The one thing that I was certain of when I arrived in post-lockdown was that I’d learn from my experience – I wouldn’t just go back to my old ways.
No way would I book myself up again like I used to. After all, I’d grown to secretly love this new space to breathe, to step off life’s merry-go-round and stop a while. To watch it all go by.
My Changing Social Habits
Fast forward two years, am I out any less? Am I any less busy? Hmmm, slightly, I would say. But I do love going out so “slightly less” is still a lot.
These days, though, I’m more inclined to act when I find myself thinking, “You know what? It’s been great, really it has, but now I want to go home and put the kettle on. Flick on a movie, a little chewing gum for the mind. Stretch out, kick back, and relax.”
To be honest, I definitely feel happier leaving social events when I want to and having more time in between them. And as it turns out, I love those things more because I’m not so socially drained.
I didn’t know what I was doing had a name – that I was, in fact, looking after my “social battery.”
Discovering My Social Battery
It was my 18-year-old daughter who first brought it to my attention, saying she didn’t have the “social battery” for a friend’s party. That stopped me in my tracks for two reasons. First off, you’re not going to a party! And secondly, er, social battery? Run that by me again!
“Social battery” is a metaphor for a person’s capacity to intermingle with groups of people in one setting. And it’s often used by introverted people to describe their anxiety at having to interact with large groups.
When your social battery is starting to drain, at work or in social situations, it gives off plenty of signals. Research suggests that most people start to feel social fatigue after around three hours.
I asked my colleagues for their insights and experience in maintaining their social batteries.
Mind Tools writer and editor Melanie Bell said, “Tiredness, difficulty paying attention to conversation, irritability. Any of these is often a sign that I need a break. It might be time to leave the situation or, if not possible, to step out for a bit. It could also be a sign that the group/activity isn’t a good fit for me.”
Content editor Alice Gledhill recognized those feelings too. She said, “I know my social battery is running low when I start to feel tired or grumpy, and when I stop participating or talking as much in a group.”
Fellow content editor Matthew Hughes has found his capacity for socializing isn’t what it was since COVID-19 hit.
“If I’m suddenly tired or not taking things in, or I’m blathering on, then I know the battery is low!” said Matthew. “And post-lockdown, I’ve found my social battery is significantly less long-lasting than before the pandemic. I get tired out faster than before in social situations, and it’s going to take time to get that battery back to full capacity.”
“So while I try to make sure I’m getting time alone and not overdoing it, I’m aware I need to keep socializing and exercising that muscle!”
Signs of Social Burnout
Low social battery is akin to burnout, which is something many of us are all too familiar with. But still, the warning signs aren’t always recognized or heeded. Here are some common signs of burnout to watch out for:
- Pulling away emotionally from your colleagues or friends.
- Inability to focus.
- Experiencing physical complaints such as headaches, illness, or backache.
- Low energy or fatigue.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Being irritated easily by other people.
- Having a negative and critical attitude.
These are the signs, but what can be done to cope with them?
One thing that can really help when you feel overwhelmed by your social engagements is to manage your boundaries. As my daughter reminded me, “We all have the right to protect our social battery without feeling guilty about it.”
And there are many benefits to protecting your boundaries. As neuroscientist Simon Spichak points out, “You need to take breaks when you’re tired to refuel and refocus. That means the next time you meet up with someone, you will be present and thoughtful – instead of counting down until you leave.”
Protecting Your Battery
Mind Tools Managing Editor Charlie Swift is still finding post-pandemic socializing tricky.
He said, “The joy I feel when I do now mix, points to having missed out – and what I’ve learned in the meantime is that I don’t need to please everyone else so much! The point is connection and enjoyment, not exhaustion or duty.”
Alice makes a conscious effort to manage her time. She said, “I love doing things on my own, at my own pace. Especially in the evenings when I want to wind down. So having a bit of time away from friends/family after a busy day/weekend together is important to me. It helps me to recharge.”
“On the flip side, I love being spontaneous and meeting up with a friend last minute,” Alice continued. “If my social battery is unexpectedly full then I like to take advantage of that!”
For Melanie, it’s all about proper scheduling. She said, “I’m similarly busy than before COVID, but I’m more aware of needing to be selective with social engagements and I choose those that are good fits.”
“In between, I make sure I get some ‘alone time’ and rest. That means I can connect with others and build relationships – rather than getting burned out!”
Giving “social battery” a name has made me aware of it. So I now think more about what I’m doing than I did previously. And I love do-nothing days, which I’m now taking more of. As any athlete knows, your rest days are just as vital as your training in the pursuit of peak performance.
Has your social battery been affected by the pandemic and lockdowns? How do you “recharge” your social battery? Let us know in the comments below.