Recently, my TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Class arrived at its eighth and final meeting. It seemed not one of us was ready for the class to end. Before the hour was over, there was discussion of not letting this be our last time together. Within a matter of minutes a date was set and a location determined for our next gathering. As we walked out of the room at the end of the class, we were all looking forward to our next get together the next week.
The sixth therapeutic lifestyle change is Social Connection. Most of us would agree that having social connections – the face to face kind – is an essential part of our lives. Yet, we can find ourselves resisting those opportunities when they are presented. One of the reasons Social Connection is considered an important lifestyle factor in improving our mood, energy and outlook is because, “Social connection helps push the brain in an antidepressant direction, turning down activity in stress circuitry, and boosting the activity of feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin” (Ilardi, The Depression Cure, p. 191). It’s a fancy way of saying connecting with others helps us feel a whole lot better.
How many times have you considered not going to a social gathering, because you just didn’t feel like it? Before you consider staying at home, curled up on the couch, consider this fact. For those who struggle with depression, social connection is essential in preventing or off-setting the damaging impact of isolation. Even those who don’t have a diagnosis of depression need to connect with others. In fact, \”When we’re deprived of it – social connection – for just a few days, our stress hormones escalate, mood and energy plummet, and even biological processes quickly fall out of balance” (Ilardi, The Depression Cure, p. 164).
Now, consider the times you decided to go to that social gathering anyway and ended up thinking I am so glad I went. That’s exactly how I felt six years ago when I drove to a parking lot near Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis to meet a Lifetime Fitness run club. I hadn’t even been running for a year, but knew that if I was going to keep this new habit going I was going to need some help. It was getting a little lonely out on my local country roads and way too easy to not head out the front door when I didn’t quite feel like going for a run. I had read about the run club on the Lifetime web site, and decided this is just what I needed. It was with both excitement and a bit of trepidation that I entered the parking lot. To my dismay, I quickly saw that this parking lot was the meeting spot for numerous run clubs. I had no idea which of these groups was “my” run club. A couple of the groups had signs, but there was no sign that read Plymouth Lifetime Run. It would have been easy to just get out of my car and run the lake myself (or stay in the car and drive home), but I had resolved that I was going to connect with a group. One by one, I approached each group to see if it was the run club I sought.
Finally, I connected with the right group when I met Brad and Debbie, the run club coordinators. I was heartily welcomed as each runner introduced himself or herself. I was certain I was slower than most of these folks, but thankfully, a number of really nice people were more than willing to run with me as we made our way around The Lakes. The conversation was lively as I got to know this terrific group of people. We laughed, discussed our jobs, and, of course, running. Some people were training for Boston, others were training for their first race. Still others simply ran for the joy of running. I didn’t notice how fast or slow I was going. I didn’t think about how long I was running or how my lungs were feeling. I just knew I had found the best place to be on a Saturday morning. Our group runs were never complete without a trip to the Caribou Coffee, which gave us a chance to connect with others who ran a different pace or distance. Six years later I know my running, and my life experience, is immeasurably better because of the people I met and the friendships made through Plymouth Lifetime run. Without question, my life would not have been enriched or blessed as it has been if I had chosen to get out of my car only to run around the lake alone.
Since starting my own business, I no longer am able to meet my beloved group of runners from Plymouth. Because of this experience, though, and my continued passion for running, I have been inspired to start a run club right here in my home town. We call it the River Runners Run Club. We’ve now met twice and I already see new friendships developing and a growing enthusiasm and love for running in my community. No matter what, no one runs alone. In a run club, pace, speed and distance don’t matter. It only matters that everyone has a shared love for running and connecting with others who feel the same way. I see runners encouraging each other, and just like my previous run club experience, a lot of great conversation and laughter ring out on the trail as we run together.
I encourage you to join your crowd of choice – a run club, book club, bible study, bunko group, your local choir, group fitness class, or any other group that sounds great to you. When that day arrives, and you are reconsidering your decision to join the crowd, consider not only the impact that group may have on you, but the impact you could have on someone in that group. Turn your focus outward and you may find someone who needs someone like you.