After my third kid, I experienced postpartum depression which heightened my social anxiety symptoms. I didn’t leave the house unless I absolutely had too.
I love gardening, so even though I really didn’t want to socialize, sometimes right in the middle of a sweaty assault on some weeds in the front flower beds, strangers would stop and insist on chatting! They would compliment the kids’ sidewalk chalk art or admire the lilies, or chat about their own gardens! I couldn’t escape the friendliness of my community even if I tried!
It didn’t take long for some pretty intense cabin fever to set in, and I began to crave these brief, encouraging interactions. It became obvious that they really boosted my spirits and became highlights of my day.
It dawned on me: by withdrawing from social interactions, I had temporarily tamped down the anxiety but I had also, unwittingly, denied myself access to a support system.
Intentionally interacting with neighbours from the comfort of my garden seemed to be the perfect way to integrate myself back into the community.
I decided to spend more time tending the gardens next to my busy sidewalk in hopes of encouraging more interactions. After lurking and awkwardly coughing to catch the attention of passersby didn’t work, I decided to try some different approaches.
Guess what? I discovered that if you make eye contact and give your most genuine smile, people will smile back at you! I know that sounds kind of obvious, but for a lonely, depressed, exhausted mom, it was a revelation.
I discovered the magic formula and I want to share it with you, because even if it doesn’t cure your social anxiety as it cured mine, I promise, it will make your life better.
Here it is:
There is no easier small act of kindness, than to look another person in the eye, commune with their humanity, and honour their soul with a heartfelt smile and perhaps a friendly “hello.”
It takes seconds, but it can have the most dramatic affect on both people involved.
The reactions I have gotten over the years include: a majority simply smiling back, some people being startled, some pausing to briefly interact, some stop for a friendly chat, and some interactions which have led to lifelong friendships.
And yes – some people have ignored my friendly advances or have graced me with an annoyed grimace, but in those situations, instead of feeling defeated, I usually feel sorry that I wasn’t able to shine a light far enough into their darkness.
Making a positive human connection by trying to smile at every single person (no exceptions) I encounter has not only challenged my anxiety limitations, it has boosted my self confidence, introduced me to people from all walks of life, expanded my ability to empathize, led to friendships, and enabled me to build a support system that I rely on to this day.
Here is my challenge to you: SMILE at someone. It takes a second but the benefits could last a lifetime.
Naomi is the Neighbourhood Connector with Abundant Community McCauley.