Teen Breathe

How to prevent yourself suffering from social exhaustion

Socialising is a wonderful way to enrich life with meaningful connections but, occasionally, you may find you need a break. And if you don’t get that respite, you might experience a type of fatigue that comes from an overload of social situations. It’s known as social exhaustion, and experiencing it can be stressful. But learning what it looks like and how it affects you is a powerful skill. Understanding it is an exercise in discovering more about your own nature – the activities that overwhelm you and the ones that help you feel your best. You can also learn how to tell when it’s simply time to rest.
WORDS: Giulia Sciota
ILLUSTRATION: Maggie Stephenson

What are some signs that you’re suffering from social exhaustion?

Signs of social exhaustion might include becoming more irritable, stressed, even anxious. Eventually, you might feel so overwhelmed that you shut off and stop socialising altogether.

This behaviour, while understandable, can become problematic if it happens often. ‘If you constantly let your social battery run out of charge, this can have serious consequences,’ says Deborah Lee, a psychotherapist and counselling programme director at the University of East London. ‘It can lead to you withdrawing from social activities, having less human contact and becoming lonely.’

Cutting yourself off from other people brings problems in itself. It can mean you’re less likely to seek support when you need it and stop you from finding joy in everyday interactions that are part of the human experience. The good news is that there are ways to avoid the problem – by looking out for the signals that it’s time to take a break and knowing how to recharge.

What are some strategies for dealing with social exhaustion?

Observe your behaviour: Are you in a bad mood before, during or after events? Are you saying or doing things that are out of character? If you find yourself acting out, take note and explore why you think it’s happening.

Examine your reactions: Ask yourself how you feel after social situations of varying type, length and friendship group. Do you feel invigorated by big events or exhausted? Do you prefer large groups or hanging out with a close friend? Be scientific about it: start a journal and note down your findings to identify patterns.

Work with your personality: Some people dislike alone-time and may need little of it. Others are the opposite. Factor into your observations what you’re normally like and work with your nature, not against it.

Act on your findings: If you’re giving a presentation at school and know it will drain your battery, it might not be wise to arrange a social event for the same evening. Organise your calendar with your energy levels in mind.

Take time for you: Don’t be afraid to schedule time alone for an activity that helps you relax, whether it’s drawing, practising an instrument or playing with a pet. Make sure you schedule offline breaks, too, so your mind gets a rest from constant stimulation.

Why it’s important to be honest with those around you about your social exhaustion

Talk through your feelings. Everyone’s different, so it can help to explain why you’re pulling back from socialising when you need a break. Simply and honestly usually does the trick. For example: ‘I’m feeling burned out, so I’m taking some time for myself this week. I hope you understand.’

If you’re struggling to recharge, talk to a trusted adult who might be able to help you get up and running again.

Read more about mental wellbeing in Teen Breathe issue 44.