Human beings are wired for connection. Friends, family and social interactions are crucial to our sense of security and wellness. For many of us, the last couple of years has involved more isolation/confinement than we’re used to. Not only is this stressful during times of isolation, but science tells us that it can also make re-entering social society stressful. A recent study of persons who have endured long periods of isolation–soldiers, astronauts, and prisoners–reveals that social skills atrophy just like muscles that are not used. When these skills atrophy we can find ourselves anxious and awkward in social situations or tempted to avoid them altogether. If this sounds familiar, take heart! July is social wellness month and a great time to start flexing those social muscles!
FIRST: Take stock of your social health
In a recent article, Heidi McKenzie, PsyD explains, “ It can be hard to recognize social awkwardness in yourself because you might not even be aware of some of the social cues you aren’t picking up on. Instead, you might just notice that you don’t seem to fit in with your peers.” To get in touch with your state of social health, spend a moment with this list of experiences from VeryWellMind. If one or more of them sound familiar, you may be experiencing some social awkwardness.
- Not being able to understand subtle aspects of social situations or how to behave
- Feeling like you have become oversensitive or hypervigilant
- Overreacting to things that do not seem to bother others
- Doing things that seem inappropriate (e.g., oversharing during a conversation)
- Wanting to be around other people but then finding it hard when you do spend time with them
- Misinterpreting the intentions of others (e.g., thinking someone dislikes you or is angry at you because of the expression on their face)
- Feeling more self-conscious than usual
- Avoiding things that you used to enjoy such as phone calls or meeting up for activities
- Making excuses for doing things such as saying that you are too tired
- Choosing solitary activities over social activities (e.g., choosing to watch Netflix instead of answering a phone call from a friend)
SECOND: Start low and go slow
If you’re experiencing social awkwardness it can take time for you to re-emerge as the social butterfly you once were. In that spirit, be gentle with yourself. Take a look at these suggestions and try just one or two at a time. When they become comfortable, try another. Keep going until your awkwardness starts to fade and your social circle starts to grow.
THIRD: Try a new social strategy or two
Re-entry into the social world doesn’t have to require difficult or dramatic strategies. Doing the small stuff with ease? Try something bigger.
Bite off more than you can chew? Try something smaller. The list below includes small steps and bigger challenges that can boost your emergence and reduce awkwardness over time.
- Compliment someone.
- Call a friend for a chat.
- When you find yourself at a loss for words, be a good listener and ask open-ended questions.
- Go to a museum or other place where there are people. Smile at a stranger.
- Volunteer for a cause you care about.
- Take a class.
- Go to the farmer’s market.
- Make time for a hobby you’ve long wanted to try.
- Hire a personal trainer.
- Invite a friend to brunch.
- Host a picnic.
- Join a community garden.
- Find a “walking buddy” and schedule regular walks or hikes.
- Take your dog to the dog park.
- Attend community events.
There’s no shame in adjusting to suit your comfort level. What matters is that you choose a strategy that feels right and try it. Then come back for another!
FOURTH: Support your efforts with monthly massage
The Elements Massage(r) brand has seen that regular massage sessions can help bring people out of their shells time and time again. Whether it’s relaxation, improved body image, or regular social interaction in a safe, clean space, something powerful is at work in the massages–and science agrees.
A recent study found that only 10 minutes of massage can activate the body’s system for overcoming stress. This can go a long way toward making social interactions easier. For maximum stress-relieving benefits, and all the other wellness benefits massage has to offer, consider booking a series of monthly massages with a trained massage therapist at your local Elements Massage studio.
Ready to book? Find a studio near you.