How to Handle the Post-Pandemic Social Fatigue
Is your social schedule burning you out? This is how to manage social fatigue in the age of pandemics.
by: E.B. Johnson
As some of us struggle to find a sense of normalcy in this strange unknown world, many are dealing with a phenomenon they never confronted before. For the first time, millions are finding themselves stuck in a wave of social anxiety and fatigue. The relationships that once brought them joy are now bringing tension and exhaustion that’s hard to shake. We’ve all been drained over the last year, and our social skills have been drained too. If we want to get back on track to connection and fulfillment, then we have to confront our social fatigue honestly for what it is.
The early signs of social burnout.
Are you suffering from post-pandemic social fatigue? Does the idea of going on with friends exhaust you? What about hosting family dinners? Or meeting new people? Humans are social creatures, and our social connections mean a lot to us. If you want to get back on the road to happy bonding with friends and loved ones, then you first have to acknowledge the exhaustion you’re suffering now.
Extreme mood swings
Are you going through a lot of mood swings when it comes to your friends or being back out in the world? When we’re run down, our emotions are often the first thing to suffer. The longer you experience these negative emotional spells, the more negative your overall mood becomes. This doesn’t make for great relationships (of any kind) and doesn’t make socializing fun for us either.
Because of your unpredictable mood swings, you may notice an uptick in conflicts in your social relationships. It’s understandable. We’ve all been having a hard year. Who wants to sit around and hang out with someone who’s grouchy, condescending, or otherwise miserable? Instead of fighting with your friends and loved ones, be honest about your burn out.
When you’re overly stressed or exhausted, your body often reflects that exhaustion by manifesting problems of its own. Feeling like you have a lot of unfamiliar aches and pains? Are picking up on colds, or just feeling rundown overall? Your social fatigue could play a part in tearing down the health of your physical body. Our mind feeds our body. When one is out-of-whack, the other one follows.
Shutting down inside
When you feel anxious and overwhelmed, it’s natural to seek quiet places where you can collect yourself and recharge. When we don’t get that, it can lead to a real shut down in taking care of ourselves (or our relationships). Some of us shut down completely. Rather than dealing with our issues or handling our responsibilities, we shut off to our emotions and go on autopilot. This prevents us from getting the rest we need, but also from connecting with others.
Looking for excuses
Are you already looking for excuses not to socialize or go out? This is a big sign that you need to hit the brakes and take a step back for a little while. We should want to be with our friends and with our family, anything else is wasting their time (and ours). If you’re dreading a social engagement so much that you have to find an excuse not to go, it’s better just to be honest with ourselves and reject the invitation as soon as possible. (You really don’t need to give an explanation.)
Struggling to decide
How’s your thinking at the moment? Is it easy for you to make decisions? Or is your head in much more of a fog? You may have a hard time thinking through things if you’re dealing with social fatigue. That’s because we only have a limited amount of energy and focus in our lives for the things that matter, and the things that we want. Do you feel you can’t think to save your life? When struggling to decide, social fatigue can play a key role.
Dropping out of convo
Do you struggle to keep up with the convo these days? Instead of jumping in and getting involved, do you feel more like taking a backseat to everyone around you? While it’s nice to observe conversations from time-to-time, a lack of desire to communicate is always a concern. We’re social creatures. We like to talk. Being burned out, though, we often lose the desire to get involved or engaged in any real conversation.
How to handle post-pandemic social fatigue.
Ignoring your social fatigue and “pushing through it” won’t allow you to get over it any quicker. As a matter of fact, this may make the process harder altogether. If you really want to get back on track and piece your social life back together, you need to ease back into things and listen to your body (and your heart) when it tells you to take a step back for a minute or two.
1. Ease into socializing slowly
Although the idea of our world opening up is exciting, it’s important that we don’t rush out and overwhelm both ourselves and our resources. This is an unprecedented time. None of us are really sure how to handle this alternative world, and we’re all exhausted and traumatized by it. That’s why it’s crucial that we don’t add even more stress and pressure to already over-stressed lives. Ease back into your social life slowly and good things will follow.
Ease into socializing. You don’t have to jump right back into nightly bar sessions and weekend trips with your friends. It’s okay to take the time you need to get comfortable being out in the world again. We’ve all been through a lot over the past year.
Instead of hitting the gas, allow yourself to get back into the swing of things one engagement at a time. Don’t book in any weekend trips away. Don’t go over-and-above in a sizeable crowd or a small space, when even the idea of that makes you anxious. Pick relaxing settings and one or two people that you’re really comfortable getting started. See them twice a month, then work up to bigger groups and bigger events when you’re feeling less sociably awkward or anxious. There’s no need to go all-in at once.
2. Give yourself some space
Many of us need social connection in order to feel fulfilled, but what happens when we get overwhelmed by the connection that we crave? The best way to deal with it is the simplest way…by getting more space. You have the choice to walk away when you’re feeling uncomfortable. And that includes your social groups and intimate relationships. Feeling stressed and exhausted by all the face-to-face socializing? Give yourself some space.
When you start feeling overwhelmed by all the faces, small talk, and smiles — give yourself some space to walk away and recharge. You don’t have to stay somewhere you’re uncomfortable. You don’t have to say “yes” when all you want to do is go home and catch up on the sleep you missed.
Give yourself some space, and revel in it. Say “no” more often and more openly. When you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. Listen to your body and be present with its needs. If you’re feeling like your social schedule is picking up too quickly, thin it out. If you’re out with friends and feel yourself burning out, excuse yourself (politely) and go home. You are in charge of your body, and you’re in charge of making sure it gets what it wants and what it needs.
3. Reward yourself with recharge time
There’s no escaping the fact that you’re going to need some time to recharge in the coming days and months. Even if we’ve done nothing over the last year, we’re still going to be exhausted from all the emotional labor that went into surviving the ups and downs of the (ongoing) pandemic. It’s important to keep this in mind as we step back out into our limited social reality. Give yourself time to recharge, so you can make the most out of seeing your loved ones again.
Give yourself recharge time before any social event. Use that time doing especially comforting or rewarding things that help you prepare mentally, emotionally and physically for your upcoming engagement. Be creative with these activities. They should relax you, but they should also provide some positive benefit.
Fill your recharge time with the things you really need to enjoy a social life. If you need to sleep — sleep. If you want to spend the time thinking about nothing and binging your favorite show — do that. There’s no right or wrong way to relax and recharge. Just make sure you’re giving your emotions a break, and you’re giving your body a chance to work through the anxiety and pressure it’s under. Remember, your physical body is also getting used to its time out in the world again.
4. Know it’s a common experience
Being as isolated as many of us have been, it can be easy to believe that we’re going through uniquely painful struggles. While we each certainly experience things in our own way, we’re in no way going through an isolated struggle. All of us have had to face what it means to lose some aspect of our lives in the last year. When we learn into this commonality, we can actually find peace and patience in the journey back to happy that we’re on.
We are all dealing with a lot of complicated feelings when it comes back to getting out in the world. We want to see our friends, but we’re tired. We’re also anxious about potentially getting sick, and we’re still exhausted from all the emotional labor we’ve been doing (isolated) for the last year.
Know that everyone around you is going through some complex struggle thanks to the last year. They’re also feeling nervous about going back out into the world. Your friends are just as anxious to see you as you are to see them. Embrace the fact that everyone is tired and use that to your advantage. Let this sense of belonging to the greater majority calm you. You’re not alone. Take your time and take it easy on yourself. It’s a common experience that we’ll all work through in our own time.
Putting it all together…
As the world opens back up, we find our social lives bursting with engagements again. While that may have been welcome a few months ago, many of us are now facing serious social burnout (on top of the anxiety that comes with learning how to re-socialize again). Are you already feeling socialization fatigue in the new post-pandemic world? Taking action in the name of your needs is the only way to get things back on track.
Ease into your social schedule slowly. Don’t rush out for a big weekend music festival when you’re still feeling anxious about a night on the town. Once you start socializing again, listen to your body. When you start feeling anxious or overwhelmed, give yourself some space. Self-soothing is also a great trick to learn, so that you can find your calm as you readjust to new situations and experiences out and about in the world. Give yourself time to recharge and don’t over pack your social schedule. Fill that time with rewarding activities that help you to rest and get excited about life again. Know above all else, though, that this is a common experience. We’re all feeling a little scared, and in that knowledge is belonging. Accept that we’re all feeling a little rundown and embrace the road back up. After all, there’re brighter days ahead for us.
- Seiter, J., & Curran, T. (2021). Social-distancing fatigue during the COVID-19 pandemic: a mediation analysis of cognitive flexibility, fatigue, depression, and adherence to CDC guidelines. Communication Research Reports, 38(1), 68–78. doi: 10.1080/08824096.2021.1880385