A quick browse of my e-mails and blog follows today included a couple of articles that caught my eye. The first was one on the impact of social isolation on the human brain. According to researchers, spending too much time without social interaction actually changes brains. And that change makes it harder for people to even want to meet new people and become less isolated. Which increases isolation and adds to the brain changes. So the problem deepens over time.
As an at-home mom and freelance writer who moved to a new city last year, I can tell you it's true without even looking at the test data. After over a year spending most days alone, it's become hard to even imagine having friends around. And just the other day, I announced to my family that I had given up on the idea entirely. And what's more, I was just fine with that.
"It's just the way it is," I said. "My friends are online and in Florida, not here in Austin. But that's okay. I am fine with not trying to make friends here anymore."
After reading about the research, the scariest part of my statement is that I absolutely meant it. My daughter is at school all day. My husband heads to the gym after work, and is seldom home before 7 pm...sometimes later. I spend most days here at home writing and taking care of our home (cooking, laundry, etc.) That has become my normal.
Once in a while, I'll attend an event...a book group or a SEO meeting. I go to yoga at the gym several times a week, but no one talks to each other there. And we go to services and Torah (Bible) classes every week. As a family, we often go out to dinner, or take a walk at the Domain or downtown. But that's about it for me. No actual non-family social time with friends.
But I had no plans to try and change that. The effort it takes to get out and meet people one-on-one and try to make connections seemed like far too much work to be worth it. In fact, I've recently contemplated dumping the mystery book group. And the number of SEO meetings I actually make it to have been dropping quickly. I even noticed that the connections I used to maintain online are slipping away. I just didn't question why.
But now I know why it was so comfortable to decide to give up on the whole friends thing. My brain is morphing. My days, weeks and months alone have changed how I think...and who I am. That aversion to social invitations? My feelings of discomfort at networking events? My loss of interest in chatting with friends online? It's not just my natural introversion. It's the impact of the isolation re-wiring my thinking.
The researchers did find that the changes were completely reversible when social interactions increased. What they didn't answer was how that happens. If, as they found, new social connections become unappealing, how do you cross that barrier to build them?
And how do you get past just not caring if you do?