Social burnout post-pandemic

After a tumultuous two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have returned to their social lives. While reconnecting with others has been great for some, people also are experiencing social fatigue. Dr. Asim Shah, professor and executive vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, offers insight on how to handle social burnout.

A person filling out their day planning calendar with social events.“There is a sense that people have missed things, and that feeling is normal and natural. So many big events have been canceled, so people want to catch up,” Shah said.

People are trying to compensate for lost time, but they feel drained for different reasons. Some people are scheduling engagements too often and are not prepared for the sudden rush of social activities. Others are recovering from long-term COVID effects, such as fatigue, and are struggling to keep up with social events.

Burnout is a condition in which you experience chronic stress that cannot be managed. The three dimensions of burnout include:

  • Feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance
  • Feeling negative or cynical

Burnout can result in lack of wellness, and everyone’s resilience to it is different. If you experience social burnout, take breaks by focusing on time for yourself. Shah outlines the seven Es to combat feelings of burnout and stress:

  1. Exercise
  2. Express your emotions
  3. Enjoy life: whether that is listening to music, playing sports or watching movies, do what you enjoy
  4. Explore: hiking, jogging, walking outdoors
  5. Engage in activities with others
  6. Energize: get 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily
  7. Eat healthy

If you feel overwhelmed with social engagements but are uneasy about declining plans, set ground rules for socializing. Limit your social activity to specific days of the week or dedicate a day of the week to not participate in social plans. Shah suggests having socialization hours depending on your schedule.

“Two events or two days out of the weekend for socialization is decent. More than that may be overload for some. Look at your own schedule and do what works for you,” he said.

The phenomenon of touch starvation during the pandemic illustrated the need for socialization. People were no longer touching and hugging. Touching and hugging releases oxytocin, helps reduce stress levels and helps improve immunity. While overdoing can be a problem, the lack of socialization is an issue as well. It is important to find balance in your social life by creating limits and boundaries.

“Socialization is important for everyone and that definition is catered to your individual needs. We are social human beings and it is so important to socialize, but it is also important to have boundaries,” Shah said.

-By Homa Shalchi

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