The fatigue is real.
There seems to be a lot more napping involved in post-COVID socializing. At first, I thought it was just me needing to rest up before a cookout, or dozing off in the midst of a movie night with friends.
But I’m not alone in feeling fatigued from a socializing schedule I would have handled just fine pre-pandemic. For most people, getting back to the new normal is a lot more tiring than they expected. “In my own life and amongst my friends and colleagues, I have heard people report that they feel exhausted, or that they have to dig deep to socialize,” says Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., author of How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.
You can chalk that up to the massive sea change we’ve all experienced over the past year. “I think it’s part of the rebooting of our society,” says Ken Yeager, Ph.D., clinical director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “I don’t think we have ever really experienced this before—and thinking through all these processes and what socializing looks like now, is creating stress.”
Why socializing is a lot more tiring post-COVID
It’s not your imagination—you need to work a lot harder to socialize now than you did in 2019. And there are several reasons for it
We’re rusty at it
After more than a year of Zoom calls and small backyard get-togethers, we’re out of practice at how to handle social events—and it takes more energy to deal with the novelty of it all. “We’ve fallen off our normal pace and intensity,” Hendriksen says. “When that momentum grinds to a halt, breaking that inertia requires extra energy and motivation.”
And while we’ve been still getting together with our nearest and dearest, we haven’t had to make small talk with strangers in a while. “You’re moving around more, seeing more people and that requires interaction,” Yeager says. “That’s an expenditure of energy that hasn’t really been happening for a year.”
There’s more anxiety about getting together
Everything about getting together has been stressful for more than a year—with social distancing, masking, and trying to figure out how to safely eat or drink around people outside our household.
That stress isn’t necessarily going to disappear overnight—especially as we still have concerns about variants and outbreaks. “Do I have to wear a mask; do I not wear a mask?” Yeager says. “We’ve never had to worry about these things before.”
More of us have mental health issues
The pandemic has unleashed a wave of anxiety and depression, and that has impacted every aspect of our lives.
According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression skyrocketed during the pandemic. “Nearly half of the American population reported anxiety, depression, or both,” Yeager says.
It’s hitting both introverts and extroverts
You might think that this fatigue would be more closely linked to introverts, who have always had to muster up the energy to head out when they’re perfectly happy to chill at home. But fatigue can come for the extroverts, too, as they try to make up for lost time. “Extroverts might wear themselves out going all out, and still experience fatigue,” Yeager says.
How to get back into the social groove
Fortunately, the socializing slump you might be feeling right now will eventually disappear, as we get more used to being around people. But there are a few strategies to get you over the hill—and back to your friends and family.
Give yourself more down time
You may have had a go-go-go mentality pre-pandemic, but now’s the time to (slowly) ramp up to that schedule. (So yes, set aside time for that pre-party power nap!)
“Build in some down time so you can rest and recuperate,” Yeager says. “Find time and space in your schedule to recharge batteries and relax, getting outside and getting some fresh air into your lungs.”
To help reduce the stress of social interactions, set boundaries that’ll help you feel comfortable.
“Articulate what you’re willing to do and not willing to do,” Hendriksen says. “Our family is not all vaccinated yet, so we’re not doing indoor dining. If someone invites us to go to an indoor restaurant, we would suggest eating outdoors or ask, ‘Would you like to come over for takeout in the backyard?’ You can set boundaries and still be friendly and compassionate.”
You might even want to set time boundaries—like suggesting meeting up for coffee for an hour, rather than a more open-ended invite.
Start small and build on it
Your first post-quarantine outing probably shouldn’t be a big, indoor wedding or a crowded restaurant. Look for ways to start small (a small get-together in someone’s house), and work your way up to bigger or more complex get-togethers.
“Take it slow and simple,” Yeager says. “People may be experiencing anxiety going back into events. Instead of jumping into a week’s vacation with friends or a full-stadium sporting event, practice a little bit and ease yourself into it with smaller interactions.”
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
If you’re feeling anxious about getting together, you could be putting too much pressure on yourself to make a reunion even more memorable.
“You don’t have to be your best self to be yourself,” Hendriksen says. “Don’t try to overcompensate by telling extra-zany stories, being extra-entertaining, or otherwise trying to carry the conversation. Take pressure off yourself and turn the attention spotlight onto the people you’re with.”
If you’re hosting, you might find yourself being rusty at hospitality. (Both Hendriksen and I have had people at our houses for more than a half-hour before offering them a drink!)
“As long as you have good intentions and repair the situation upon noticing, it’s fine,” Hendriksen says. “Try a line like ‘I’ve gone feral, so if I forget, help yourself.'”
Don’t forget your healthy habits
If you aren’t eating or sleeping well, that’ll make mustering the energy to socialize even harder.
“Your sleep patterns may be disrupted if you’re going back into work,” Yeager says. And look for healthy snacks with plenty of protein to help you avoid a sugar crash that’ll sap your energy.
Fake it until you make it
After a year-plus at home, it’s going to take a lot of energy to put ourselves back out there—and we might sometimes have to just force ourselves to make it happen, even when we’re tired.
“Push yourself to do the things that you have enjoyed in the past, with people you know you like and want to spend time with,” Hendriksen says. “Experiencing anxiety about our social life doesn’t mean something is wrong or dangerous. More often than not, you’ll be glad you went.”
By Lisa Milbrand