Over the years studies have shown an increase in depression and anxiety amongst our society.
For a long time, there has been a common misunderstanding that this is due to a chemical imbalance in our brains, and that taking a drug to rebalance things is the solution.
I’m not here to cite specific studies or claim that I’m a medical expert, but this topic has come up a lot for me recently, and I wanted to address its importance.
To me, it seems that we can’t all have the same chemical imbalance in our brains. However, I can see how it might be easier for us to grasp this simple story about our pain, and believe that we have no control over it.
Newer studies suggest a link between depression and anxiety with a lack of connection and community.
If we’re looking at our wellness in parts – physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. – and we are asked to rank our social wellness (our relationships, community, social support, etc.), between 1 and 10 most people would choose a 5 or lower. This is because we now live in an individualistic culture where we spend a lot of our time with ourselves thinking about ourselves. We have little to no tribal identity.
Take parenting, for example. In the past, the responsibility of raising children was a combined effort of a village, a tribe, or at least an extended family. These days, it’s usually left to one or two parents, often times at home alone.
What’s worse, we now have an even greater illusion of community through our giant “social” network online (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, texting, etc.) These days, if we feel alone all we have to do is pick up our phone and turn on Netflix for a little added noise to fill the space.
I’m no exception. I was raised to follow my own dreams. It’s been a beautiful thing to end up here in Oregon, surrounded by my little farm with my husband and animals by my side. But with that choice comes a lack of tribe. Like many others’, my family and friends are scattered around the country, and while that gives us plenty of opportunities to visit people and experience new things, it means we spend 99% of our time in our own little bubble without them.
Something I’ve learned from living with other herd animals (horses and sheep) is the importance of social wellness. There are so many reasons for this. On a basic level, it’s safety. We’ve all heard “safety in numbers”, and it’s true. The herd relies on each other for signals that there might be danger, or for help when someone gets in trouble. But there’s much more going on in a herd other than physical safety. There’s deep connection. Have you ever watched two horses scratch each other’s back? It’s akin to exchanging massages with a close friend. Sure, it feels good physically, but isn’t there more going on? Touch is an important healer –both physically and energetically or emotionally. Think about when you hug a close friend, why do you embrace? Aren’t there benefits to our hearts becoming so close?
What about some other important reasons, like shifts in perspective. When we live mostly alone during most of the day, it’s easy to fall back into our false self – the constant thoughts circulating – we start believing the crazy voice inside of our head.
These days we seem so consumed by the thoughts of ourselves that it starts to feel inconvenient to consider others, or go out of our way to be with others. When we live in a society where we spend most of our days at a job or in a car running errands, it makes sense that we feel exhausted. Of course it’s easier to text or to “check in” with our friends online. I can relate to feeling so drained at the end of the day that lying in bed and watching Netflix is all I can motivate myself to do.
But what if one of the reasons we feel this way is actually our lack of connection? We’re all busy, we all have a long list of “should”s, but maybe we’re not prioritizing one of our most basic human needs, and that’s why it feels so hard.
I challenge us to make an effort, to go a little out of our way for face-to-face connecting.
The herd knows the importance of community, so why have we lost it?