For a long time now, as part of my mental health difficulties I’ve struggled to initiate time with friends and generally keep in touch with people. There are a lot of negative thoughts that happen inside my head when I think about calling someone. It’s one of the many ironies of anxiety and depression that it causes you to struggle to maintain relationships, when having regular contact with friends is one of the most beneficial things for your mental health.
For quite a few years I regularly attended Changes Bristol peer support groups. One feature of these groups is that at the end of the meeting you’re encouraged to set a goal. I lost count of how many times my goal was “phone a friend” and I think it was rare that I’d actually managed to do it by the following week. Towards the end of 2022 I had a series of one-to-one (video) CBT sessions through the NHS. It took a few sessions to work out what were were going to focus on, and we settled on trying to get me to phone friends. I said if there was one thing I thought would make a big difference to my mental health recovery that would be it. We talked quite a bit about the negative thoughts that happen in my head when I think about contacting someone or initiating a group activity with friends. It felt helpful to have those conversations but ultimately I don’t think it made any difference to how often I was contacting people.
My latest effort to move forward with this issue followed the advice of someone I know, which was to write a list of all the people I want to be in regular contact with. This is now written on a page in the back of my Legend Planner. In addition to that I’ve changed the 4th item on my daily tracker from “Social” which would get a tick or a zero depending on whether I’d seen any friends that day to “Phone a Friend”. The other 3 items are Walk, Meditate and Journal which are all actions. Whether I have seen friends on a certain day isn’t an action I can do on that day, it’s likely the effect of an action I’ve done on a previous day. It’s the same reason why I removed Sleep (quality rated out of 10) from my daily tracker because it’s a result rather than an action.
Now I’ve made this item on my tracker a specific action I will hopefully phone people more, and see people more as a result. Using my phone to actually ring people is also something I think of more now I’ve switched to a dumbphone. If I’m sitting at my desk with just my journal and my dumbphone there are only 3 things I can do: write, text or call someone.