When you’ve had a tough day, few things are more delicious than curling up with your dog, putting your TV streaming option on auto-play, and shutting out the rest of the world. Whether you call it downtime, alone time or “me” time, we all need time to decompress away from the rest of society.
The danger comes, however, when we close ourselves off from the rest of society as a regular habit – or way of life. Believe me, I know. I was great at it when I was drinking, and I even found myself falling into the trap in recovery.
I worked from home. Amazon delivers pretty much everything. My boyfriend does the grocery shopping. And my dogs were fine not going to the park. I was rarely around people, other than at my recovery meetings, and the effects of isolation started seeping in before I even realized what was happening. They weren’t pretty.
Negative effects of isolation
When you stop spending time around other people, you can start to spend all your time in your own head. I’ve heard it been said that being in your own head can be dangerous territory, or like hanging out with your own worst enemy. Here’s why.
You start to believe all the lies you tell yourself.
When you’re hanging out alone all the time, you have no external sounding board that can point out how ridiculous some of your thinking is. All you have are your own thoughts, which can quickly turn negative and depressing.
You can turn into a bumbling idiot in public.
Just like any other skill you neglect, your socialization skills can become rusty or degraded. At the height of my isolation period, I would turn into a freakishly chatty customer at the supermarket, with the cashier getting an earful of this, that and the other thing. Never mind the strangeness, it was also holding up the line.
You don’t get your human needs met.
As a reminder, our human needs include:
- Acceptance | Affection | Appreciation
- Approval | Attention | Comfort
- Encouragement | Respect | Security
When our human needs aren’t consistently being met, we can become perpetually cranky, sad and/or discontent. How we could get them met without interacting with others is beyond me.
You can actually become paranoid – and aggressive.
Humans are social creatures by nature. When we don’t honor those natural tendencies, we can become fearful and aggressive. Don’t take it from me, take it from this Science Daily article that talks about How Social Isolation Transforms the Brain.
Or take it from a pal of mine, who noted the more she stayed isolated, the more she feared going out into the world. Such a trend could continue to spiral her into a downslide, perhaps slipping merrily into agoraphobia. Yikes.
Escaping the social isolation trap
So what’s the antidote for social isolation? Get off your butt and into the world. Yes, that can be easier said than done. I know this one well, too. In fact, when I went back into therapy after the death of my dog, my therapist wouldn’t let me “graduate” unless I agreed to this single task:
Go out and socialize at least once a week.
And no, she said, recovery meetings don’t count. I started randomly grabbing at any outing just to fill the quota, and spent most of the time at the outings wishing I was home isolating.
The light bulb then went off in my brain, telling me to pick social outings that I actually ENJOYED – with people who brought me up with their love and support, not those that brought me down with complaining or small talk about who-cares-what. What a revelation!
Have lunch or coffee with a pal who makes you laugh. Invite a dog-loving friend to meet you at the dog park. Go thrift-store hopping with your favorite shopping buddy.
It worked. Doing something social and fun every single week gets you out of your own head, keeps social skills on a functioning level and helps fuel your human needs on a regular basis.
We also reduce the risk of becoming paranoid and nasty, or delaying the entire supermarket checkout line with incessant and senseless babbling.
So get out there and enjoy yourself. Your TV streaming and dogs will still be there when you return in a much happier, peppier mood.
Are you the new king or queen of isolation? (I’m convinced I was the former one). Is something blocking you from getting out of the house? Let Rynski coaching help. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation today.
I help amazingly creative souls who want more out of life than sleep-work-sleep get their dazzle back so they rock their world.