A 36-year-old woman in therapy tells me, “I have been out the last two weekends meeting friends, colleagues and family. While I have enjoyed some of it, I am feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Work has suddenly picked up and now I go to office in person. I really wanted to socialise and catch up with others, but now I am wondering if I should just relax at home this weekend. I am feeling irritated at myself and confused.”
Since mid-March, a large number of clients across gender have been talking about social fatigue. I would define social fatigue as the exhaustion and tiredness people experience after being in situations where they are interacting with small or large groups of people. Sometimes, one long night of continuous socialising can lead to social fatigue; at other times, it’s the cumulative effect of meeting colleagues at work and then weekend socialising, or, in some cases, a weekend packed with social activity.
In my experience, this fatigue shows up as irritation, low patience levels that may reflect in one being quick to react, a reduced stress frustration threshold and a feeling of being so tired physically and emotionally that one may want to be alone or not talk to anyone.
If you have experienced this, you are not alone. It’s completely okay if you want to meet people but end up feeling socially fatigued. Both can exist at the same time and acknowledging this reality may help us to resolve it. Most clients feel guilty complaining about social fatigue but it’s completely fine to talk about it.
Two years of staying indoors has had an impact on our social skills and energy levels. When the mask mandates were eased and offices opened, I think we didn’t fully consider how a lot of things we had adapted to and accepted in a pre-2020 world would leave us exhausted in 2022. A 41-year-old male client tells me: “I didn’t realise how annoyed I would feel with either small talk at the office or parties. During the pandemic, I consciously moved to interacting only with a close set of friends and now I feel I have poor tolerance for gossip or random conversations.”
Social fatigue is impacting how overwhelmed and wired people are feeling. This is impacting their sleep, eating patterns, even social media usage. A lot of clients have been talking about how social drinking has increased, there has been an increase in weight and they no longer feel fully rested. So, administrative and other chores at their home are being impacted.
If you feel you are overcompensating for the lack of social interactions or attending more parties to network, then take a moment to pause and re-examine the impact on your emotional well-being. It may be useful to engage in social pacing—being mindful, in other words, about whom you are meeting and how much time you are spending when you head out. It’s okay to plan an early exit from a party to maintain your sleep schedule or even say no to an invite if you feel you need to rest. I know it’s hard but try not to compare your social life to that of others on social media—for it may end up making you feel lonelier and worse about your life situation.
Ask yourself which self-care rituals and habits you want to sustain to protect you from social fatigue. Exercise, meditation, enough hydration, getting eight hours of sleep could be some important ones.
The pandemic has changed all of us so it may be okay to use social interactions in small doses to reassess which friendships, communities and even conversations refuel and energise you and which ones drain you further.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.