The social hangover
Noun: The feeling of sheer exhaustion after socialising with friends post-lockdown. One minute you’re welcoming that second bottle of Whispering Angel with open arms, the next you’re laying in bed – emotional, broken, exhausted and craving your tranquil lockdown life.
It’s midday on a Sunday, I am lying in bed after a Saturday packed with brunch, a park picnic and garden party. I feel emotional, broken and like my entire body has been beaten up with ten rounders bats, to be precise. I didn’t even drink yesterday. I quickly diagnose myself with a social hangover.
The social hangover is actually worse than an alcohol-induced hangover (and trust me, I’ve had an embarrassing amount of those). Whilst I don’t have a thumping headache or a sick bucket next to my bed, I am physically and emotionally exhausted from choosing an outfit, getting myself to said social event on public transport and then upholding conversations with people I haven’t seen in 12 months about all the exciting and interesting things I’ve been doing in lockdown (read: watching Real Housewives of Beverley Hills).
It seems I’m not alone in my sufferance. After relaying my self-diagnosed condition to my colleagues on Zoom, they all agreed. “I never want to see people again,” claimed one, who had been left with an intense social hangover after a three day rager.
Jodie Caiss, therapist and Self Space founder, likens the experience to heading back to the gym after time out. “It’s helpful to remember that after over twelve long months of restrictions, loneliness and separation, that when it comes to flexing our social muscles again we feel absolutely exhausted afterwards,” she said. “You could think of it as returning to the gym after time out, you’re not going to really go for it on your first trip back with the expectation that you’ll be able to do everything you could before. ‘Social hangovers’ used to be exclusively reserved for introverts but now so many of us are feeling rundown, foggy and frazzled after socialising.”
“For over a year, the majority of us have been staying at home and have had limited social interaction. So, with the rule of six or two household meet ups coming into place, many are feeling overwhelmed and struggling to socialise and long to retreat back to our safe space,” says Psychology and Neuroscience Expert Ruth Kudzi, the author of Mindset Coach.
Ruth explains that there is actually a neurological reason we feel this way. Apparently, when we go through long periods of change, stress and crisis, it can impact, influence and change us – it can also change our brain chemicals too.
“When our situations change over a period of time they become established and our new normal, these pathways get stronger with repetition until the behavior is the new normal…. staying inside, connecting with friend via technology and working from home.nMany of us will have created new neuro-pathways during lockdown of what our normal now is and the thought of this changing can add to our anxieties, fears and limiting beliefs. In addition, higher levels of cortisol (stress) can impact our cognitive functioning and lead to brain fog – a feeling of overwhelm and not been able to focus clearly or take any more in.”
Indeed, research shows that the human brain has evolved to react much more strongly to negative experiences than positive ones. “It’s part of our primal instinct to keep us safe from risk and danger – but this negative bias can sometimes get in the way and over take our thinking, especially during times like this,” explains Ruth. “It is important to be aware of this fact and how our brain works, so that we can consciously take time out for our brain health – time to reflect, time to process our emotions and feelings and then time to focus on our reality and go back to small steps we can take for our mood, mental health and wellbeing that is within our control.”
Some people may have actually developed social anxiety or it may have exacerbated the condition for those who already suffered with it. “Pre-pandemic, many had put coping mechanisms in place and often day-to-day living and what is called ‘exposure therapy’ would help alleviate some worries and fears. However, during lockdown, those who suffer social anxiety are not gathering experiences that disprove these worries and fears. We’ve also had time to dwell and over worry about the future, meaning that the socialising, reconnecting and getting back into the world is overwhelming and feels harder than ever before.”
It is important that we listen to our bodies; if you are feeling exhausted after socialising it’s often a sign you’re doing too much. Beyond these much-missed interactions there’s also commuting, hustle and bustle, loud noises and being around groups of people that we haven’t been experiencing as regularly in the past year. We can get mentally, emotionally and physically unwell if we don’t give ourselves enough time to recharge after socialising, so taking this time will also mean you’ll be able to do more of it and enjoy it more in future. It’s about listening to what you need before over committing yourself.
Here are some expert-backed tips for managing your social hangovers from Ruth Kudzi…
Start step by step
You don’t have to see everybody straight away so don’t feel bad about slowly reintroducing socialising to help boost your ‘social energy’.
Press pause and recharge your energy
Taking more breaks is crucial during times of crisis and heightened stress. Take time out for your brain health – time to reflect, time to process emotions and feelings. Ensure that you still have dedicated time for you – this, for many, was a silver lining that lockdown brought yet, when things get busy again, this is often the time we see as flexible and last on the list. Make it a priority by scheduling this into your diary or think about where you will need more time or recovering days after socialising events.
Remember, you are in control
If there are certain people, group chats or calls that make you angry, upset, frustrated or overwhelmed, you can mute them or hide them for a while, you don’t need to rush back to arranging to meet these people face to face until you are ready. It may be that you want to even evaluate that relationship/friendship, or it may be that you want to introduce coping mechanisms like meeting them in group setting with others so you don’t feel like they have zapped your energy one to one.
The thought of returning to the noise and hecticness of our previous lifestyle may bring with it a real sensory overload so think about where you’re meeting up – if your garden feels more do-able for now start there, or a local quiet walk rather than the hustle and bustle. Also, you could use fragrances and essential oils (maybe even on your mask) that are calming such as lavender.
Create some new norms for you
Just because we are coming out of lockdown doesn’t mean that the positives of what you have enjoyed, learnt or experienced in lockdown need to end. So, if you’ve introduced more quiet time, me time, you’ve been in charge of your own diary/schedule, meditation, lunchtime walks, baking sessions, book reading, hobbies, you can establish a new routine or norm for yourself incorporating these.