Staying Socially Engaged When You Really Don’t Feel Like It
Feeling socially connected is one of the most important ways of making recovery from addiction last. Social support improves your mood, reduces stress, provides more resources for dealing with problems, and makes you feel more accountable. However, staying socially connected can often be a challenge for people in recovery. At least 20 percent of people with substance use disorders struggle with major depression, an anxiety disorder, or both. Those conditions typically make you feel inclined to stay home and isolate yourself.
Unfortunately, isolation only makes them worse, especially depression. The tendency to isolate can cause a downward spiral, turning a bad mood into a full episode of depression. You can often interrupt that spiral by making yourself do things that improve your mood, such as socializing or going to meetings. This is a well-established intervention called behavioral activation. However, socializing when you feel depressed or anxious is not easy and sometimes it’s impossible. The following tips can help.
Accepting invitations is a freebie. If people are reaching out to you and asking you to do things, you’re already in a pretty good position and it may be nice to take a moment to appreciate that there are people in your life who want to be around you. Unless there’s some specific reason for declining an invitation such as a scheduling conflict, go ahead and accept, even if you know for certain you won’t feel like going when the time comes.
If you accept the invitation, you will be more likely to actually go out and do something, whereas if you decline, you will almost certainly stay home alone. You can always cancel later, but if you accept now, you will at least have options.
Don’t Wait Until You Feel Like Socializing
Whether you have already made plans or not, don’t wait until you feel like socializing to actually do it. When you’re feeling down or actually depressed, you’re never going to feel like it. The whole point is that you do something to interrupt your current mental state. The trap we often fall into with socializing is that we expect it to be a pleasant thing that we actively want to do, so when we don’t feel like it, it makes sense just to stay home.
However, when you’re depressed, anxious, or moving in that direction, the whole matter is different. You don’t feel like socializing because you don’t feel like doing anything. Socializing is something you have to do for your mental health so you have to draw on different resources. It’s more like going to work--perhaps you rarely feel like going to work but you usually go anyway. It may help to remind yourself that your resistance to socializing is mostly inertia and that once you’re with your friends, you will usually feel glad you came.
Do What You Can
You may have some default idea of what socializing looks like--maybe dinner with a group of friends, maybe a family outing, or a party. When you think, “I should socialize,” you immediately think of that default and you feel like you couldn’t possibly manage it. However, you are being subtly undermined by all-or-nothing thinking. When you’re in a funk, any social contact at all is better than none. If all you can manage is texting a friend or relative, then do that. If you can call them and have a chat, even better.
This is especially important to remember as we’re all dealing with the pandemic and our social interactions are restricted anyway. Texting and FaceTiming might not be perfect but they still help. Often, frequent contact with different people throughout the day is better for your mood than minimal contact throughout the week and then a big gathering on the weekend. Too much alone time with no outside contact only gives you more time to ruminate.
Exert Some Influence Over Plans
When someone asks you to do something, it’s rarely a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. You can usually exert some control over the plan. This is important for two reasons. First, as discussed above, socializing isn’t all-or-nothing. Some socializing is better than none and you should only do what you feel like you can handle, which might mean asking your friends or relatives to modify plans.
For example, maybe your friend invites you out to a restaurant and you don’t feel like you can handle that, so you propose instead that your friend comes over and you order pizza. You get the social interaction and you let your friend know you actually do want to spend time with them but you avoid a supposedly fun thing that you’re just not up for.
Second, exerting influence over plans nurtures a sense of self-efficacy or the feeling that you have some control over your life. A common symptom of depression is helplessness--the feeling that nothing you do matters, that you’re just sort of dragged along by life. Exerting your will over your social plans reinforces that you do actually have some control over your life.
It may be worth making some small change to any plan, even if the plan is broadly acceptable, just to work your self-efficacy “muscle.” For example, bowling sounds fine but you’d rather go to a different place, or you’d rather go at eight instead of seven. Furthermore, having more control over plans makes you feel more engaged and less likely to skip out at the last minute.
Take a Break When You Need It
When you’re depressed or anxious, you may have very short battery life. If you’re already an introvert, then socializing when you’re in a bad mood can really take it out of you. It’s important to give yourself breaks. You can either step away from the group, or just have a way to leave early. As discussed earlier, shorter, more frequent interactions are typically more important than marathon social engagements. There’s no point in burning yourself out and dreading the next engagement even more.
Staying socially connected is one key to a strong addiction recovery but an episode of depression or anxiety can make you want to isolate yourself from everyone, including your sober network. To combat this, it’s important to do what you can, even if it’s small and even when you don’t feel like it. Think of it like going to work or brushing your teeth. Exert some influence over plans when possible and be willing to give yourself a break.
At The Foundry, we know that no one recovers from addiction alone. We work hard to make sure our clients feel supported and develop bonds with other people in recovery. We also involve families in treatment because we know that a supportive home environment is a huge asset. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
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