In my last post, I told the story of a friend who’s been struggling with anxiety and depression, and who found that connecting with others had a meaningful positive impact on her mood. Humans are social beings, so connecting with others is vital to positive mental health. The problem is, when you feel down or anxious, it’s hard to get motivated or to make yourself reach out.
Some Reasons Anxiety Keeps Us Disconnected
When we feel anxious or depressed, negative thoughts can get in the way of making connections. We might tell ourselves:
- “I don’t want to be a burden to others.”
- “I should be able to handle my problems on my own.”
- “Asking for help is a sign of weakness.”
- “I might get rejected.”
- “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
The problem is that the longer we stay disconnected, the longer we feel isolated, lonely and sad. It becomes a negative cycle: “I’m not reaching out because I’m sad and anxious, and I’m sad and anxious because I’m not reaching out.” Like the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to say which comes first. Either way, it becomes a negative loop.
When Anxious, Start Small: 3 Tips for Making Connections
My clients will often say that they’re introverts, so connecting with others doesn’t come easily. I usually suggest that they start small and in ways that feel most comfortable and natural for them.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Connect with friends you’ve lost touch with, such as college roommates, old work buddies or family members you haven’t seen in a while. Give yourself a modest goal to call or meet up with a friend or family member once a week. Re-connecting with someone can be easier and more comfortable than trying to start up a conversation with someone you barely know.
- Volunteer or get more involved in an activity that you enjoy. It’s easier to connect with people who have similar interests. If you love hiking, taking photos, playing soccer, running, supporting the homeless, working with the infirm or elderly, dogs, cats or all animals, you can get involved in a wide variety of related activities. You can go online to find Meet-up groups of people in your area who share your hobbies and interests. Pet shelters, hospitals, homeless shelters and elder care facilities are always looking for volunteers. The nice thing about all of these activities is that you only commit to what you have time to do.
- When going to a large social event, remember that you only need to connect with one person at a time. You don’t have to talk to everyone. Connecting with an individual is a lot less stressful than thinking about all the people you don’t know. Practicing conversations and your responses before you go can help ease your anxious feelings. In an article called “The Introverts Guide to Connecting,” author Maribeth Kuzmeski suggests, “Anticipate how people might react to what you say. Rehearse conversations in advance. Develop a vision for yourself and how you’d like to change.”
Connect One-on-One With a Counselor
Sometimes even the steps above can be difficult when you’re struggling with anxiety and depression. This is where counseling can help. Working one-on one with a counselor can be a less threatening step toward connecting with others, understanding that you’re not alone and being heard with openness and empathy. If you’d like more information on how counseling can help you reconnect with your life, please call me at 410-340-8469.