I’m not sure how it is in other countries, but in America, when is comes to being social, people usually restrict their openness to only those that they have familiarity with. Even when it comes to walking by someone on the sidewalk, whether old lady, or a child - keep your mouth shut and don’t make eye contact, that’s the general rule. And to some, especially those living in the USA, this might be normal. But is it really? To me, not so much. It does not seem normal to not make eye contact with someone when you’re walking past them, or to not even acknowledge their existence.
But maybe for myself, this type of behaviour of ignoring or avoiding people might seem odd, because where I grew up, you had to acknowledge everyone, whether through a greeting, or making eye contact. I grew up in a tiny village, so maybe we had a sense of community there, and that’s why - to me - the behaviours of this culture are a bit odd.
How do you respond when you see someone walking towards you, or when you pass side by side? Do you say hello to that person? Do you just look down, take out your phone and pretend like your texting? Do you feel a moment of tension as you pass that person, and breathe a sigh of relief once you hear their steps dissipate behind you?
Our natural response to this type of scenario would be to notice that person, and either make eye contact, or greet them. And when we force ourselves to avoid a person that is right in-front of us, we train ourselves to ignore our primal instinct. This type of „avoidance” behaviour will create anxiety in our bodies, because the body is making the effort to not make notice of that person, and the mind on-the-other-hand is telling the body „acknowledging this person is not the „right” behaviour”. Through this incongruences of the two (mind and body), we create anxiety because now we are battling our natural instincts, and that shouldn’t be the case.
The scenario go something like this
You’re walking in the park and you notice an elderly lady making her way towards you, she’s probably on her daily walk, just enjoying the weather.
Two mindsets (perspectives) you function in:
„Oh fuck! There is a person walking towards me. What should I do?! Walk slow, relax, just look at the trees, or NO, look at the ground so that you don’t look weird. Ohhh, here they come. I have to check my phone, let me just make sure I didn’t get a text… Phewww, that was awkward.”
Oh look, another person taking a walk in the park today! They must be enjoy the weather too. I mean the sun is out, it feels good, thank god that I left the house today, I get to enjoy this! I wonder how many people don’t go outside when the weather is so nice, I’m just glad that’s not me. „Hi there! Great weather today!”
What a difference that is, a difference in the way you see the world! One view of reality is consumed in negativity and self-deprivation, and the other is honest and optimistic. If you’re starting out your morning in this pessimistic, self-consuming reality then I’ll be honest with you… Your whole day is going to play-out just like this. Every person that you pass will bring tension into your reality, whether it’s that old lady on her daily walk, or that Barista you get your morning coffee from.
I know that many of us here are battling our feelings even before we get out of bed, so for those that are all up in their heads, let’s make it simple. The practical way to tackle your anxiety is to take small steps, and take them everyday! If we rush ourselves, we just end up more anxious than before, and if we can continually improve just by a tiny bit, we won’t even realise that our anxiety existed in the first.
The first step is to say „good morning/ good afternoon” to people, that’s all. When you’re walking to the train and you see someone walking towards you, notice how you feel, notice that nasty anxiety within and just let it be. Try to look straight ahead, keep your head up, and when you pass that person just say „Hi, good morning!”, and continue on. Do this with everyone you pass, old, young, fat, bald, don’t matter, just acknowledge their existence and they will most likely acknowledge you back.
By doing something as simple as this, you are reframing how you see the world, from individualism to community, and you’re taking control of how you respond to your feelings, no longer are you being reactive. Whenever you make an effort to say „hello” to a person walking by, you’re overriding the general behaviours and conditioning, and acting autonomously from that conditioning. So to put it simply: you’re in control.
DO IT EVERY TIME
You have to do this hundreds of times for it to become natural, but if done over and over again, your ways of thinking will slowly adjust, and saying „hello” to people will be fun. Socialising with others releases dopamine, and a regular release of dopamine will keep you happy and healthy. And over time you can step it up, by having short conversations, and eventually even making friends.