When Getting Over Your Social Awkwardness Or Mental Health Struggles Becomes Your Quasi-Hobby
If you're shy or lonely, or have mental health issues like anxiety or depression, it can take a fair amount of time, and trying several different self-help or therapy approaches, before your life starts to get noticeably better. You won't always need to spend years and years, but if your problems are more serious there can be a decent amount of work you need to do on them.
Most people just want to do as little as they can get away with in order to have a life that doesn't feel as difficult and painful. They're not interested in the process of changing or recovering for its own sake. They see it as boring, uncomfortable, a chore, a burden. If it were possible, they'd feel better instantly and never have to think about any of it ever again.
Some people are different. Their main motivation is still that they want to feel better, and they do find aspects of recovery challenging. However, on another level they find the day to day work of improving their social skills or mental health to be interesting and fulfilling. Someone who's already interested in psychology or personal development is especially likely to fall into this category. Whether they realize it or not, getting over their loneliness or anxiety can become a quasi-hobby.
Improving your interpersonal skills or mental health can involve a mix of potentially engaging sub-tasks
Again, it doesn't necessarily require years of your life, but recovering can take some time, Here's a sampling of the many ways you could spend the hours:
- Researching different ways to get over shyness or handle anxiety and depression, whether it's reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, or watching videos
- Practicing your social skills in real life
- Doing fear-facing exposure therapy exercises
- Self-analysis and reflecting on your issues
- Starting a meditation practice
- Learning about and testing out various relaxation techniques
- Working with a counsellor, and trying out different therapy methods
- Attending a support group
- Researching and trying a bunch of nutritional supplements
- Getting into spirituality, as a path to feeling better
- Participating in online forums
- Getting into fitness, as a way to improve your mood or feel more confident
- Experimenting with different diets, to hopefully find one that makes you feel better
- Meeting up with people in real life to work on your social skills together
- Doing a deep dive research project into different types of mainstream psychiatric medication, to try to find the most promising one for you
- Experimenting with more esoteric or "woo woo" treatments
- Delving into the therapeutic use of psychedelics
If you're really into psychology or self-improvement you may find most of these interesting, or a select handful may capture your attention. Like you might get super into meditating, and attend different workshops every month. If your recovery is more drawn out and involved you may end up learning about most of the items on the list, as you're willing to explore anything that may make you feel even 3% better.
Why improving your social skills or mental health can be interesting and engaging
None of this is to downplay how hard it can be when you're isolated, lonely, and disconnected, or your emotions feel out of control. Working to feel better can have some benefits at the same time:
- It gives your days a sense of purpose. It feels great when you put in the effort and hit a milestone in your recovery work, like being able to face a big fear for the first time, or going a week without having a panic attack. At first even "little" things can feel like big accomplishments, like going for a walk three days in a row if you've been feeling depressed and lethargic.
- Whether it amounts to anything tangible or not, it can be a rush to learn about a promising new treatment approach, or have a key insight into why you have low self-esteem.
- If you're into the topic, it can be really mentally stimulating to read a psychology book and learn a new theory about, say, how childhood trauma affects adult relationships.
- Working on your problems can occupy a chunk of your time, which you may have otherwise spent feeling aimless and bored. You've got that self-help podcast to listen to, then you have to practice your breathing exercises, then you have a support group meeting. You don't have as much space to feel restless and antsy.
- Your struggles can put you in touch with a community of friends and strangers you like spending time with. They could be the regulars at a drop-in support group, who make you feel understood and accepted like no one else does. It could be members of your online depression forum, where you have interesting debates about different treatment approaches. It could be a new buddy you've made at work, who wrestles with their own mental health, and you have lots of discussions about how you're each recovering, which scratches your itch to have deep, vulnerable conversations.
The effects on your recovery from treating it as a quasi-hobby
For the most part I think making a half-hobby out of your recovery has a positive or neutral impact. You don't need to fix anything about it. If you're genuinely interested in researching and trying out different ways to get over your anxiety or loneliness you'll probably work harder at it all.
However, at times your desire to learn and make progress in new areas, or feel mentally engaged, may cause you to constantly chase a shiny fresh treatment or angle, rather than sticking with something that works, but feels more rote and mundane. Every so often it may make a facet of your recovery take longer. For example, if you first want to read three books on a sub-topic, because you find it fascinating, when one would give you all the info you need to start applying the concepts in real life.
There can be a mild sense of loss once you recover
Some people have social or mental health struggles they'll always carry to some degree. Others can get over them, or at least become much, much better. Obviously it feels amazing to put these problems behind you. Though if recovering was a semi-hobby it can feel a tad bittersweet when you don't need to do it anymore:
- There can be a feeling that while you're happy to move on to a new phase in your life, grappling with your mental health wasn't all bad. In spite of some awful moments, there were also times where it was rewarding to make progress, connect with other people going through the same thing, or have your issues change your perspective for the better.
- You may start to have moments of boredom or emptiness, as you now have to fill your time with something else. You can't spend an afternoon doing exposure therapy exercises or reading a new self-help book like you used to. You know you still could learn about psychology for fun, and maybe you will here and there, but the drive to pour through everything you could get your hands on is gone.
- You might feel yourself growing apart from your support group or online forum peers. You still like them as people, and may not pull away entirely, but a part of you knows you don't need to be immersed in that world like you used to. You realize you're not going to drop by the groups for their own sake. You may have even gotten more involved, as a facilitator or moderator, and now have to come to terms with the fact that you'll have to untangle yourself from those roles.
Luckily it shouldn't be too hard to transfer that enthusiasm for self-growth toward another project. For example, now that you're feeling better socially and mentally you may decide to develop your public speaking or negotiation skills so you can open more options in your career. And while you're hopefully through the worst of it, if your mental health ever takes another downward turn, you can always resume your "hobby", and use it to aid that new round of healing.