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Why you must strike a balance between socialising and me-time

Yes, having a strong social network is great for your mental health. But learning how to be alone is equally important

Having a strong social network is great for your mental health
Having a strong social network is great for your mental health (Pexels)

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Are you the sort of person who crams your calendar with parties, gallery openings, events or lunch dates? Or do you scoot out of them at the first opportunity, thrilled to return to your PJs and half-read novel? If you tend to be the first sort of person—an extrovert—you may want to ask yourself how you feel when you return from them? Energised, happy, excited or just dead-beat.

Turns out that, even if you are an extrovert, you could be feeling the last if you've been partying too much. A new study by researchers in Finland, published in The Journal Of Personality' in Jan 2021 revealed that extroverts also get exhausted from social interactions and need time to recharge themselves. They found that the more people were acting extraverted and conscientious, the more they reported being in a positive mood and feeling lower levels of fatigue at the moment, but after 3 hours, they reported higher levels of fatigue.

In short, it doesn't matter if you are an extrovert or introvert; everyone needs some alone time. Though, let us be honest, it is almost impossible to completely extricate ourselves from other people in our highly mediated world. Social relations and interactions have become increasingly complicated with the result of technology and the explosion of various forms of social media into our lives. And with these changing modes of socialising and the nature of social interactions, it is pertinent to examine how to adapt to these changes and strike a balance between socialisation and me-time, say experts.

Also read: How Instagram can influence your self-esteem

While, in general, people tend to interact with their loved ones through telephonic conversations, dinner time conversations and texts, the perniciousness of social media, especially for teenagers and young adults, is unquestionable. Several studies suggest a definite decline in in-person interactions with the increase in digital and social media use, a phenomenon that has both pros and cons.

Dr Ketoki Mazumdar, a Mumbai-based consultant psychotherapist, agrees that social media allows one to express themselves creatively. But it can also be an unsafe and unreal space. "Identities are getting co-constructed in social media worlds, and it is pertinent to ask ourselves whether the support we receive online in the form of likes, loves, and other emoticons are also offered offline, supposedly by the same people," she points out. She also disagrees with the popular belief of online and offline personalities being two distinct realities. "For youth, these are more fluid in nature, and their realities are connected between the real, physical and offline and online worlds," she points out, adding that this is likely to have repercussions on real-world social interactions and relationships. Her concern is echoed by Dr Shishir Palsapure, the Psychotherapist Director of Morphic Minds, Nagpur, who believes that there can't be a blanket statement for how social media interactions impacts our lives. "On one hand, it has provided easy access to those who are anxious and improved their interactions. On the other, preoccupation with digital interactions can affect real-life interactions," he says.

Tanu Choksi, a counselling psychologist, based out of Mumbai and an associate fellow and supervisor in RE- CBT from The Albert Ellis Institute, New York, agrees that technology has reduced the organic interaction of being with people. There is a fine line between alone time and complete isolation, as far as emotional well-being is concerned, believes Choksi. While the former can help recharge and recuperate the mind, being completely isolated can lead to feeling depressed, lonely, and cut off from the world. Social interactions, she says, release dopamine and serotonin and make you feel good about yourself, alleviating anxiety and stress, increasing confidence levels, self-esteem, etc.

Dr Mazumdar throws light on the impact of social interactions saying, "Humans are constantly striving for social achievements (getting ahead) and social belongingness (getting along); two goals that are difficult to attain without some sort of social interaction. Social interactions, especially social integration processes of perceived social support, social network size and amount and depth of social interactions play a key role in promoting resilience and well-being." She mentions that there are studies that indicate people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their larger community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. There is convincing evidence that poor social relationships lead to a negative impact on mental health and emotional and psychological well-being. "The emotional support provided by social connections and interactions aids in reducing the damaging effects of stress and helps in fostering a sense of meaning and purpose in life. The phenomenon of social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being, resulting in higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, and being more trusting and cooperative with others," she adds.

Also read: How to create a community-based approach to mental health

Having said that, as with anything, balance is key to overall well-being. Research on family functioning, negative social interactions, and relationship quality indicates that, contrary to popular beliefs, an extensive social support network is not indicative of supportive members. In fact, it could be a seat of potential stress and conflict. Therefore, knowing when to draw away from the mayhem and retreat to a space of solitude and peace is essential too. As Dr Palsapure points out, while social interactions can be an important source of happiness, they should not be the only source of it. When people do that, “they can become addicted to the social interactions, negatively affecting their work, relationships and studies,” he says. 

If you are feeling drained, some me-time will help
If you are feeling drained, some me-time will help (Pexels)

Of course, this varies from person to person. As Choksi points out, for some, meeting people every night is not cumbersome, while for others, two nights in a week drain them. And yes, if you are an extravert but suddenly find yourself being drained by being around people, it would be an indication to have some me-time, she adds. Dr Mazumdar, too, firmly believes that we need a better framework for understanding social interactions across the communication landscape, to have clarity about the limits of social interactions and also to understand how much is too much. "All of us need time alone to allow our brains to rest and rejuvenate; too much time alone or a lack of social connections can be harmful to our mental and physical health. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between healthy time alone, where we are being productive, creative and introspective, versus an unhealthy alone time, where we end up being self-critical or feeling lonely." She advises that in case one feels depleted with the aspect of constantly being around others, it is suggested to recognise this and draw boundaries and schedule some personal me-time for oneself. On the other hand, if one finds themselves feeling lonely, making attempts to invest in social connections and engaging in meaningful interactions could be helpful. “It is pertinent to aim towards striking a healthy balance.” 

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