It’s not just IRL social interactions that have people feeling exhausted, either. This trend extends to the realm of social media as well, where platforms offer constant connectivity but can also contribute to feelings of social fatigue. Numerous studies have explored the relationship between social media use and mental well-being. For example, a survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom found that social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, can have both positive and negative effects on users' mental health.
- Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
- 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
In terms of the negative effects, the survey revealed that 70 percent of young adults surveyed reported feelings of social fatigue and being overwhelmed by social media pressures.
Suffice it to say, while socializing is key for our overall health and well-being, there can be too much of a good thing: Social burnout can set in when you overextend and overstimulate yourself interacting with other people. That said, it can be helped and prevented with some preparation and self-care, experts say. Read on for how to identify, prevent, and recover from social burnout.
What is social burnout?
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, social burnout, which is often used interchangeably with social exhaustion, is when you feel run down, tired, and exhausted by socializing. Social burnout symptoms include feeling drained emotionally and physically, and even irritable. “Part of that exhaustion is related to overstimulation by other people wanting a piece of you, so your natural inclination is to shut down,” says Dr. Karakcheyeva. When you feel this way, it can impact the way you behave, as well as your mood. “When we’re overstimulated, we try to protect ourselves, so you may want to isolate, or you may feel irritable or short-tempered,” adds Dr. Karakcheyeva.
Every person has an individual threshold for when socializing goes from nourishing and fun to tiring and exhausting, so there isn't an exact amount or limit before social burnout symptoms set in. Depending on your preferences and personality, some activities and interactions may be more or less draining than others—maybe a walk with your bestie is nourishing, while attending a larger birthday party makes you want to hide under the bed, or vice versa. Your level of introversion or extraversion plays a role here.
How to avoid social burnout
1. Set reasonable limits and boundaries
The best way to avoid social burnout is to actively limit the possibility of it occurring. One key way to do this, says Dr. Karakcheyeva, is to set reasonable limits and boundaries around your socializing to preserve your social battery. She suggests building this into your routine: At the beginning of each week, look through your planner or calendar if you keep one, or even just your messages and social media if that’s where you track invitations, and intentionally set some limits for yourself, Dr. Karakcheyeva advises.
In addition to the social engagements you’re entertaining, think about what else you have to take care of during this week, such as at work and home chores and factor in your total schedule when making decisions. You’ll also want to consider where you're going, who you'll be with, and how much energy and effort each takes.
Use your insights to plan your week and decide what's possible to make sure the interactions are nourishing without becoming draining. You may have more bandwidth to handle more energetically taxing social events some weeks than others—that's okay, as long as you are aware and adjust. “Really be realistic with what it takes out of you to interact and be open to adjusting,” says Dr. Karakcheyeva. Remember that part of having boundaries involves protecting them, too.
2. Change how and when you socialize
Adjusting the length, format, and time of hangouts can help make them more manageable. According to therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, these efforts can make events more doable and stave off social burnout. For example, instead of feeling pressured to stay for the entirety of a party, “stopping by and having a dessert or a drink and not necessarily committing to the whole evening is another way to get some of your energy back,” she says.
You can also try to adjust your existing plans to make them more feasible, too. For example, if you have a standing dinner with friends every Friday night but find yourself needing time to recoup from a busy work week, tap out, try to reschedule for Saturday, or skip that week. Maybe an in-person coffee date is too much one week, so you could suggest a FaceTime or phone call to catch up with a friend instead.
"In your communication with people when they're asking you out or want you to attend this event, you can say: ‘I've been pretty tired lately, so right now I'm focusing my energy on doing some self-care.’"—Victoriya Karakcheyeva, MD
3. Communicate your needs clearly and honestly
If you notice social burnout symptoms and feel social exhaustion setting in, let your circle know you need a break. To staunch the flow of invitations, communicate kindly and honestly about what's feasible for you in the moment as you recover. "In your communication with people when they're asking you out or want you to attend this event, you can say: 'I've been pretty tired lately, so right now I'm focusing my energy on doing some self-care,'" suggests Dr. Karakcheyeva.
You can also lay out a timeline for when you may be ready to hang out again—but don't feel pressure to make this too early. If after an honest assessment you find that you want to be part of some plans and not others, for example maybe smaller gatherings instead of large ones, say so. Boundary setting and expressing ourselves is an ever-evolving process that gets easier with practice, so keep trying even if it feels hard.
How to get over social burnout
Preventing social burnout is easier and more preferable than recovering from it, but you can still bounce back if you find you’ve overextended yourself. According to Dr. Karakcheyeva and Divaris Thompson, once you're socially exhausted the real solution is to slow down.
When you notice social burnout symptoms and you've hit the point of social exhaustion, both experts say it's time to hit the pause button in a major way. Re-arrange your calendar and schedule to incorporate some “me time,” and include activities that are restful and restorative to you. Be sure you're getting enough good quality sleep, drinking water, spending time outside, moving in a way you enjoy, and making time for activities that'll ease your stress and add fun to your life. You may even block these times out in your schedule
Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup, so the best way to deal with social burnout is to prevent it before it sets in. Like many things in life, moderation is key here—aim for a balance between me and we time. And if you find yourself running on empty, don’t be afraid to take a step back, (politely) decline some invites, and double down on your self-care routine.
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