May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. It is no secret that there has been a sharp increase in the number of cases of depression, anxiety, stress, family conflict, domestic violence (and the list goes on and on). The fact is that we are living in stressful times and many are having difficulty coping. While there are numerous strategies for dealing with mental/relational distress (and different approaches are meaningful to different people) one thing I would recommend is the simple act of: "Hanging Out With Friends." For me, an evening with a good friend can significantly help to reduce my anxiety and lift my spirits. I actually have several thoughts regarding this...
First, friends can be found from many sources: Your friend might be your spouse. Your friend might be a co-worker. Your friend might be a neighbor. Your friend might be a pet. Whatever the case; joy seems to rise when we spend time with our friends.
If your friend is human there are many ways to share meaningful times: dinners, lunch, a movie or concert, a walk in the park or a picnic. Perhaps the most challenging part is simply scheduling the time to be together. If your friend is a pet, then simply a walk or time to set together and cuddle can bring great reward.
Several years ago I had a cat that I referred to as my "therapy cat." That cat was not happy unless he was sitting in my lap. His name was "crybaby" (a name he obtained when he was a kitty and "meowed" all of the time) but I soon began referring to him as "cuddles cat." If I was drinking my coffee, reading my Bible, or watching the TV, Cuddles Cat was with me. Sadly, about three years ago Cuddles cat passed away; but this past October another cat (just a kitten) found its way to our house. My grandson quickly named her "Catta" and though we knew not from where she came, she soon became part of our family. Now, 8 months later, Catta has become my new "cuddles cat" and I love hanging out with my new friend.
Second, friends help us in a variety of ways: Sometimes friends just listen. Sometimes friends give advice. Sometimes friends offer encouragement or comfort. Sometimes friends are just "present with us." But whatever the way our friends attend to us, by hanging out with our friends our minds are temporarily lifted from our problems we bear and (sometimes just for a few moments) joy is once again found. With every loss of a loved one that I have experienced; the presence, assistance, and encouragement of friends have helped see me through.
Third, we must be intentional about spending time with our friends. Our lives are busy and filled. Often we find ourselves at the mercy of our calendar. When appointment after appointment piles up on us, stress, anxiety, and despair increase. A significant mental health strategy for each of us is simply to block out some time to spend with our friends.
The Bible reminds us, "a three-fold cord is not easily broken" (Ecc. 4:12). Safety, power, encouragement, and hope can be found by "hanging out" with our friends!
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.