For those suffering from depression, it can be extremely difficult to navigate social situations, even if they want to be social. If this resonates, check out these 3 tips to maneuver social events.
When someone who’s never had depression or been close to somebody who has depression tries to picture what depression looks like, they may picture somebody who stays home alone or shuts themselves into their bedroom in order to be avoid social situations. This can happen, but it’s not always what depression looks like.
- For one thing, depression is an ongoing condition, and most people can’t shut themselves away alone every day, even if they want to – they have to continue going to work or school or meeting other obligations.
- For another thing, people who have depression often want to go out and be around people, because they hope it will make them feel better or simply because they crave human companionship like anybody else does.
However, navigating social situations can be difficult for people suffering from depression. Depression can cause intrusive thoughts that cause sufferers to feel defensive or as if the people around them are judging or pitying them.
Interacting in Social Situations
Depression sufferers may be unable to stop themselves from thinking about things that make them sad, but sharing these thoughts in social gatherings might be inappropriate or unwelcome. They may worry that they stick out because they’re unable to fully participate or “get into the spirit” of the occasion.
If the people that they’re socializing with know about their depression, sufferers may be the recipient of well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful (and sometimes hurtful) comments, questions, or suggestions. People with depression are told that they need to think positively, change their diet, or exercise in order to feel better.
Depression can make even common, everyday social interactions with people who you know and like feel foreign and impossible to navigate. But people with depression still need human interactions and still want to work, shop, learn, and do other things that necessitate human interaction at times, even when they don’t want it.
Learning how to navigate social situations when you’re actively suffering from depression may be a necessity. Take a look at some things that can help you learn how to get through these interactions.
Make Good Use of Small Talk
Small talk has an undeservedly bad reputation. People complain about it a lot, but conversations about the weather, the movies currently in the theater, the books on the bestseller list, and other minor topics persist. And there are good reasons for that!
Small talk is conversation with little to no risk. It costs nothing but time, allows people who don’t know each other well to connect on a surface level that may or may not lead to more and deeper conversation, and provides something of an emotional buffer – you’re interacting, but not in any way that’s liable to cause hurt feelings, bruised egos, or excessive tension. Small talk is great!
If you’re a person dealing with depression in a social situation, small talk is a way to participate without needing to get into your feelings or expose any emotional raw spots. It’s particularly helpful in settings where getting too personal or emotional would be inappropriate (at a work function, for example) or would be hurtful to yourself or others.
Before you go into the situation, give some thought to potential small talk subjects – if it helps, you could even write a short list of subjects to talk about so that they’re fresh in your mind.
Remember, you don’t have to be witty or sparkling or the life of the party – in most social situations, as long as you’re polite and responsive, you’re already doing a fantastic job.
Yes, no one likes to be told to smile when they’re feeling down. But if you’re trying to navigate a social situation without letting your depression get in the way, a smile can go a long way.
In a group setting, even if you don’t feel up to talking, you can often get away with minimal participation in the conversation if you keep a smile on your face.
Don’t worry about your smile looking fake. For one thing, in most situations, most people really cannot tell the difference between a genuine smile and a forced smile. For another thing, a smile that starts out forced may become a natural smile in time anyway.
The physical act of smiling activates a response from your brain that can temporarily elevate your mood. It’s not a cure for depression, but it’s a hack that can get you through a boring or awkward social situation more easily.
What’s more, people notice smiles, even when they aren’t consciously thinking about it. Even if you can’t bring yourself to talk, people who see you smiling will remember you as being attractive and positive because what they’ll really remember is your smiling.
Smiling is also contagious – people tend to smile when they see others smiling. People may remember you as someone who brought fun, happy vibes to the party, even if you don’t do anything more than smile at people.
Of course, different social situations require different things.
If you’re at an office party or attending your cousin’s wedding, small talk and smiles might be the way to go. If you’re getting pizza with close friends, you could try something different – talking about how you’re really feeling.
Often, people who have depression don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to bring others down. But depression isn’t a flu virus – you’re not going to spread it by discussing it with other people. And if you’re among people who you believe are supportive, and you feel safe and comfortable doing so, your best bet might just be to tell them that you’re struggling.
You can say that you have depression, that you’re struggling right now and don’t feel happy, but that you do want to hang out with your friends.
This can be scary, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to disclose your depression if you don’t want to.
Disclosing may result in some unpleasant consequences, like unhelpful suggestions that you aren’t interested in hearing. Say that you’re not interested in advice, that you have your own coping strategies and treatment plan, and that you want the people you’re with to understand why you’re not currently the life of the party.
For most people, that will be enough – the people who care about you and want to help will understand that you want support and acceptance, not amateur therapy.
Taking Care of Yourself
Keep in mind that it’s also fine to limit your social interactions during this time. You can say “no” to invitations, or put in a short appearance and then leave.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t deal with extended social situations right now – you have to do what’s best for your own mental health.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.