Connected: Taking the ‘Time To Talk’

It’s Time To Talk Day on February 4. We know that talking about mental health can feel awkward, but it doesn’t have to. And this year’s event might look a little different, but at times like this open conversations about mental health are more important than ever. So reach out to someone old, new, or in need this week.

But how do we stay connected at a time of disconnection?

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Gary Butterfield, co-founder and executive director of Everyday Juice Limited.

Business Psychologist Fiona Kearns.

Creative genius consultant, artist and author Mandy Nicholson.

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Author Johann Hari at a TED Talk:

Matthew Dylan Lieberman, Professor and Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director at UCLA at a 2013 TED Talk.

Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg at Google in 2017:

Books looked at this week:

Johann Hari: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions

Dr. Matthew Dylan Lieberman: Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

Sharon Salzberg: Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to the tenth episode of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

It’s Time To Talk Day on February 4. The last 10 months has been ridiculously difficult for everyone, and for those with mental health conditions, it has been exacerbated. We know who we are. But a small conversation about mental health has the power to make a big difference. So how do we stay connected to each other at a time of disconnection?

Here’s Gary Butterfield, co-founder and executive director of Everyday Juice Limited, taking about what connection means to him.

GARY BUTTERFIELD

Our first book is by author Johann Hari. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions was an eye-opener. It takes you on a historical and scientific journey that dispels many of the myths surrounding depression and the reason it touches so many of us.

Hari speaks at a TED talk here:

JOHANN HARI

Hari controversially quotes Professor John Ionnidis from Stanford University saying “the pharmaceutical industry is just sick and bought and corrupted, and I can’t describe it otherwise”, claiming that depression is caused more than just a chemical imbalance, possibly at least nine common causes.

The first disconnection he says is from meaningful work. This is perhaps best reflected in the astounding statistic that, from 2011 to 2012, only 13 percent of people describe themselves as being “engaged” by their work.

The second significant source of depression: a disconnect from others. Loneliness can play a big role in feelings of stress and depression. Neuroscientist John Cacioppo showed how loneliness directly contributes to increased heart rates and higher levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol. In his studies during the 1990s, Cacioppo found that acute loneliness causes as much stress as being punched by a stranger.

The third cause of depression is a disconnect from meaningful values, so don’t lose sight of what’s important. At the heart of this disconnect are two types of values: intrinsic and extrinsic.

If you play piano for the delight it brings, you’re motivated by intrinsic value. If you play the piano solely for money, then you’re motivated by extrinsic value.

What goes largely unmentioned, however, is the role that depression and trauma can play in both weight gain and depression. Hari says in the 1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti conducted a remarkable study on obesity that showed how a disconnect from our past traumas could lead to depression.

Nature is important for us too. Studies show that people in greener neighborhoods experience less stress and despair, while immersion in nature reduces obsessive thoughts and boosts concentration.

Hari says one of the main reasons we feel hopeless about the future is the disconnection from our sense of control over our own destiny as well as our sense of security.

Genes and changes in the brain are the final causes of depression, but their influence is limited apparently. He says research shows that genes account for only 37 percent of cases of depression. To put that into perspective, height is 90 percent determined by your genes while that percentage drops to zero when it comes to determining your language. So, genetics play a relatively small role when it comes to the causes of depression.

There’s an obvious reconnection: reconnecting to other people, meaningful work, meaningful values, a hopeful future and acknowledging and overcoming trauma. Obviously easier said than done and it does mean a lot of self work as a result. But definitely seems like a good place to start.

Our second book is by Matthew Dylan Lieberman, Professor and Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director at UCLA. Social: Why our brains are wired to connect examines the way in which we navigate complex social situations and our deep need for human connection.

Here’s Dr Lieberman at a 2013 TED Talk.

MATTHEW LIEBERMAN

Our brains have a built-in passion for thinking socially. Apparently when our brain is resting, “social thinking” comes into play, mulling over our place in the social order and our relationships, which is called social cognition. This is thought to be a product of evolution that automatically nudges us into using our downtime to dwell on human interaction. The journal Human Nature said in 1997 that a good 70 percent of what we talk about is directly related to social matters.

Dr. Lieberman says social needs are absolutely fundamental to who we are as humans. It’s also the reason why our brains experience “social pain” in the same way as physical pain which is seen through a 2001 study using an fMRI scanner that recorded the brain’s reactions. Its a fundamental human need, especially as a newborn to rely on others to survive.

Our hardwiring means the human brain is designed to help us see active minds with defined intentions wherever we look. The ability to discern the thoughts behind people’s behaviour is what scientists call theory of mind. When we act on it, we’re mentalizing. That happens all the time.

Social behaviour is also hardwired. Popular opinion is seen to be due to people adapting ideas unconsciously to what the majority think. That’s not surprising: after all, it’s much easier to go along with what most people believe than to swim against the tide.

Dr. Lieberman suggests if we want to boost our sense of wellbeing, we should focus on social factors. The relationship between our social lives and overall happiness is so important that economists reportedly regularly place it at the heart of their research.

Taking a different approach renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg draws our attention to the habits and cultural conditioning that stops us from forming deep connections from one another in Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection.

Here she is at a Google talk in 2017.

SHARON SALZBERG

Salzberg says our brains constantly seek to make sense of the events that happen in our lives, filling in any gaps to create cohesive narratives. These stories are so powerful that we assume they must be true, but they’re often misleading. This could also be our connection with other people as well.

Difficult emotions are an inevitable part of the human experience. When we accept and embrace this, we can reconnect with others and foster self-love.

She says to counteract our faulty gap-filling, we need to practice kindness – to ourselves and to others. To build lasting relationships, we must reevaluate our notions of fairness with what Salzberg calls a “willingness to begin again.”

Because we are all individuals with complex needs that are heavily influenced by our fears, there will always be a space between us and others. She says by filling our relationship spaces with positive emotions it will lead to personal development and stronger connections.

To create a deep connection with someone, she says we must let go of our expectations. Thinking we can be and do everything puts us under enormous pressure and cuts off our connections to others in times of need.

She also talks about sympathetic joy, where we can actually benefit from other people’s happiness rather than be jealous of it. The first step is identifying what’s stopping us from celebrating someone else’s success. Once we have identified the emotions that have activated our jealousy, the next step is – practicing self-compassion. She then says once compassion has shifted us to a place of self-love, we can start experimenting with sympathetic joy, opening up to the idea that joy is abundant.

The key to creating loving connections is to actively pay attention to the people you encounter and the world around you thus taking time to embrace the world around us – even for one moment – helps happiness thrive.

So to sum up:

Lost Connections says there are nine main causes for depression, ranging from trauma and loneliness to disconnections from meaningful values and nature. Happily, there are also seven ways we can heal ourselves, including acknowledging our disconnections and rethinking our values. They recommend practicing a sympathetic joy meditation.

Social talks about thriving through social connection as part of human evolution. Our brains have adapted to help us understand our peers. All that remains for us to do is recognize just how important sociality is to our wellbeing and take full advantage of that evolutionary hardwiring.

Real Love is about consciously practicing sharing and engaging in love everyday. we must pay attention: the validity of our self-talk and what others say about us; the full spectrum of our emotions, including the difficult ones we’d rather avoid; our behavior, particularly during times of conflict; our expectations, both of ourselves and of others; and the world we live in, including our fellow humans.

So we know that talking about mental health can feel awkward, but it doesn’t have to. And this year’s event might look a little different, but at times like this open conversations about mental health are more important than ever. So reach out to someone old, new, or in need this February 4.

Business Psychologist Fiona Kearns and creative genius consultant, artist and author Mandy Nicholson share their thoughts this week. And if you enjoyed this please hit subscribe!

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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