Is Social Fatigue Really a Thing?

Feb 4, 2019 · 6 min read

Social fatigue, social exhaustion, introvert burnout, introvert hangover, all terms to describe the same thing.

It was two days after Christmas and the son and daughter in-law were visiting.

We were housesitting in an exotic location in southern Queensland in Australia. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Here we all were sitting outside on a rural property on Tamborine Mountain with the temperature in the late twenties.

The only sounds were the odd kookoo of a Kookaburra or two, the loud chatter of the Alexandrine Parrot, Mr Knuckles, and the chirping of the free-ranging chickens in the garden.

We had enjoyed a lovely lunch at a winery on the mountain and it was now time for bubbles and nibbles to cheer Christmas and welcome in the New Year before we all separated again and went off on our travels.

We were eager to catch up on the news from their road-trip from Melbourne and their Christmas with her parents.

The son was clearly not in a good space for whatever reason. A bear with a sore head would be an apt description. Feeling a little concerned and slightly annoyed I asked the daughter-in-law what was up with her partner.

He’s suffering from social fatigue she told me. Social fatigue! What the hell was that? I had to Google it later when I was alone.

This is what I learned…

Social Fatigue occurs when a person is overwhelmed by being put into far too many social situations for their comfort, often resulting in boredom or annoyance at those around them.

Social Fatigue can result from over-use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter or various online forums where opposing opinions can wear out a person’s tolerance.

At some point a sufferer of Social Fatigue just wants to be left alone, because they have reached the conclusion that most people are just plain stupid.

Wiki went on to say…

Social Fatigue describes a feeling of being emotionally overextended and exhausted by one’s work. It is manifested by both physical fatigue and a sense of feeling psychologically and emotionally “drained”.

This was a real eye opener for me. Over the years this son has become often grumpy and self-absorbed in our company and it perplexed me. He was always a very out going, confident and happy child.

He’d spent 15 years of his life from teens to early thirties as a musician and DJ. A gregarious extrovert and a minor celebrity in our home town. Walking the streets with him was like walking the red carpet at the oscars. He was well-known and popular and, I thought very comfortable in his own skin.

As he’s matured and had a career and lifestyle change his personality has mellowed. He’s become quieter and introspective. As he is less the center of attention he appears to enjoy his own company more and more.

A week in the company of his in-laws and much Christmas cheer had clearly exhausted him. So, it appeared there was nothing left for us. He just wanted to retreat into himself. He was tired and this manifested in grumpiness and disengagement.

His behavior and this new label “social fatigue” played on my mind. Consequently I came to recognize myself in all of this somewhere.

I’m quite a self-contained soul and don’t really ‘need’ people around me. I’m not a chatterer and only speak if I have something to say. I can’t abide gossip or “soap-boxing”. And, although I do love company and socialising, I have a limit.

As soon as that limit is reached I feel myself withdrawing.

Inane conversation bores me and I shut down and look for ways to escape!

Recently I read an interesting article called “The Quirks of Introvert Travel” and was shocked to recognize myself in there somewhere. Considering I now travel full time as my living this was some important and enlightening information.

So much of it resonated with me. I love to travel and connect with local people in chosen destinations but I also value my privacy.

No BnB’s or Home-stays for me. I value the anonymity and privacy of a hotel room. I don’t want to get up in the morning and have to have polite conversation with strangers over breakfast.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any issues chatting to strangers and making a connection but it has to be on my terms.

Traveling with friends can also present challenges for the travel introvert. However, I’ve been fortunate in that regard.

I’ve traveled with friends on a number of occasions and the experience has been both enjoyable and rewarding. We’ve all been mature enough to respect each other’s space.

Am I an introvert? I think maybe I am. Some days I just don’t feel like facing the world and would like nothing better than to stay in a darkened room and read a book for the day. The thought of facing people and conversation, exhausts me.

Other times I anticipate social situations with excitement. And relish the opportunity to engage with loved friends and enjoy a drink and a chat. However, making it past 10.00pm, still feeling buzzed and excited to be there is a different story.

So, what are some of the classic signs of this condition of social introvert that I see in myself…

  • I suddenly feel really, really, incredibly tired. Not just a slight weariness, but that dog tiredness that only sneaking off to a quiet spot for a little nap will cure.
  • My mind starts to wander when the exhaustion is starting to set in and I can no longer concentrate on the conversations around me. I quite literally zone out. All I can think about is escaping home to my bed.
  • I find the people and the inane conversations around me irritating. That drunk friend who seemed funny a moment ago is now pissing me off to the point I want to yell “For Gods sake, grow up”!
  • It’s easy to get into a fight with my partner who’s the opposite of a social introvert. He’s enjoying himself immensely, chatting, laughing, drinking and it’s only 10pm. I want to go home. A recipe for a fight!
  • “Are you OK”? Someone asks. When I’ve slid so far down that slippery slope of fatigue that others notice. I’m not my usual cheerful self.
  • You see, it’s just that I can’t do inane small talk anymore. Much preferring conversations of substance after a couple of hours of chitchat I’m all tapped out.
  • And finally, an intense desire to be alone overwhelms me. I need to go!

What are my coping mechanisms as a social introvert…

  • Spending time alone, each and every day. The effects of this isolation are cumulative, recharging the batteries and keeping them at optimal level.
  • Practicing a little mindfulness or meditation. I have a great free app called Insight Timer and follow Andrew Johnson’s, whose dulcet Scottish tones are a panacea for my exhaustion.
  • If an invitation to a social event just doesn’t thrill me or I’m just not in the right headspace then I’ll. refuse. Life’s too short to waste precious time doing things that don’t make me happy.
  • I always have a “get out’ strategy! When the fatigue is setting in after having socialized for a few hours, I have an out up my sleeve to escape and head home to bed.
  • Be yourself. Don’t ever feel pressured into relationships of situations. If it doesn’t feel good right from the start then it’s probably not the right fit for you. Trying to be someone you’re not or mold yourself to fit someone else’s expectations is debilitating.

If any of this resonates with you then some of these tips on coping with your social fatigue could be helpful. I recognize that I already engage in many of these practices.

Writing this article has been an eye opener for me and I will be less judgmental next time I am in the company of a grumpy son.


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Developing a digital Safetravels Network to connect “The Responsible Traveller” with tourism opetarators and organisations globally.

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