Connection, isolation, social media, mental health and primitive reflexes

I have been self employed since 2001, when I started taking on Training and Change Management contracts as part of large-scale business transformation projects for global corporations and government organisations.

In between contracts (and sometimes during) as well as while my children were small, I worked as a freelance translator, specialising in my very niche area. However, while my consultancy work was always within a team on site, my translation work was always at the end of a computer, at home, on my own.

Now… for some people, the idea of working in pyjamas and sleeping in until late is a dream come true. Personally, I have always found that a lack of structure and contact with other people is far too isolating. Working on my own at home after the birth of my children, I found myself losing my confidence, and really starting to doubt my abilities.

In the translation industry, colleagues are all remote – lots of whom congregate in Facebook groups, on Twitter and sometimes on LinkedIn. It was always lovely to interact with my colleagues via Facebook – definitely better than not having anyone to talk to – but it’s not the same as that wonderful back-and-forth connection with colleagues I used to have when working at a client site.

Bring & share lunch with other translators in my kitchen – combatting a lonely profession and connecting with others

We also organised a few translator bring-and-share lunches, in which we’d take it in turn to host at our houses and discuss relevant topics – such as the impact of Brexit, various tools we recommended, that sort of thing. I found these meet ups very rewarding, and it was lovely to meet people I’d been interacting with via social media in person. Not only that, but it’s worth mentioning that all translation colleagues I’ve met in person have been EXACTLY as I pictured them.

However, when I started my studies in anatomy and physiology followed by various bodywork courses, I started to notice behaviours that rang alarm bells amongst some of my colleagues – and myself, for that matter:

1. Feeling superior about wearing pyjamas all day and not having to speak to anyone at all, day in, day out

2. Addiction to and over reliance on social media

3. Reliance on conferences to socialise with peers (although this is pretty effective, by all accounts!)

4. Pride in being an “introvert”

5. Social awkwardness, due to a lack of practice (something I noticed in myself!)

So, let me say now that excessive shyness is not neurotypical. Humans have highly developed social behaviour. If we are excessively shy, we are living in our survival (lizard) brain.

Training in reflex integration – or any bodywork programme – involves a large amount of practical work with each other. We test each other and work through the movements to integrate reflexes. Sometimes, we volunteer to be the “demonstration”, and discover that we are the most extreme example possible (see my previous post Could you be struggling because you are compensating for baby reflexes?). We can feel vulnerable, and for those of us with a strong Fear Paralysis or Moro reflex, this may trigger a feeling of not being safe. This might cause us to cry, clam up or even trigger an outburst of emotions.

In my case, I left my first course feeling extremely disconnected and “unsafe”. I tumbled into a feeling that I now know must have been “anxiety” for weeks afterwards. I blamed the other people on the course… I said I was going to give up – this method of reflex integration was not right for me. But then I took a deep breath and went on further training courses… and I can honestly say that I’ve never felt better. The next course was even more fantastic, and I now notice that every time I complete a course, I feel that I connect better and better with the other participants.

On one course, within five minutes of meeting for the first time, one course participant (from Mississippi) and I were already searching for family photos on our mobile phones, convinced that we are related. You can’t get much more connected than that.

I also feel that the art of socialising and being able to converse is not something that can be practiced – it’s something that people cannot manage unless they are feeling “safe”.

I have noticed that my behaviour has changed immensely since I started working back out in the world again rather than behind a screen. For example, I joined a supper club for private pilots on a whim – one night a week at a local pub, and I’ve joined a local book club. Both these events involved turning up to a pub to meet a group of people I had never clapped eyes on before. Yet even getting myself out of my house or even walking into the pub was not an issue, and conversation with complete strangers flowed, because I felt “safe”.

Dinner with complete strangers and flowing conversation

However, with a strongly active FPR, I would have felt anxious and would most likely have cancelled at the last minute with some sort of an excuse, because my system was in “freeze” mode, unable to deal maturely when facing any kind of demand outside my safe environment.

We can’t train ourselves to be connected, and this age of screen addiction and on-demand resources is not helping us. Humans are losing the ability to connect with each other, instead choosing fake connection via social media. We cannot fake connection! It just doesn’t work, and our fake connection skills do not really work in the real world to make us feel part of something.

Social media, on the other hand, allows us to filter our lives so that we are selective about what we choose to share and who we choose to interact with. People post photos of their glass of prosecco on a gleaming granite work surface with, perhaps, a bouquet of beautiful flowers in the background (guilty), or check into a spa in the South of France just to show off. People do this because they crave attention and want to be liked, but may not know how to connect to people around them in “real life”.

However, research shows that those who fake their lives online are far less connected than those who reflect an authentic image of themselves, and are far more prone to anxiety and depression than their more self-aware counterparts.

By sitting in front of a screen, not dealing with real people on a daily basis, I believe that I became disconnected. Lack of movement is a huge contributing factor – there are work-at-home days in which I’ve allegedly done far less than a thousand steps! And if we do not move, our connection is outsourced to apps, remote controls, social media and online shopping – just like the morbidly obese people who have outsourced all movement in the children’s film Wall-E.

We build connection with people by giving them our attention and time. We need to learn to listen to each other again and share experiences. The more connected someone feels, the more content they are likely to feel being themselves – not trying to be something they are not.

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