It’s Possible to Fill Your ‘Social Fuel Tank’ With Comfort Food, TV, and No Actual Socializing

Photo of a smiling young woman using her mobile phone while resting on the couch in her living room
Finding comfort and social satisfaction amid this pandemic actually doesn't begin and end with video calls for many, including me. Because while I miss my friends, whom I'm able to Zoom with to my heart's content, those video call dates often don't fulfill me as much as my dates with Fleabag do. If you feel similarly about loving me-time so much that it leaves you feeling more energized and satisfied than any digital game night with your social circle ever could, research backs you up. A recent study published in the journal Self and Identity investigated how 173 participants filled their "social fuel tank," and results showed that, for many, there was really little need at all to actually be social.

According to the findings, we do all get social cravings, not dissimilar to the way we get hunger cravings. And that biological need is especially engaged when something like a pandemic largely cuts us off from real human contact. But, evidence supports that those social cravings can be satisfied in a number of different ways. In the context of the study, your social fuel tank is essentially your stomach for connection and belonging, and you need to fill it for the sake of your overall well-being. The big misconception, though, is that connection needs to be with people.

Study participants tried 17 different strategies to fill their social fuel tank, and the "non-traditional" methods—which didn't involve other people—were actually were actually still satiating for many.

Participants tried out 17 different strategies to fill their social fuel tank, and the "non-traditional" methods—like enjoying your chosen comfort TV binge, listening to your middle-school guilty-pleasure playlist, getting in extra snuggles with your dog, and other things you can do sans other people—were actually were actually still satiating for many. These strategies are usually dismissed as "social surrogates" for social connection, but the study reinforces that they're not mere substitutions. Rather, these methods can be valuable ways for people to feel connected in a world that has largely cut us off from living as we know it.

By indulging in your life's most joyful familiarities, you can still harness a positive sense of belonging. In fact, for some people (hey there, Zoom happy-hour-hating introverts), social connection might not even work as well as filling your tank with a creature comfort.

"I don't think people realize that these non-traditional connections are as beneficial as we found in our research," says psychologist Shira Gabriel, PhD, study co-author. "Don't feel guilty, because we found that these strategies are fine as long as they work for you."

The value of non-traditional methods is really important if you ever have experienced a feeling of  guilt for craving alone time in isolation and choosing to relive your collegiate love affair with Fiona Apple instead of signing on for another awkward digital gathering. Most importantly, no findings in the study really suggested that those using non-traditional strategies were lonelier, less happy, more socially awkward, or lacking of any sense of fulfillment. So, really, there's nothing shameful about connecting with a Fiona Apple record instead of your third-tier friend.

But since the findings also suggest that a blend of a few different strategies may work best for striking social fulfillment, keep an open mind about how you're filling your social fuel tank. That's to say, consider not screening all your calls.

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