How to Cope With Social Burnout

How to Cope With Social Burnout
Photo: Radharani, Shutterstock

Social burnout is the term we use for when you have over-exerted yourself in social settings to the point that you feel like you just can’t do it anymore. It causes stress, exhaustion, and irritability. The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to “social distancing” and “quarantining” becoming common terms in our everyday vernacular, has changed many aspects of our lives — including the social parts. However, as restrictions loosened, we may have overscheduled our social activities as we attempt to compensate for lost time, which could lead to this sort of burnout.

Here’s what to look for if you think it’s happening to you — and how to deal.

Signs that you’re experiencing social exhaustion

We live in a society that emphasises social interaction. So sometimes it might be difficult to recognise the signs you are burning out at all, and that this is the cause of that burnout. Here are a few common signs that you’re experiencing social burnout:

  • You are unable to focus: Your brain is fatigued to the point where processing and focusing is becoming difficult.
  • You feel overly tired: You feel like you’re mentally tapped out or drained even after hours of sleep.
  • You feel anxious: The thought of having to go outside your personal space gives you anxiety.
  • You feel depressed: You may experience a change in mood during your daily routines.
  • You are irritable: You feel like you don’t have the same patience you typically do and may be more short with others.

Ways to combat social fatigue

No matter what your situation is, there are some general strategies that can help you avoid fatigue. These suggestions take practice but implementing them into your daily life will help.

Identify your main triggers

If you can identify the situations that cause to you feel drained, you’re off to a good start. Some common triggers are:

  • Attending large events
  • Needing to socialise as part of your job
  • Feeling obligated to speak to a lot of people

Set boundaries and prioritise

It’s normal to feel tired from an overloaded schedule of social events. According to Noah Clyman, licensed clinical social worker, certified cognitive behavioural therapist, and director of NYC Cognitive Therapy, it’s important to practice assertiveness here. “We all vary in how comfortable we are speaking up and putting our needs before those of others, but sometimes this is necessary to maintain our well-being,” Clyman said. “It could help to reframe the situation: Unless a situation is truly an emergency, others can probably wait an hour (or more) for a reply. If receiving nonstop notifications is still stressful, consider silencing certain types of alerts or specific conversations.”

This goes for actual social events, too. The word “no” is your friend here. Write down a list of all the activities you have and then categorise them into “need to go,” “would be nice to go,” and “don’t have to go.” The objective is to make sure to organise the activities you have to go to and skip anything you don’t need to attend while also giving yourself the option to go to things you’d like to attend if you have the energy. It also helps to set time limits on the how long you stay at a social event.

“Alternatively, consider ‘showing up’ but excusing yourself with a similar assertive statement after a set amount of time,” Clyman said. “Finally, if conversations are too focused on the pandemic or other current events, consider speaking up (e.g., “I’m trying to give myself a break from the news…”) and then shifting the dialogue to other topics.”

Schedule time alone for yourself and take “micro-breaks”

It’s important to give yourself valuable time to be alone to recharge. Give yourself at least 10 minutes every day that are just for you. In addition, it’s OK to take small breaks throughout interactions with others. This can include going to the bathroom and taking a few small breaths by yourself or going on a short walk outside for a few minutes.

How to recover from burnout

Sometimes burnout still happens. If you feel socially exhausted, there are some activities that can help:

  • Practice self-care. Self-care can be different for everyone. Some people enjoy lying on their couch and watching their favourite shows while others might prefer exercising. Write down the things that help you feel recharged. This might include reading a book, listening to your favourite songs, taking a bath, or cooking a nice meal.
  • Take time to rest. While in-person socialisation can be exhausting, so can social media. Consider putting down your phone and taking some time to just be with yourself.
  • Try meditating. According to Clyman, “A major tool for combating the negative effects of stress is meditation; in fact, numerous studies over recent decades have demonstrated the benefits of meditation for many facets of physical, emotional, and mental health.” He pointed out that you don’t need “fancy equipment” or any formal training to meditate. Here is a list of free apps that can help you get started.

Ultimately, there is no foolproof way to combat the effects the pandemic has had on our socialisation, but setting realistic goals, practicing assertiveness, and setting up time for yourself are all ways to help ward off social burnout. Cultivating your own resources to cope is the most sustainable and practical way to deal with symptoms, so don’t be afraid to try and tweak our suggestions to what works best for you. In the words of Clyman, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

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