Navigating Social Anxiety and Isolation

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For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a stay at home mom. I had this vision in my head of what it would be like to be home full time with my children and I loved it. When Myra was born and my wife and I crunched the numbers and determined that we could afford for me to stay at home – I was ecstatic. About a week in, and I got hit with a reality that I naively never even thought to consider – being at home full time is pretty isolating.

As an introvert, I’m energized by having alone time to think and just be quiet, so I subconsciously created a life for myself that reflected that. I didn’t make an effort to make friends when I moved to Texas almost a decade ago. I figured I’d get all the socializing I needed on the job. I had a handful of “work friends” that I’d talk to and have the occasional lunch or happy hour with, but those relationships were just surface level, not particularly deep or meaningful and didn’t they extend past the office. After a day spent talking with others, my quiet home created well needed balance in my life.

When I became a stay at home mom, everything changed.  The only interaction I had during the day was with my baby. And while I was excited to be around her all day, not having adult conversation or even being around other adults started taking a toll. My wife is also pretty introverted and when she gets home, that’s typically her time to be quiet and recharge. During those first few months at home I remember feeling incredibly alone.  I felt like I had nothing to talk about apart from feeding schedules and poop, and no one to talk to. It was around this time that my social anxiety started kicking into high gear.

I’ve always been socially anxious, but because my job required me to talk a lot, I got a chance to exercise that muscle. Without work meetings and group projects, I felt as if I was losing my ability to properly engage with other adults. There I was embarking on a whole new phase of my life and I felt so incredibly alone.

Now that I’ve been at this for over two years, I’ve found a few strategies that have helped me tackle this isolation head on:

  1. I have a routine and daily goals. I came across a YouTube video from a mom who explained that she focused on creating great routines instead of having a specific scheule, and that really resonated with me. Being intentional with the way I start and end my day has definitely helped me have more focus. I also use a digital planner to jot down a few things that I want to accomplish each day.
  2. I take a shower and get dressed every morning. At first I’d just lounge around in whatever I slept in, because there really was no need to get dressed, but I’ve found that a morning shower, and changing into clothing that I’d be comfortable answering the door in definitely gave me an energy boost.
  3. I focused more on my nutrition. As a busy mom it’s very easy to have nutrition fall by the wayside, but the busier we get, the more crucial it becomes that we’re actually giving our bodies the right fuel. I made a conscious effort to include more leafy greens, reduce sugar, and drink a whole lot more water. If you’re feeling ambitious, fitting in a 30minute workout is another way to boost your energy and feelings of well-being.
  4. I find an excuse to leave the house every day. Texas is really hot for most of the year, so taking a walk or doing any outdoor activity during the day isn’t always an option, but I’ve found that just going to Target, Walmart,or even Michael’s (and not buying anything) is a great way to get out and be around people. Barnes and Nobles often hosts events for kids during the day, and the local mall is another great option, they have the added bonus of an indoor play area. Many cities also have a free museum day once a week.
  5. I signed up for local groups (like story time at the library and My Gym). Many cities and towns have free or low cost activities for kids. It’s a great way to be around other parents of similarly aged kids and potentially meet new friends. I’ll be honest, I haven’t made friends this way (although I’ve seen others do this), but seeing the same faces every week has given me opportunities to engage in non intimidating small talk). If you live close to a library, to worth stopping by and checking out the activities they offer.
  6. I’ve reached out to my spouse. Although we can’t talk that much during the day when she’s at work, my wife and I have carved out time after the kids go to sleep, and before she gets some well needed alone time to recharge, for just us. During this time we talk, enjoy a little TV and connect. Dynamics can change when one spouse stays at home – in our case my wife would love to be at home, so I know venting to her might not be the best option, but it’s still important to share what I’m feeling, and she’s been really supportive.
  7. I’ve reached out to the friends and family that I have. With the exception of my wife, the people that I feel closest to live out of state. Since I can’t see them regularly, and I don’t particularly enjoy talking on the phone, I’ve incorporated different ways to stay in touch. Marco Polo has become my app of choice because it allows us to send video messages back and forth, it’s more personal than a text message, but it’s more convenient that a phone call, since we don’t have to be available at the same time to communicate. I’ve found that reaching out and talking as helped me feel less alone and isolated.
  8. I’ve looked online. I’ll be first person to complain that social media has made us more anti social in a lot of ways, but there are genuine ways to connect online. When I first became a stay at home mom I reactivated my Facebook account so I could join a few mom groups. That has honestly been one of the best things I could have done.  I’ve asked questions, given support, and shared stories with other moms who are feeling just as alone as I am. While in person interaction is best, online interaction isn’t that bad. Some of the groups even organize local meetups so moms can meet in person. I haven’t taken advantage of that just yet, but it’s a great option.

If there is a magic action item that will cure all social anxiety and feelings of loneliness I’m yet to find it, but I’ve found that just being kind to myself and making an effort has helped me greatly. There are still days when I don’t shower or leave the house, but I’ve made the conscious effort to have those days be the exception. Like with everything we do, practice is needed to create any meaningful change, so that’s been my approach – one day, one effort, one action item at a time. That’s how momentum is created, that’s how change happens.

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