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Why You Keep Hearing about “Social Hangovers” & How to Deal With One.

5 min read

“Social hangover”, the new term filling our Summer news feed. While this phrase is not exactly a clinical term,  the experience of it is as follows: feeling exhausted, drained, and “hungover” in the aftermath of socializing. Some common signs of a “social hangover” include feeling down or depressed, low energy or fatigue, irritability, desire to be alone, speaking more softly or slowly, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, brain fog, and anxiety

To further understand the experience of a social hangover, imagine being a person that struggles with social anxiety: you go into a social situation, anxiety is triggered, your body and mind are having all sorts of reactions and responses that require your psychological and physiological resources. Your nervous system is activated with a stress response (fight, flight, freeze) which actually uses a lot of your energy. In a social situation, you likely feel an adrenaline rush (not necessarily in a good way) and so the aftermath will include some sort of rebound and a need to restore your energy. It can feel like an immediate drain after a welcomed high. 

So, why is this becoming a shared experience? Well, after a year of limiting our social lives and fearing interpersonal exposure, it makes sense that we would feel at least a little on edge when first getting used to socializing again. The pandemic “new normal” is what we became accustomed to so it will be another adjustment as we phase back into socializing and it might feel overwhelming at first.

For others, the cause could be taking on too much too soon and a sensation of feeling overloaded in planning is bubbling up when looking at their calendars. The timing of it being summer along with loosened mandates can create an excitement to “do” and “go” faster than we are ready for. 

You could say we are all susceptible to a “social hangover”, or social burnout, but have different tolerance levels for socializing/social stimuli. 

Introverts are naturally going to be more at risk for social hangovers as well as individuals that suffer from social anxiety disorder

Empaths and those who are highly sensitive to others’ emotions may also be more vulnerable to “social hangovers” because they may feel overstimulated as they begin exposing themselves to social events/outings again.

How can we bounce back, or avoid all together? When you’re experiencing a social hangover or burnout, it’s a cue that it’s time to refill your cup, and restore your own energy. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Make time for yourself / alone time
  • Listen to your body / rest
  • Be gentle with yourself
  • Get outside and into nature. Go on a walk with your favorite song or podcast. 
  • Practice mindfulness or other calming/restorative practices
  • Practice saying “no”. This is a powerful tool to prevent future social hangovers and burnout.

It’s important to remember that our “reintegration” into socializing can absolutely happen in stages. Here are 5 ways you can be mindful of your reintegration. 

  1. Start slowly by reintroducing old routines at a pace that feels manageable. For some that could be scheduling 1 coffee date over a weekend as opposed to accepting a dinner invite, a walk, and a coffee date. See how it feels to dip a toe as opposed to ripping the bandaid. 

  2. This is also a great time to share your needs and set boundaries with friends and family. Let them know if you need space, time or patience as you navigate adding social events back into your routine.

  3. When booking your social calendar, be mindful of the need for some down time in between events to avoid overstimulation.

  4. Don’t Overextend Yourself. “No” is a good word! If too much is asked of you in a friendship, (or any relationship) get comfortable with saying “no”.  This isn’t selfish, it actually makes you a better friend!

  5. Try to steer away from a habit of making excuses. Honesty is important in any relationship and you may discover it’s less anxiety-inducing to “under commit”, as opposed to over-committing and then having to cancel, or in some cases make an excuse for why you can no longer make it. Excuses are a slippery slope!

I imagine that many people may have a shade of social anxiety as they emerge from a year of hyper-vigilance limiting social exposure. Some will be experiencing this sensation for the first time. 

Remember to be patient with yourself, and others, as we transition into this next phase of a collective shift.

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