In this episode, which follows Chapter 4, Section 4: Embrace Connection, I review how this culture’s unrealistic expectations support your feelings of inadequacy. You’ll learn
- How and why the mind thinks so much
- Why humans need connection
- Evidence that isolation is one of the worst things for your mental health
Humans are social beings, and we need connection. During early human history, communities were necessary for survival. We did not have the warmth, speed, strength, claws, or teeth to survive alone in the wild. So, to ensure we stay together and help each other sustain the species, early humans developed an innate desire to belong. This desire saved us, and allowed us to evolve to use tools, have foresight, and create the world we have (for better or worse). However, it also is the cause of much suffering since the need to belong encourages our deepest fear: Am I worthy?
This episode will answer some of your long-lasting wonderings and explain why so much of what you feel isn’t you. It is a regular human reaction to our modern world. It will give you the tips you need to change the aspects of your life that you need to so that you can live a life that is full, joyful, and connected.
“It’s like putting ten ropes in the dryer; after a while, they are so tangled together that they are hard to distinguish one cord from the other until you take time to untangle them. When you get tangled like this, you might think, ‘I am such a mess. No one would want me like this. I better figure this out (stay in the dryer) before I get close to anyone.’” – Dr. Jodi Aman
Listen to 4-4 Embrace Connection:
Resources for 4-4 Embrace Connection
- Sleep Anxiety Mediations
- Get Better Sleep
- Ep. 3:2 Activate Trust in Yourself
- Teen Courses for Confidence, Intuition, and Relationships
- What to do if you are lonely
- Activate Trust in Yourself
- Nervous System Privilege
- 6 Common Red Flags to Warn You of Problematic Relationships
- Getting Rid of Intrusive Thoughts
- What to do if you are needy
- Setting Awesome Personal Boundaries
Transcription of the 4-4 Embrace Connection:
Hey, you’re here with Dr. Jodi, and this is Season 4 of “Anxiety… I’m So Done With You!” This podcast is a teen and young adult guide to ditching toxic stress and hardwiring your brain for happiness. If you’re new here, grab a copy of my book “Anxiety… I’m So Done With You!“ because this series goes section by section through it, going a little bit deeper, giving more examples, and telling more stories. In this season, which follows Chapter 4, we’re finally focusing on you making peace with yourself.
Because you can’t get rid of anxiety when you’re still being your own worst critic. Most likely, you have been your own worst critic, even though you don’t deserve it. You deserve kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. In this season, I will give you the practical tools to do that for yourself. Thank you for listening, subscribing, and leaving me five stars on Apple Podcasts. Please spread the word about this book and series because mental health problems have dire consequences that inflict more pain on young people, their families, and their communities. And I would be grateful if you could help me turn the tide by sharing these tips for embracing self-love.
Welcome to the episode that accompanies Chapter 4, Section 4: Embrace Connection.
- We’ll review how and why the mind thinks so much
- We’ll discuss why humans need connection
- And I’ll double down on why isolation is one of the worst things for your mental health
Humans are social beings, and we need connection. This is why: During early human history, communities were necessary for survival. We did not have the warmth, speed, strength, claws, or teeth to survive alone in the wild. So, to ensure we stay together and help each other sustain the species, early humans developed an innate desire to belong. This desire saved us and allowed us to evolve to use tools, have foresight, and create the world we have (for better or worse). And it also is the cause of so much suffering because needing to belong encourages our deepest fear: Are we worthy of belonging?
Combine this desire to belong with the fact that our brains have that capacity to think 12 to 60,000 thoughts a day. Remember, the brain evolved to solve problems because we had to find food, figure out shelter, take care of our families, and keep ourselves warm. There were so many things to do, so our brains evolved to have tons of thoughts to do those things. We don’t need that capacity anymore because most of those chores are now built into the structure of our lives.
I know it seems like we are busier than ever, but it’s a whole different kind of busyness. It’s not a “problem-solving” busyness; it’s a pressure and high expectation busyness. The type of busyness that we have now makes those thousands of thoughts tumble around each other like our heads are clothes dryers. They keep going round and round and draining us of our vitality.
Even though I covered this in other episodes, I’m going to remind you again that you don’t merely have more thoughts than you need, but your mind makes up things to use them for––which usually take on a negative flavor. To boot, you also make meaning around those thoughts, which compound on the negativity of it all. So, for example, you think, “Why doesn’t she like me?” but then you make meaning around that by adding, “I have to figure out why she doesn’t like me…and why people don’t like me…”
These second and third thoughts feel like the truth about what you have to do next. As if you have to figure out what ways you are unlikeable in order to survive. This, as you can imagine, brings up any rejection from your past as you search in the memories for a theme to answer the question, “Why don’t people like me?”
This is the thing about the human brain: If you are looking for a correlation between two things, even if it is between two seemingly unrelated things, you will find a correlation. Consequently, this is why people can rationalize blaming themselves for something that has nothing to do with them. The creative ways they connect their responsibility to the event can be compelling. In their mind, that is. But if they said it out loud, it wouldn’t hold the same power. To another person, their self-assignment of blame would probably seem ridiculous.
Listen to Embrace Connection on YouTube
Now we are getting to why I am re-iterating how and why the human mind thinks so much: A big reason you need people is that being around people gives you a break from the thoughts tumbling around and around in your mind, growing negative meaning. You see, at first, it’s just an idea, and then, you get into it and build a whole story around it.
Because our deepest fear is that we don’t belong, a lot of these negative thoughts center around this theme, including
who thinks what of you,
what people know about you,
who likes you,
why someone rejected you,
if you might embarrass yourself,
why you can’t trust people, and
why people hurt you, etc., etc.
It’s like putting ropes in the dryer; after a while, they are so tangled together that they are hard to distinguish one cord from the other until you take time to untangle them.
When you get tangled like this, you might think, “I am such a mess. No one would want me like this. I better figure this out before I get close to anyone.” Mostly that, but there are other reasons you might isolate yourself. Like, you feel like you are too dark and you don’t want to upset anyone else with your sadness. Or, you think they will hate you if they know what you really are. You may feel like you wouldn’t be able to stand being hurt by one more person, so you keep to yourself. Sometimes you worry that if you said what you think aloud, it would overwhelm you, and you’d fall off some insanity cliff and never regulate yourself again. Also, you might be ashamed by your neediness because you think you shouldn’t need anyone and force yourself to suppress it.
The Struggle is Real
The more we engage with others, the more we feel a sense of belonging. Relationships are messy, but when there are a lot of them, you’ll trust that you can handle them, and it’ll free you from analyzing every single detail of every interaction.
If you had only one friend in your life and something happened to that friendship, the devastation would be huge. Without that one person, you’d have zero belonging. To make matters worse, your body hormonally responds as if you are kicked out of the community and will die out in the wild alone.
But, if you have 50 friends and acquaintances, and 3 or 4 withdrew from you because they were busy and distracted for one month, you would be okay with it. You might notice and wonder about them, and you may even feel upset, but you’d be busy with the others, and there would be less mind space to perseverate over what happened.
Many people blame phone use for disconnecting people in the last decade or so. There is no doubt that young people have fewer face-to-face interactions, and they have more and more screen interactions. But those are not the same. Also, phones give people who are insecure something to hide behind while still experiencing relevance. This makes it easier not to push themselves out from behind it. However, sometimes people need a break from the stimulation of their phones. Unfortunately, they too often choose isolation for their break rather than in-person hang-outs because scrolling through social media makes them sick of people.
Another problem is that phones keep people up at night. This is bad because then they sleep away the daytime hours when there’s more opportunities to be with people. Mental health usually takes a dark turn when someone’s nights and days are switched around. This switch might happen because of strong negative emotions in the first place, and then it makes it much worse. The reason this is so risky is because of isolation.
When I meet someone who doesn’t even care that they get better, I know that person has endured extreme isolation. This is because nothing fun or pleasurable happens in isolation and dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that releases when we experience pleasure stops triggering. I mentioned this in Season 2, but since that was so long ago, I will review this phenomenon again: When you do something pleasurable, interesting, or fun, you release that feel-good hormone of dopamine, and you decide to do it again, and get the hit of dopamine again and so on.
When you don’t do anything good for a while or feel anything good, you stop being interested in doing anything because you have lost knowing what feeling good feels like. It’s like a dopamine dessert.
This is why the covid pandemic had such devastating effects on everyone. When we were in lockdown, the isolation and lack of stimulation affected our brains. We experienced fewer
spritz of dopamine, which eventually feels like exhaustion and lack of motivation. Did you ever feel like that? This dopamine dessert made it harder to feel normal when the world started to open up again. Being social felt unfamiliar, too, which brought trepidation. What also made it difficult was not understanding what happened and thinking this meant something was seriously wrong with you.
What if there’s nothing wrong with you?
There was nothing wrong with you. Your feelings were a typical human response to the situation, but maybe no one told you that. And so, your Monkey Mind got to make up why you felt this way. Perhaps you assumed that you lost yourself, can’t be around people anymore, have no friends, are awkward, have no interests, or you had other negative thoughts similar to these, which made you feel significantly worse.
The good news is that dopamine returns and starts to function like normal once you get regularly stimulated again. If you were not lost in the worry that something was wrong with you, you may have gone back out around people, the dopamine came back, and you started to feel like your old self again. The brain is amazingly adaptable and adjusts quickly.
If you are a highly isolated person and feel completely unmotivated and don’t care if you feel better, I am so glad you are listening to this podcast. This is urgent. Please tell an adult that you trust what you are feeling. You don’t have to do this alone. You need someone to help you get out of the house and do something to get the ball rolling so you can come back to feeling more like yourself. Once you feel better, it’ll be easier to keep engaging in life and continue getting better.
Sometimes isolated people’s days and nights get switched. Your drive to isolate yourself might have had you longing for quiet, or to sleep away the daytime, which people might have expectations of you. Sleeping during the day is also a way to avoid feeling anxious or depressed. But being up at night with these feelings is way worse.
Sometimes people realize this problem and try to change it back. All too often, they try to go to bed early in an attempt to adjust themselves. This rarely, if ever, works because you cannot go to sleep if you are not tired. Plus, you are very vulnerable to the Monkey Mind lying there, not falling asleep. However, you can force yourself to wake up if you are exhausted. It doesn’t feel good, temporarily, but you can wake up.
To switch back to a better schedule, you need to wake yourself up in the mornings, even if it means being sleep deprived for a bit. After a few days of getting up in the morning, you will naturally begin to fall asleep earlier at night and catch up on your sleep. The only way to do it is to wake up early first. People, especially young people, resist this because if you are already feeling bad, you don’t want to make it worse by feeling exhausted and sick when you wake up. Sleeping can be akin to self-medicating, and you can feel addicted to it.
But trust yourself here; you are not in danger. It should take a few days of morning discomfort before you sleep better at night. That investment in something that will make a huge difference overall is worth it. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is a healthier schedule for your body and mind.
To Humans, Connection is Essential
Let’s talk about connection now since that’s the title of this section, Embrace Connection. Connection is essential to humans, like I said, because we needed a community to survive. And we still need a community to survive and thrive, but we also need it because we see and know our own selves through our reflection off the people around us. Meaning that you only experience your self when you are in a relationship. If you are in a vacuum (or isolation), you have a fragile sense of self that came from some leftover sentiment from a relationship in the past. It is withering on a very thin string and your sense of self withers with it.
When you are around people, you see and know yourself reflected by them. So when you are around uplifting people, you see the good in yourself, and when you are around miserable or abusive people, you feel horrible about yourself.
That’s why someone who is abusive towards you isolates you from your friends. So that their expression of you, which is what they have created to disempower you, is the only you that you see.
Take away two things from this episode, one is to fill your life with a diverse community, and the other is to make the ones you are closest to good-hearted people. They don’t have to be perfect because if they had to be perfect, you would never have anyone since no one is perfect. But they have to be well-intentioned, thoughtful, kind, and somewhat insightful so they have an awareness of their limits. Everyone is limited, which is human, but consideration is much more critical to a relationship. You want them to see the beauty in you and reflect that back so that you can see it too.
People want to be relevant
They want to feel a sense of connectedness. Connectedness is a person’s perception of belonging. According to attachment theory, social connection is an intrinsic human need. People desire to be personally accepted, included, and respected by others. Particularly in adolescence, this is true because it is a time when you are developing your autonomous identities, making you extra sensitive to belonging. You can experience school connectedness, family connectedness, or connectedness to another group, like a sports team, co-workers, or friend group. Researchers found strong correlations between a person’s sense of belonging with lower levels of suicidal behavior and depression, and higher levels of self-esteem. Also, kids who feel school connectedness perform better academically and are less likely to participate in violence, substance misuse, and sexual promiscuity.
People also want to matter. It is normal for you to want this for yourself. Mattering means you feel valued by yourself and others and feel that you also add value to yourself and others. Humans are social beings, so feeling cared about improves well-being and behavior. It affects how people think about themselves, which increases prosocial behavior, friendship quality, and life satisfaction, all critical components to robust mental health.
Being around nice people can have the immediate effect of making you relax and feel happier. Plus, your body biologically feels less vulnerable. Not only do you feel supported by them, but they need you too. This gives you a sense of purpose which we will discuss further in Chapter 5.
Vulnerability is not dangerous unless there is danger present
It may feel vulnerable to be around people if you’ve been hurt in your past, but it is more vulnerable to be alone. That is a trick anxiety does; it convinces you that you need to endure ongoing suffering to protect yourself from some future possibility of suffering. It’s BS. You need people because people need people.
Also, you don’t need to be fully vulnerable with new people. Go back and read or listen to Episode 3:2. Even small talk with a barista will get you out of your head, which will feel good for a bit. String more small interactions together, and they will add up to some energy to get you taking another step in peopling your healing journey.
Thank you for reading
Thank you so much for listing to this episode of “Anxiety… I’m So Done with You! “with me, Doctor Jodi.
In this episode,
- You learned how and why the mind thinks so much and how negative thinking is exacerbated by isolation, and you heard
- Why you and all humans need, need, need, need connection
The next episode will cover Chapter 4, Section 5: Embrace A Positive Mental Attitude. Read or listen to that, and I will see you there.