dogs can provide companionship and dogs especially are a great motivator for getting outside and doing some exercise. There’s also growing research which shows the benefits of simply stroking a cat or dog - physical contact produces endorphins which makes you feel better.
Consider checking out local opportunities for volunteering. Good places to start are Volunteering Matters, Do-It, or if you’re under the age of 30 try V-Inspired. Outside England, there’s Volunteering Scotland, Volunteering Wales or Volunteer Now for Northern Ireland.
Call someone today. You could try getting into the habit of calling one friend or family member every day. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of simply texting or emailing people. If you can, using video calls - like Skype and FaceTime - is even better.
Hug a mate - physical contact produces endorphins which can relieve pain, lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system, reduce the risk of heart disease as well as relieving symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Giving someone a cuddle will literally make you feel better.
Make a plan to see someone - go out for dinner, or to an exercise class, or meet up with someone for a cup of tea.
Try the triple whammy of volunteering, exercise and spending time outside through a Green Gym, which organises free outdoor sessions where you’re guided in practical activities such as planting trees, sowing meadows and establishing wildlife ponds or Goodgym, which helps you do good while you’re getting fit.
Doing good does you good, Mental Health Foundation
Pets and mental health, Mental Health Foundation
Volunteering may be good for body and mind, Harvard Health Blog