Maybe it was packing up the WFH set-up and heading back to the office full time. Perhaps it was all the catching up on social activities after a pandemic kept us away from our friends and loved ones for far too long. Then again, it could just be life and its seemingly constant demands for your time. In any case, if you’re starting to notice that you’re feeling grumpier than usual, more exhausted and in need of some alone time, you may be experiencing what psychologists call “social exhaustion.”
According to Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, a licensed mental health counselor, social exhaustion refers to the fatigue we feel when we run out of energy to spend on ourselves and others. It often leaves you feeling overstimulated, stressed and anxious—especially in social settings, you can feel particularly under pressure. As a result, you might be concerned about what to say, how to say it, or what others are thinking. She says the phenomenon can be compared with burnout, an aspect of which is increased emotional or mental exhaustion. Because in much the same way, we’re left feeling like our personal resources are depleted.
And like burnout, it manifests differently for everyone. Your experience with social exhaustion will no doubt vary based on how extroverted or introverted you are, or depending on what stage of life you find yourself in. But there are a few signs that may indicate you’re falling prey to this uncomfortable and, at times, debilitating fatigue. Camille Tenerife, a Los Angeles–based therapist who specializes in career counseling, says that if you’re noticing signs of irritability and impatience, or if you’re no longer finding joy in those social engagements that you used to be fed by, those are signs that you may need to reevaluate.
That’s the challenge: How do we keep up with our friends, check-in with family and stay on top of a calendar stacked with meetings and office happy hours when just the thought of being “on” is wearing us out? Here are a few proven self-care strategies to avoid the social exhaustion hangover.
Carve Out Time to Unwind
Protecting yourself means setting aside time to recharge your batteries—however you’d like to do that. Dr. Gulotta suggests unwinding without social media. “This break can help you to reconnect with yourself in a way that is more mindful.” Spend time alone, preferably in a calm, quiet place. Do your favorite self-care activity or hobby. That can be anything that you know will boost your mood and energy. It can be 30 minutes at the end of the day or it can be a whole Saturday. Whatever (and whenever) you need.
Recognize the Triggers
What triggers you might not trigger someone else. And what is causing anxiety now may not have been a problem a few months ago. Take some time to identify situations and people that cause you to feel drained. Maybe it’s feeling obligated to speak to a lot of people, participating in group projects (for an extended period of time) or simply being in a place (like a loud restaurant or bar) where you have to strain to hear your friend or yell in order to be heard. Figure out what those triggers are for you and then you’ll know what to look out for and avoid.
Set Boundaries (and Make Them Public)
Even social butterflies can feel worn out if they cram their schedule with back-to-back events and obligations. Learn how to say “no” to events that you think will be emotionally draining and “yes” to social events that seem like something you’ll genuinely enjoy. Be up front about what you’re willing to do and how much time you want to give. For instance, before you make plans, tell your friend or coworker that you’d love to hang out, but can only stay an hour. Or that you can meet, but just for one drink. And while you don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you’re not able to spend more time together, you can certainly can be honest with a friend and tell them that socializing has been wiping you out lately.
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