Coping with transitioning from isolation to socialization while single, and how best to do it smoothly, without suffering too much from anxiety. How you can go from being alone during quarantine, to being constantly surrounded by other people.
For the better part of the last year, I was locked up in my apartment alone… And sometimes with my best friend and roommate. Later on, when I moved back in with my mum, I was still mostly alone, except for the occasional visit from my sisters. Like I’m sure many of you out there, around the world did… I got used to spending most of my time on my own. It was both a serious test to my self-relationship, and a great way to strengthen it. However, at times I have felt that it may have caused me to be a little too comfortable in my own company.
At first, this year helped me with my journey of embracing myself and my singleness. It helped me reach a point where I’m comfortable in my own company, where I’m super independent and strong. It helped me practice self love properly. Eventually, I got to the point where I was not only happy in my singlehood, I was acing it as well. Perhaps a little too comfortable. Which upon further contemplation, led me to question whether I was developing a mild case of social anxiety.
Throughout the past year, I spent 80% of my time alone, if not more. Like I’m sure many of you did, I got used to being in my own presence and not seeing anyone else. I had all the time and space I needed, and no one who could invade it. Then, I went on a work trip in the USA and I had to participate in seminars where there were at least 15 other people. And even during the day I had to socialize with the people who were hosting us. Most of the focus was not on me specifically, but it was a sharp turn to take very suddenly. Diving head first from being alone most of the time, to being surrounded by people almost 24/7.
Sinking into alone time
With the world basically shut down, and having one lockdown after the other, my “social anxiety” only intensified. I had no job, my college classes were on zoom, and I couldn’t meet up with anyone. Even if we really wanted to, there was literally nowhere to go. Almost everything was closed. Which meant that I was forced to spend all of this time alone, whether I wanted to or not.
At first, I tried to stay in touch with friends, at least talk on the phone or video chat. But the deeper I sank into the isolation… The more I got comfortable alone, the less I needed anyone else, the more I ignored the outside world, and the existence of other people. Not only was this a danger to my friendships, but it was a dark, direct route to having social anxiety. As it is I’m a person that can spend hours upon hours alone and not get bored. So adding in the whole pandemic fiasco, it just intensified tenfolds. Even if you’re not used to it, and have never liked it before… You can very easily, and quickly get used to it. The more alone time you spend, the better and easier it gets. The more you sink into it.
When you’re single, and especially if you live alone… This only becomes even more of a struggle. Because by default you don’t have anyone else with you in isolation. You don’t have a husband or kids you need to split your time with. Even if you live with friends or flat mates, it’s not the same – because you don’t owe them the same attention a husband needs to give his wife, and vise versa.
Avoiding leaving alone time
Even when the restrictions began to lift, I didn’t leave the house unless I strictly needed to. Friends of mine wanted to start making plans to meet again, to go out. And I did my best not to, instead of putting in efforts to finally see them again. Not because I didn’t want to see them, because I really did miss them. But because I got so used to being alone all the time, that just the thought of leaving the house got very daunting. And the fact that the virus was still out there, didn’t help either.
So instead of putting in the effort to go out and see people, try to regain my social life, I sank in even deeper. It was like an endless downward spiral, that I just could not find a way out of. There were days where I had to spend with my family, and I just felt like I couldn’t wait to be alone again, to the point where I was feeling like I could barely control my anxiety. So as much as I could, I avoided leaving my alone time like the plague. Mixed in with all the lockdowns, one after the other, I got to the point where I spent all of my time alone.
Noticing and acknowledging the problem
In my blog post about being too comfortable in your own company, I went into the signs, stages and coping mechanisms of sinking in deep. It took me a while to realise what was going on, because I was so comfortable alone, that I was just chalking it up to that. I never would have even imagined that there was such a thing as being too comfortable alone. Being such a huge advocate for “alone isn’t lonely” and “enjoy your own company” … I sort of overlooked anything else. Until I realised that my anxiety may not be connected solely to the pandemic, but also the fact that I may be scared of being around other people. And that if I’m not careful it will only get worse, so I decided to start putting an end to it.
Taking steps and measures
knowing that I had a trip coming up, and that my endless supply of alone time was ending soon… I made a conscious decision to take as many steps as I can before the trip. There wasn’t much I could do, especially with another lockdown taking place. But I spent as much time as I could with other people. I left the house at every opportunity that I got. And I also put in more effort to talk to my friends again, as much as possible. Not only to nourish the friendships, but also to stop sinking into being too comfortable alone.
Almost no alone time
During the trip I was almost 24/7 with my mum and godfather, which meant I had little to no alone time. Due to the budget, in most places we had to share a triple room, so I had barely any space and privacy. Not to mention, no freedom to just do whatever I want, when I want to, like I was used to. To go from all the alone time I want, to almost none – was a pretty rough shock to my system. You may be experiencing the same kind of thing, under different circumstances. Whether it be with your friends, co-workers or fellow students.
Going back to normal, means that you spend much less time alone throughout the day. Perhaps not to the extreme that I had on the trip, but it gave me a taste of what it would be like to get back into civilization. This trip didn’t give me the option to ease into it or take my time, step by step. I was thrown in head first, and despite my attempts to prepare in advance, it was still quite intense. Yet in a way, that was also exactly what I needed, because now that I can get back to “normal” civilization, it will be that much easier.
Constantly meeting more new people
While on the trip all the people we met along the way were new to me. Normally I’m not huge on meeting new people, especially with being so used to my alone time. But I was lucky enough to meet nice people that I loved and got along with, which I realise is extremely lucky. Going back to civilization may mean you need to start a new job where you meet new coworkers. Starting a new job isn’t easy to begin with, so having to get along with new people only makes it harder.
However, that being said – I found that while on the trip, I was subconsciously focusing on all of the benefits I was reaping from it. For so long I worked on adapting my mindset to focusing on the good and positive, that I had automatically applied it here as well. Also, when we train our minds to embrace negativity and not fear, intensify or run away from it, embrace that it is part of life… We are less likely to feel it as much, and when we do, it won’t be as intense. And we are more likely to focus on all the positive aspects.
Spending hours surrounded by others
Deep diving from being constantly in your own presence, to being constantly in the presence of others… Can be quite the plunge. Not only are you lacking your precious alone time, you are also always surrounded by other people. And I don’t mean only your friends or family that you’re hanging with. I mean being inside a crowd, surrounded by a large group of people – most of whom you don’t know. For me it was mainly being in the seminars, with a group of at least 15 other people. Which can be quite daunting in general, and particularly during a worldwide pandemic.
When going back to “normal” this can also mean crowded public transportation, a mall, restaurants, shops, classes at college or school, in the park or even just walking down the street. It can be quite the shock to our systems… Jumping back into the busy, noisy crowds. Personally, I prefer just taking that leap and getting it over and done with. Because I know that with time it will get easier and I will get used to it again.
As humans we tend to adapt to our surroundings fairly quickly. So just like we got used to being alone, we can get used to not being alone.
But the world won’t stop or end if you decide to also take your time, to ease back in one step at a time. Start with one or two outings a week, and build up from there. Just don’t stop trying and moving forward, no matter how small. Because the worst thing you can do is just give up, and sink in deeper. The deeper you sink, the harder it will be to get out. So it’s always best to just start as soon as you can. There will never be a right time, and there will always be reasons why not. You need to believe in yourself, be brave and just go. And don’t be afraid to lean on your support system.
Stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!
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