At the end of a long day, I sometimes creep away from everyone and disappear. As they continue talking or watching TV, oblivious, I enjoy a private giggle and a few breaths in solitude. I'm never absent long before I'm hunted. There's usually a dirty diaper involved, but it's nice to know that my absence is felt.
Silliness aside, the instinct to run when stress levels get high or the demands from work, family, or friends start to peak is very natural. Fight or flight, am I right? But it's generally counter-productive to give in to this impulse. While escape may be a temporary relief, it is in no way a long-term solution.
I remember a Saturday afternoon picnic with my church friends in Brooklyn. Someone asked about an individual that hadn't been to church in some time. Another friend announced that he was taking some time away from the institution of church. It had become overwhelming and he now intended to seek Christ in isolation. "Oh man," the inquirer replied. "Is he a lone wolf Christian, now?"
I had never heard the phrase, but I assumed its meaning. A lone wolf
Christian has a lot in common with a lone wolf dieter, a lone wolf athlete, a lone wolf Type I Diabetic, or a lone wolf playwright. This person has been burned by the stress or anxiety of his community and is attempting to participate alone in something that is, at least in part, communal in nature. I've been all of these lone wolves. I tend to feel I've beaten the system, until I look around and realize how much I miss the others, how integral they are to my own experience.
An October 2010 study by the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago showed that those who take part in "social evasion" end up triggering their basic fight/flight instincts and regress into a sort of survival mode. They become more peripheral and anxious, less trusting, and ultimately much less healthy. A Slate article called "Loneliness is Deadly" by Jessica Olien puts it plainly: "Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, Type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it."
So what do we do? Some find that social media, while generally said to decrease user happiness, is a helpful re-entry into community after a period of social evasion. Others may write down the activities that bring them joy, and then seek community groups centered on them. If one such group doesn't exist, go out on a limb and start one. I've found success in confronting the source of my anxiety head on, then realigning my relationship to it in a way that is healthier for me. After that, the desire to escape is gone and I can benefit fully from the people and projects in my life.
Come back to the pack, reader. Someone's waiting for you.
-- Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent correspondent. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cafeaulazy.