When my mental health isn’t doing so well, one of the first things I do is start to isolate myself from other people. The usual reasons are that I start to doubt that people want me around, I get anxious about feeling overwhelmed or what I might say/do, and I am just so exhausted that the idea of spending time with people seems nearly impossible (even though I know on a logical level that socialising usually gives me MORE energy).
I’ve learned over the years – through much trial and error – how to find the balance between needing space to myself to attend to my mental health and socialising. Here are my Top 5 Strategies for Dealing with Urge to Self-Isolate:
- Quality Over Quantity
When I’m feeling the urge to isolate, I know that although I need connection, I will not have energy to do my usual level of socializing. Sometimes I can feel some guilt about that or like I’m letting down my loved ones. I’ve learnt to just acknowledge that my capacity is different and it’s better for me to have a few meaningful times with them rather than bigger plans that I won’t be fully engaged in. Doing so also means that I can sustain my level of connection over a longer period of time rather than burning out in a couple of days.
- Scheduling Time
I know that when I’m withdrawing that I will not be able to do unscheduled, flexible timing kind of plans with friends. I will, to put it bluntly, be a flake – unless I make clearly scheduled plans instead. This serves a couple of purposes. I can plan a set beginning and end time, which can make the idea of plans feel less overwhelming, and I can prepare for exactly how much emotional energy I will be putting in. It also creates more of a feeling of accountability to the plan and the person I’ll spending time with, unlike a vague “lets hang out sometime today” sort of plan.
- Changing How I Spend Time
While I might usually like to do things with friends that involve going to events or meeting up somewhere, when my mental health isn’t doing as well, I know that I am much more likely to feel overwhelmed by the idea of leaving my house or being in a public (especially crowded) place. I struggle with ideas about needing to have exciting ideas for plans in order to spend time with my friends, so sometimes proposing more laid-back hangs feel like I’m not “good enough”. I’ve since learnt that, especially when I’m not feeling my best, the people who care about me just want to see me – even if that means a couple hours of watching TV together on my couch.
- Fake It’tilYou Make It
It may seem a bit odd, but I approach a lot of areas of dealing with my mental health this way. Basically, for me, it means pushing myself to do the things that are hard when my mental health isn’t in the best place, even if at first it feels awful. Eventually, these things at least become habit, and at best I start to internalize the good in things my brain at one point told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t do. Sometimes, self-care isn’t bubble baths and cozy blankets; it’s pushing yourself kicking and screaming out of your comfort zone until those hard things feel good and natural.
- Communicating Needs
This one is really hard, and I am still learning how to be good at it. It requires being vulnerable and admitting that I need support, both of which I really struggle to do when in a mental health slump (and honestly all the time, just to a lesser extent). As much as it scares me to speak up about this stuff, the people in my life want to know what’s going on for me and want to care for me. I’ve learnt that they will adapt to whatever my current capacity is and be happy doing so. However, they can’t do any of that if I don’t let them know where I’m at in the first place. When all I want to do is bottle things up, I have to remind myself that communicating and reaching out not only improves my mental health in the moment, but it also strengthens my connections in the long run. If I remember that, then being open and asking for help becomes much easier and my mental health only gets better.
This piece was written by one of the ICLA eFriend Peer Support Workers. eFriend is an online platform where you can connect with a trained peer support worker whom has their own lived experience of feeling lonely, isolated, stressed or worried. You can speak to your eFriend Peer via video or phone call. Your eFriend Peer will listen, validate and provide hope. If you like, they can also assist you to identify any other services you may like to try or help you create plans to improve your personal well-being. Or they can simply listen.
To book your first call visit: https://my.efriend.org.au/preregistration/