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  • Writer's pictureBecci

Social Exhaustion and How to Deal With It

Lately, I have been socially exhausted. I have moved to a new city, and that means that everything – the people, the way to the supermarket, the language – is new. For a person who recharges in both solitude and routine, this can be tough.


According to personality tests, I am either 52% extroverted and 48% introverted or exactly the other way around, meaning 52% introverted. I guess my 'scores' were depending on my mood at the time I was taking the long multiple-choice question test (a very common one is the 16personalities-test, it's worth checking it out if you’ve never heard of these). If you are one of the few people who does not even like taking online quizzes, here is an easier option: ask yourself: ‘How do I recharge?’ Do you feel most comfortable in solitude, or do you thrive in the company of others? If you feel that you can be both, you are probably somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Personalities are not black and white, it is actually completely common that you can experience both types of social situations as either great or not. There is no either or. I, for example, know that I mostly recharge in solitude, but I’ve experienced a couple of social situations in the right surroundings where I’ve recharged as well. The best situations for me are these long, windy discussions about those big life questions.

A rather unfortunate consequence of being an 'ambivert' is that people who only know you as one type of person do not understand when you are behaving differently. I experience this mostly in situations where I have behaved extremely extroverted with a person or a group of people, and then start becoming 'less social'. A good example in my case is the interaction with my work colleagues at the moment. I have just started a new internship, and in the first week, I was extremely social at work, especially with the other interns. This resulted in loads of great bonding time at the workplace and during the weekend, which, undoubtedly, was fun, but did not give me enough time to recharge my batteries for the next work week. So this week, I have been running low on gas. I noticed this because I was extremely tired and annoyed by the smallest social interactions. Sometimes there are other indicators, such as me being extremely hesitant to leave my bed or me not picking up the phone or answering to texts. Last Thursday we all went to a social gathering with hundreds of people and all I wanted to do was go home. I just simply did not have enough energy for meeting someone new, and I felt very uncomfortable in my own skin. However, I also felt like letting down my coworkers who clearly just wanted to have a good time, and not deal with a tired grumpy me by their side.


Usually, this type of social interactions would not be a problem for me with a full battery. I even love these types of events at times. But this week, there was no balance between company and solitude. And now this weekend, I find myself in the awkward position of having to turn down plans with people I actually really like hanging out with. With my close friends, this would not be an issue, because we understand and can adapt to the needs of each other. My best friend, for example, is a little more introvert than me, and we are great at canceling plans with each other if we know that it would be too much for one of us. We actually both managed to miss each other’s birthday parties this year, because we needed some alone time. No hard feelings there.

But when you are around new people, and some of those people are extremely extroverted, it is hard to explain yourself, without offending anyone. Society by default caters to extroverts more than introverts. You are expected to go to parties, meet and make friends, interact constantly. But not everyone is equally social. 'I just need some time for myself' sounds way too similar to the breakup classic: 'I just need time and space!' And it is also hard to just burst out something like 'I am a little introverted'. At the beginning of my graduate studies two years ago I told a classmate exactly that, and he became so extremely cautious about asking me to join social events, that it was a little awkward for a while. I didn't want him to stop asking me to join, but I did not always want to have to explain myself. Because how do you discuss your own need for solitude with someone who strives for as much human contact as possible.


I believe that being true to yourself is the best thing you can do in this kind of scenario. While topics on personality such as being an introvert or an extrovert are becoming more common to talk about, people are still pushed into social situations they do not feel comfortable in. And yes, you grow when you leave your comfort zone, but you need the option to jump right back in it when you have had enough input (I like to imagine my ultimate comfort zone as lying in bed with a heavy warm blanket on top of me and Harry Potter audiobooks). Pushing yourself to the limit for the sake of maintaining friendships, meeting expectations or not disappointing anyone is not sustainable.

So here is what I will do this weekend to cure my social exhaustion: I will not commit to any social plans! I will only join my friends in exploring the city if I have had enough me-time. I have just started my Saturday morning with doing two-day’s worth of dishes. And I think the rest of the day will be a 'cleaning the apartment and facemask' kind of day - all by myself because both of my housemates are gone for the weekend. (It is a day later and I also ended up taking a French placement test for a language course – no biggie).


Because it is okay to be alone with yourself. I used the be the type of person who gets FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out - for all those not familiar with the lingo) every time I could not partake in something my friends where doing. Now, I am growing more and more comfortable in saying what I need. I can sense when it has been too much, and I can treat myself to a good book and a hot cup of tea in my room. It takes time to find this balance. I do not claim to have the perfect recipe for when you should go and hang out with your friend and when you should stay in and order Chinese food. This is only an attempt to raise awareness for the topic. If you read this and sense that you could be one of the people always pushing others to hang out, not accepting a 'no' at times, maybe try to develop a feeling for when you might be asking for a little much. If you read this and felt like this type of exhaustion applies to you, maybe try being a bit more communicative about your needs. I have actually been on both ends of this: being the pushy one and being the pushed one – to use straightforward language, so I know this communication needs to happen in both directions.

I know I am not alone with this, having discussed the issue of 'social exhaustion' with a few people close to me. I want to stress again that it is most important that you are being honest with yourself - don't go to a social gathering, even if it is with your best friends, if you do not feel like it. In the long run, the more other people understand about all the facets of your social interaction, the smoother your relationships will be. Because let’s be real, who wants a tired, quiet party-pooper as a plus one tonight if they could have a relaxed, caring friend tomorrow. You owe it to yourself to make sure that you are comfortable.


*Additional material: If you want to find out more about this topic, read ‘Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’, by Susan Cain or watch the TED talk: ‘The Power of Introverts’.



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