Good Socialization Does Wonders for My Anxiety
Socialization isn’t easy for most of us on the autism spectrum. Every interaction is fraught with unspoken cues that we may miss, having to watch the tone and volume of our voices, all that social calculus. Often, we try to mask our way through it and just collapse afterward. Is it any wonder that so many of us live with varying degrees of anxiety disorders?
I’ve recently found out that – counter-intuitive though it seems – regular good socialization can help with general anxiety.
This is what happened to me.
I Was a Nearly Non-Functioning Wreck
Several months ago, a couple of months into a new job, my anxiety was through the freaking roof. I was still trying to learn my co-worker’s names and how much masking I had to do at work, etc. Although the job started off very comfortable and isolated, they put me back on phones and my social reserves got depleted real quick.
I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t concentrate, I was just barely completing the work I had to do. The minute I got home from work, I had to go into hardcore stress relief mode: hot baths, soothing audiobooks (Hitchhiker’s Guide was in heavy rotation), favorite stimmy videos and music – all the things I knew to make myself feel safe. I was doing my work, paying the bills, and staying alive, but that was all, and it was a daily fight to manage that much.
I was so drained by just surviving each day that I had no resources left for anything, let alone the good socialization that we all, as humans, need.
All It Took Was One Step
There came a day when there was going to be a gathering of like-minded people which I really wanted to attend, anxiety be damned. So I took an extra dose of my meds, dressed my most confident and made it happen.
As it turns out, this group included people of varying abilities – some with physical disabilities, chronic pain, mobility issues, some with intellectual disabilities, ADHD, even a couple of autistic adults and others with autistic kids. There were several LGBTQ+ people there as well. It was a very welcoming group, where each person was respected and accepted. I came away feeling calmer and more myself than I had in months.
Having found this one social outlet where I was comfortable, I made myself go every week (unless I just had no spoons – when the body says no, you need to listen!). And every week, it was a good social experience that left me feeling less anxious.
After a couple of weeks, I noticed that my anxiety levels were lower throughout the week in between, too.
Building Confidence By Relaxing
It’s easy to say that regular social interaction in and of itself could build confidence, but I think any autistic adult knows it’s not that simple. Here’s how I think it works:
The more good social experiences I have just being myself without masking, the less I worry about “being correct”.
The more confident I get that I won’t be rejected for being myself, the closer I get to undoing 30+ years of programming.
Doing this on a regular schedule – once a week – reinforces it as a pattern and creates a routine of social acceptance, proving to my ever-skeptical brain that it’s not a fluke.
Bonus: Physical Contact
I know many autistic people are touch-averse, and I can be, too, depending on the person. But I’m very sensory-seeking when it comes to tactile input and pressure – a good solid hug is one of my favorite things, provided it’s from a person I’m comfortable with.
This group I’ve taken up with is full of huggers. They always ask or back off if I’m not feeling up to being touchy-feely that day, which is great. But usually I’m up for a hug or three, because a few hugs can be really calming for me. And although I do have some well-loved friends with whom I can just be me and get good social interaction, they’re mostly in different states, so hugs are few and far between.
Try It For Yourself
It’s been about 4 months or so since I started getting some good socialization in weekly, and my anxiety is way down. I still take my meds every day, but it’s manageable again (and I often skip a dose on the weekends). I have more resources to handle my work and I’ve even developed something of a social life outside my weekly group! This is kind of amazing for me!
So I suggest that everyone try this for yourself. Find a group focused on whatever it is you like: a book club, a sewing circle, a knitting group, a dance class, a genealogy club, a spiritual group, a Dungeons and Dragons game, whatever you love!
If you’re worried about acceptance, I recommend checking out your local Unitarian Universalist church – they tend to have many special interest groups and they’re based on being welcoming and accepting. Most of the time you don’t even have to be a member of the church to attend the groups.
Let me know what groups you’re in and how you get your good socialization in regularly. Did you have to try several groups before finding one where you felt truly comfortable? Did you feel like you had to mask for a while before you relaxed? What hobbies or special interests do you or would you like to share with a group?