It took me until I was in my 30’s to recognize just how commonplace emotional withdrawal is. I’m not talking about just laying low for a day in bed or watching a show while the world passes you by. Think more along the lines of a season of withdrawal that can last from days to weeks and even stretch into months and years.
Emotional withdrawal is commonly known as one of the side effects of depression. And hey, obviously not everyone who withdraws is depressed. Introverts, for one, use self-isolation regularly (depressed or not), to emotionally recharge. We’re talking about isolation beyond the norm.
So what makes us go into emotional withdrawal?
Sometimes it’s caused by the resurgence of a habit we don’t feel our friends or family would approve of. This could be an addiction or a relationship. Some of us isolate because of a self-perceived emotional, physical or career failure. When facing hard change, like a divorce or the death of a loved one, people frequently emotionally withdraw, even from the ones they KNOW will support them.
When we isolate ourselves, it seems at the time that we’re actually protecting loved ones from our grief. (Or ourselves from unwelcome feedback!)
We aren’t always self-defeating, cyclical emotional withdrawal. One day you might just realize that communicating with your family or friends has felt like a chore for…how long? Sound familiar?
It’s cyclical because we feel the loss of our support community, while simultaneously causing it by withdrawing emotionally.
The good news is you can break a cycle of emotional withdrawal, once you become aware of it and decide to make a change.
Below are 10 Ways to Break Out of a Cycle of Emotional Withdrawal:
1. Pick one person who you will confide COMPLETELY in. If you don’t have someone that you feel comfy doing this with, seek out a professional coach or counselor. A good coach won’t judge you, and is there to provide a safe place for you to work through what’s bothering you.
2. Be intentional in the early morning. Our brains automatically look for the nearest and dearest problem we have to solve when we first wake up. Before you even get out of bed, pick a positive script to tell yourself. Tell yourself good thoughts about the day ahead intentionally before your feet hit the floor,and all through the day. Flip the script on your brain.
3. Stay away from processed sugar and alcohol. Processed sugar and alcohol both create spikes and dips in the bloodstream that cause our adrenal system to become depleted as our body tries to stabilize. Our moods are greatly impacted by these changes, and continual wearing down of the adrenals can tip off or worsen depression, irritation with others, etc.
4. Take care of your gut health. According to Caltech, 90 percent of your serotonin is produced in your gut (not your brain). As you probably know, Serotonin is a feel good hormone that you require to feel energized and happy. If your gut health is bad, along with a host of physical conditions that it can cause, you will find it very hard to stay happy. To browse ideas about how to keep your gut healthy, check out my Pinterest board on Coaching Emotional Health Through Diet Change.
5. Moderate your online activity. It’s tempting to swim around in social media if you’re feeling down and already isolating yourself. Social media is a proven downer. Like sugar, it can cause mental highs and lows. It is frequently used as a substitute for real life, person to person connection, and can be a detriment to true friendship. Social media encourages us to share opinions. Publishing our opinion should not supplant person to person conversation, which requires us to listen as well as speak, with the other persons feelings in mind, and fostering mutual connection as a goal.
6. Get moving. Get on your feet with a walk in nature or go to the gym. Better still, join a meet-up group in your area to do a group activity or a team sport like volleyball, cycling or soccer. The more fun it is, the better. Yoga class and especially dance is a community group event with strangers that can pry your heart back open to communicate more.
7. Perform a random act of kindness. I know, it sounds cheesy. However, we overly focus on ourselves when we isolate. Turn that focus outwards for even a few minutes to feel a massive change of heart. Most of us know someone who would like to get a handful of flowers, a loving note, or a $5 coffee gift card. Even if you don’t, I’m pretty sure you can find someone down on their luck that you don’t know. The very act of going to look for them will be an adventure. Getting outside of ourselves should be an intentional practice when we notice ourselves going into withdrawal.
8. Don’t watch the news. The constant exposure to negativity is not something our brains are naturally wired to handle. It stimulates the part of our brain that causes primal fear and keeps us in a constant state of worry.
9. Do something creative. Creative work causes both right and left brain to be stimulated simultaneously and changes your mental state. Plus, your creative endeavors will give you fodder for conversation. And it’s fun.
10. Pray. Prayer is scientifically proven to provide you with immediate health and mental benefits.
Coaching myself out of a major depression was one of the markers that led me to be a coach. I choose the view that everything happens for a reason, and that when we don’t fight reality, we can come out of our tough times with more understanding, strength, and renewed purpose.
Sometimes the rain just has to come.
If you’ve been in a rainy season and are ready for some sunshine consider the aforementioned isolation-busters. As my fortune cookie said this week, “chance favors those in motion.”