While there's a mountain of evidence showing that social connection is paramount to good mental and physical health and key to fighting off loneliness, it's certainly possible to have too much of a good thing: Socializing to the point of running out your energetic battery can lead to social exhaustion or burnout, particularly if work or other obligations are also filling up your plate. In turn, a (digital) stack of invitations can quickly go from exhilarating to exhausting—no matter how appealing and fun each one may sound. After all, these invites are all bids for your time, of which you only have a finite amount.
- Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD
- Lia Love Avellino, LCSW, relational psychotherapist and director of head and heart at THE WELL
- Viktoriya Karakcheyeva, MD, MS, NCC, LCPC-SP, LCADAS, director of behavioral health at the Resiliency and Well-being Center at George Washington University’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences
Read on for why you may find yourself with more social obligations in the spring, plus expert advice for managing your social life this season, so you can have fun without burning out.
Why the arrival of spring can make people more social
A tendency to imitate nature
Part of the reason why you may find your phone blowing up with more invites in the spring is because of the ways we, as humans, follow nature's seasonal cycles—that is, on a biochemical level, according to Viktoriya Karakcheyeva, MD, director of behavioral health at the Resiliency and Well-Being Center at George Washington University’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences.
In general, just as winter brings a slow-down and a hibernation season for nature, it does so for us, too; and as plants bloom and animals return to their full activity in warm weather, so do we. "Winter is a time for turning inward, and there's less movement and more stagnation in the body," says psychotherapist Lia Love Avellino, LCSW. "Once spring comes around, we see the flowers bloom, and the weather is more inviting, so it makes sense why we would have the inclination to be out more [with friends]."
"Once spring comes around, we see the flowers bloom, and the weather is more inviting, so it makes sense why we would have the inclination to be out more [with friends]."—Lia Love Avellino, LCSW, psychotherapist
Shifts in our circadian rhythm, which is influenced by light exposure, also play a role in changing our behavior with the seasons; as evidence, consider the fact that we actually get less sleep in the summer months (when there are more daylight hours for socializing and activities) than we do in the winter months (which is also when we tend to feel more sleepy).
The mood-boosting effects of sunlight
Another reason why people may be inclined to be more social in the spring and summer is the opportunity to be out in the sun and reap all its health-supportive benefits.
For starters, sunlight exposure has a powerful effect on mood, triggering the brain to release more serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can influence your happiness and promote calm. The sun also stimulates the production of Vitamin D, which may play a role in mood regulation that helps fend off depression. All of this positive sun-boosted energy could also "make you more open to new information and social experiences, and thus more likely to make plans with friends," says Dr. Karakcheyeva.
More opportunities for social activities
The fact that it may simply be easier to get together with your friends when it’s not snowing, raining, or freezing may also have something to do with the avalanche of invites come spring and summer, according to psychologist Carolyn Rubenstein, PhD.
Just think about the broader potential for activities in the warmer months as compared to the dark, cold, and sometimes wet winter ones: Enjoying a barbecue, spending time at the beach or hiking up a mountain, having a picnic in a park, and dining al fresco are all fun and often social activities that are much more feasible to do when it's warm out. And the more you choose to engage in these outdoor activities, the more you might feel inclined to do so (and to invite friends along, too) because of the ways in which spending time in nature can boost your mood and work wonders for your mental health.
The happy nostalgia of warm-weather months
Dr. Rubenstein also points out that many people may associate spring and summer with positive memories from their childhoods—think: spring break or summer vacation, for example. "This can motivate people to seek the same positive experiences and emotions in adulthood by planning events and socializing during the warmer months," she says.
Certainly, some folks may connect the winter months with just as many happy social memories—for example, memories made with family members around the holiday season—but the nostalgic ties between summer and carefree socializing, in particular, are often deeply ingrained. And this may lead folks to concentrate their social plans during spring and summer months in adulthood, says Dr. Rubenstein.
How to manage your social life as spring arrives in order to avoid social burnout
Don't ramp up too quickly
If you're getting an influx of invites all at once, resist the urge to accept them as they arrive, says Avellino. By, instead, easing more slowly into a busier schedule, you'll be able to more effectively decide how you want to spend your time with friends and clearly evaluate the necessary trade-offs you may need to make in order for that to happen.
In general, it's important to leave some breathing room in your schedule, at least in the beginning of the warm-weather season. "Our bodies have been more at rest in the winter, so ramping up might actually take a bigger toll than we would like or anticipate," says Avellino.
Dr. Karakcheyeva advises taking some time to set clear boundaries for your social life during this period of greater social obligation. To do so, decide what kinds of social activities you'd most like to do, and what days or time periods make the most sense for you to work them into your schedule, taking into consideration other commitments and priorities.
From there, you can set a social boundary around a particular activity or a timeframe. For instance, you might choose to avoid late-night or early-morning hangouts because you want to prioritize sleep; or, you might decide to schedule only one big-group outing during any given week or month, if you know that those kinds of hangouts are more draining for you. Whatever your reasoning, stick with it as a means to determine which social invites you accept and which you turn down.
Once your boundaries are in place, communicate them to your friends and loved ones, says Dr. Rubenstein, so they know the kinds of activities you'll be interested in doing this season and can hopefully adjust their invites accordingly.
Naturally, these boundaries can—and should—shift with time, particularly if they don't seem to be working. That's likely the case if you're no longer enjoying the company of friends; you feel more sad, irritable, or anxious; you're unable to make decisions; or you feel physically exhausted after interacting with others, says Dr. Rubenstein. These are all signs that you may be on the brink of social burnout, and you need to ramp things down.
Evaluate each invitation individually
Once your social boundaries are in place, you can more effectively evaluate any invite against those boundaries. Because every invite reflects a choice to be made, you may initially be tempted to make the decision that will avoid disappointing a friend or loved one. But Avellino suggests reframing each invite, instead, in terms of what you want and your boundaries.
To do this, consider conducting a cost-benefit analysis, says Dr. Karakcheyeva. "It might sound selfish, but think about what you would gain from the interaction versus what you would lose—because you might be paying more emotionally than the benefit you're receiving in return."
For example, if you're recovering from a stressful work week and need to sleep, but a friend you haven't connected with in a while really wants to hang out, you need to decide whether the benefits of seeing them outweigh the costs—and if not, whether there's the potential for a more balanced compromise. Perhaps that means prioritizing your sleep that night, but making a plan to get coffee or go on a walk with your friend the next day.
Schedule time to yourself
Jamming your calendar full of activities without leaving any free time for you to spend alone is a surefire route to social burnout. Alone time is an essential component of mental health and emotional wellbeing, so Dr. Rubenstein recommends actually penciling it into your schedule.
During that time, "prioritize activities that help you recharge and rejuvenate, such as exercise or meditation," she says. "This can help prevent burnout by ensuring that you have the energy and motivation to socialize when you do choose to do so."
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