It’s Friday night. Your phone is blowing up with offers to hang out, but you turn it on silent and curl up on the couch. You’re so exhausted, stressed, and frayed. There’s no way you want to add to your anxiety by being around other people. Sure you did the same thing last weekend, but it seems like going out is just too overwhelming right now.
You’re not alone. Stress has a way of inhibiting even the enjoyable parts of life. When the brain senses stress, whether chronic or momentary, it tends to fire up more warnings in efforts to protect us. Hey, look over here! Be careful of that!
Unfortunately, one of the areas where stress may affect our lives is by inhibiting our desire to be social and spend time with others. Research shows that sharing time with family and friends has real psychological and even physiological benefits. Several Harvard studies show that people who have satisfying relationships actually live longer and live more healthfully. So why do some of us tend to isolate ourselves when we are feeling down? Why does it sometimes seem like socializing is the last thing we want to do when stress is high?
It’s not because your couch is extra comfy. Blame the amygdala!
The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for processing stress and anxiety and responsible for the classic “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Sadly, it’s a pretty blunt instrument in the presence of stress (let’s say from work) and has the power to make us feel that avoiding social outings; aka, “The Freeze”, is the same as avoiding being chased by a lion. In order to keep us “alive”, it tries to make us stay home, safe, at all costs.
Thankfully, the amygdala can be outsmarted, but not without paying attention. By noticing that we may have had the tendency to turn down invitations without a good reason lately, we’ve already done half the work. Now, we can retrain your brain to see our vibrant social life for all of its benefits by going out and having fun. This will turn the amygdala’s alarm off and make us feel better, physically and mentally. Of course, staying in to relax with Netflix can be a valuable part of self-care. Everyone needs a night of popcorn and binge-watching! We just have to be sure that we see it as a way to relax, not a way to hide.
Publishing, H. (2017). Can relationships boost longevity and well-being? - Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/can-relationships-boost-longevity-and-well-being