Daily Archives: May 8, 2012

The Social Interaction Balancing Act

I’ve been experimenting somewhat with the mood tracking tools over at Moodscope, and the team over there sends out daily emails that act as a reminder to log my mood score for the day.

You’d think these reminders would be dull, reproductions of the same email each day (as creating 365 reminder emails that are different seems like an intense chore!) but the reality is just the opposite. Some days I don’t have time to read these quick notes, but on the days I do I feel genuinely glad I did.

Sunday’s email from Moodscope contained the following line that I found particularly inspiring:

“…true connections we make during a day build up to boost our mood.”

I could not agree more.

This is something I’ve had to battle on a number of levels. Whether it is self isolation due to depression or another bipolar episode, isolation due to a work situation (one where I am not interacting with others regularly), or isolation from when my boyfriend is out of town, it has become increasingly clear to me that the days I spend alone almost always result in a situation of poorer mood, period.

Any time I go an entire day without speaking to anyone, the emotional effects are  pretty devastating. The trouble (at least for me) is that I can get caught up in doing something (or, if I’m exhausted, not doing anything) and by the time I realize a whole day has passed and I haven’t talked to a soul, the day is over and my mood is already plummeting.

Some days I make an attempt to go out in the city and the conversation is limited to a chat with a stranger on the bus or my local barista. These interactions aren’t always the most meaningful, but in a pinch they help me feel slightly more grounded. Lasting several days off of these sorts of interactions can be tough though, and I think that is partially where friendships with people like bartenders, baristas, or waitresses are birthed.

At the same time, the last couple times Corey was out of town I scheduled time to spend with other people practically every other day, and I wound up getting overwhelmed. I am a fairly introverted person, so trying to find a balance of time or an activity that is social without being overwhelming can be difficult.

I’ve found a couple of instances that often help boost my mood without making me feel completely overwhelmed. A few include:

  • Eating dinner with someone, even if just for an hour, usually helps me from keeping the tail end of my day from spiraling out of control. Having dinner is usually pretty casual too, as there is conversation but there are also segments of eating throughout to give the conversation a break.
  • Going to a movie with someone is another social interaction that feels comforting to me without being conversationally overwhelming. After all, the majority of the time is spent focused on the movie!
  • I don’t have much use of a telephone, which normally doesn’t bother me because talking on the phone gives me anxiety anyway. If I do feel the need to converse with someone though, if I take the time to think of a funny joke or story before calling it makes me feel more at ease about initiating a phone conversation.
  • Talking to my therapist, even though it is just for 50 minutes, often makes me feel worlds better afterwards. The limited amount of time keeps me from feeling too overwhelmed, instead of hanging out with someone who might be draining for several hours at a time.
  • Group therapy = awesome. If it is a group I’m not too familiar with, it is nice because it is almost halfway between strangers and friends. Being able to recognize some of the same faces over and over again makes the interaction feel both more meaningful and less overwhelming.
  • Meeting outside makes a huge difference in my ability to interact with others. Nature tends to be a big stress reliever, so hanging out in the outdoors is a great way to converse and feel relaxed at the same time.

On a side note, having a job that involves customer service has been pretty helpful to me in the past as well. I’ve had jobs where I was isolated in a cubicle, and that was something that helped to wreak havoc on my work life. If I can interact with co-workers or customers on a regular basis, I almost always leave work feeling better (even if exhausted) than if I had spent the day alone.

Taking the time to have a meaningful conversation or two per day can do a lot of good for your mood, and I think for a lot of us this can be an easy thing to forget or shrug off when we don’t feel up to it or are caught up in doing other things. Finding a way to have that interaction without becoming overwhelmed can be tough, but finding a good balance can help provide comfort in an area that may have previously gone ignored.