Are we there yet? vol. 154
Many studies have shown that one way to be happier is to increase your social connections and that those of us who maintain social connections reduce chances of suffering from diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. But studies also show that people are less social than they were prior to the pandemic. Anecdotally, I have seen these same trends and personally spend more time at home reading or streaming videos. A friend told me the other day that people she used to see every couple of weeks, she now sees once every few months. So, what’s going on?
I think we can agree that the modern world enables us to stay isolated. When I was a child and social media, cell phones, streaming services and DoorDash didn’t exist, I not only was forced to go out among people, but I desperately wanted to be out of the house. Staying home was boring. My mother did not set up play dates for me in the summer. I was out of the house on summer days as soon as I awakened and off on adventures with my friends. In 2023, I can choose to stay in my house, alone, and be fully entertained but it comes at a cost as shown in these studies about the importance of social connection.
For some, the forced lack of social connection during the pandemic has led to anxiety about social situations. Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist, talked about this issue in a recent interview with NPR. She told the story of a young man who was anxious about social situations yet wanted to be more social. He made plans but as the day of the social activity got closer, he got more anxious and eventually decided not to go. Ms. Damour said that two things happen at that point. First, “he instantly feels better, it actually does relieve his anxiety to decide not to go. As soon as he avoids, he instantly feels better.” She adds “The other problem is that whatever he imagined about how frightening that social activity was going to be goes completely unchallenged.” Avoiding the social interaction reinforces his decision not to attend the event and makes his future anxiety even greater.
So, if you know of friends (or the person you see in the mirror) who are having this type of anxiety, what can one do? When dealing with the issue of avoidance, Ms. Damour says that the objective is to slowly find a way back into the activity. She suggests attending the activity for a short period of time, such as 20 minutes, and giving oneself permission to leave if it's not working out after that time.
Usually, I’m not advocate for forcing oneself into situations that create anxiety just to challenge fears but with all the evidence about the importance of social interaction on our health and well-being, I believe this is one case where facing your fears is worth the struggle. And Netflix will still be there when you get home.
Take care and stay safe.
The Recruit (Netflix)
A rookie lawyer at the CIA stumbles headlong into the dangerous world of international espionage when a former asset threatens to expose the agency secrets.