The words self-care evoke ideations of getting lost in a book, going for a long walk, enjoying a great meal on your own, or watching the entire back catalogue of every Bachelor series made around the world. The common thread being, you’re going solo.
Looking after yourself and taking some time out from the world is good for the soul. Women especially seem to be bombarded with expectations of family life, home duties, work and whatnot, so it’s understandable that we need to turn the world off to recharge.
While there’s no denying that spending time on your own is important, it becomes problematic when we cancel catch-ups and social activities for a tub of Haagen Dazs and Netflix.
The hashtag #itscalledselfcare is intended to be a piss-take and the memes that have come up in that search are hilarious. Well … they started out funny, now they’re kind of our reality.
When the need for recharging and alone time becomes a habit of flaking, and the idea of going out becomes “too hard”, you’re actually doing more harm than good and here’s why; science baby!
Neuroscience to Be Exact.
Human beings are social creatures and our brains are hardwired in such a way, that we thrive on human interaction and social connections. The more time we spend with people we love, the happier we are. Conversely, the more time we spend alone, the more damage we do to our mental health and wellbeing.
A man that knows a thing or two about the brain is neuroscientist Matthew D. Lieberman. His research on the human brain and who we are as social creatures is published in his book, Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect.
“The pain of social loss and the ways that an audience’s laughter can influence us are no accidents. This is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.”
Social Connections Help you Live Longer
This is evident in Mediterranean countries that may not have the healthiest lifestyles, yet have a higher life expectancy. Coming from a Mediterranean background myself and having spent a bit of time over there, I can tell you we love a drink, many love to smoke and we spend more time than we should in the sun.
Yet we age well and live long happy lives. Winning! It’s not just Mediterranean’s, it was found that any culture built around a strong community and family bonds lived longer. A study on life expectancy around the world concluded,
“The social nature of these populations also comes into play. Social relationships are important in these countries and family ties are strong. When people have a greater sense of belonging to a community, or family and maintain a healthy work-life balance, their health improves.”
Fighting the Need to be Alone
It’s all too common when you’ve had a shit day to be overwhelmed with a need to remove yourself from the planet and be on your own. You don’t want to talk about it, you don’t want to relive it or the idea of getting dressed and going out requires way too much effort.
Mustering that bit of effort to meet up and debrief with a loved one is actually the best remedy for the blues. When you feel socially outcast, you’re withdrawn due to overwork or you deny social contact, your brain perceives that detachment in the same way as being punched in the face.
Dr Amy Banks explains, “The distress of social pain is biologically identical to the distress of physical pain. Most people in our culture understand that physical pain is a major stressor, but we often reject the idea of social pain. People in our culture need to understand that healthy social connection can reduce pain on all levels.”
While it might seem tough to drag yourself up from the couch when you’re in a dark place or you’re exhausted from a long day, it’s worth engaging in any kind of social activity. A coffee with a good friend, cocktails with your crew or a saucy date with your lover will reap extraordinary benefits. It can even be as simple as making a phone call and having a yarn with your bestie if outside gets too hard.
Next time you want to flake and hang on your own, remember that’s not what you were designed to do. Put the remote down, put your favourite shoes on and catch up with your people.
* We are fortunate to live in a country with a great wealth of resources and support. If you or a friend suffers from a mental illness, see your GP or local health clinic to discuss your options.