Reasons People May Feel Drained While Socializing

This article was originally planned to be a part of the piece When You Easily Get Drained And Tired In Social Situations. That one gives advice on dealing with the common problem of quickly getting depleted when you're socializing. I wanted to include a section on reasons people may come to feel like that, but it was getting too long, so I put it here instead.

I think when people get that "I'm tired. I can't concentrate anymore. That's enough for today." feeling, it may be caused by a number of factors, even though the mental sensation may be more or less the same across different cases. Between two people, or within a single person at different times, the feeling may not always have the same factors that contribute to it.

Inborn personality

This is likely the number one explanation. Some people may just not be wired to be as social as others. Of course, that isn't inherently better or worse than any other type of orientation. One person may have no problem spending days at a stretch surrounded by hoards of casual buddies. Someone else may only be drawn to have three hour stints with their close friends, with lots of quiet time in between.

When it comes to this topic there are lots of explanations about why one individual may have a different inborn social 'setting' than another. Maybe it is that simple and we do all have an innate level of socializing that we prefer. Other theories are a little more indirect and say it's not about socializing per se, but how sensitive we are to novelty and stimulation, or whether we get our energy from the outside world of people, or from spending time alone with our own thoughts and interests.

Each person will have their own opinion on whether they think this trait can be altered or not.

General level of social skill and experience

Everything is more mentally draining when you're not used to it. If you've been performing a skill for years it doesn't take a lot of energy and you can often carry it out without even having to think about it. When you're newer to something it requires a ton more concentration. You can almost feel it actively straining your mind. I'm sure you can remember a time when you were first learning to drive or play an instrument or something. After an hour or two of practicing you were like, "I've had enough for today. My brain is full." But if you stuck with it you could eventually get to the point where you ran on autopilot.

Socializing can be the same way. Not always, but often enough people who say they get drained in social situations aren't as experienced with them. This point can refer to socializing in general, but also to certain sub-types of it. For example, someone may have no problem hanging out with their spouse or chatting to their classmates, but get fatigued really quickly at a hectic party or during a chaotic group conversation. They're not as used to the latter, and it easily saps their energy.

This factor obviously works in tandem with the inborn personality one above. The unanswerable question is how much does each contribute? Some people would say the personality issue has the most influence, and some of us are built to get drained around others no matter how much practice at socializing they get. An opposite perspective is that with enough practice we could all come to socialize effortlessly, and that people who think they're born with a tendency to get drained just haven't put enough hours in.

Asperger's Syndrome / being on the autism spectrum

Asperger's Syndrome / being on the autism spectrum is an inborn developmental difference. For people with it, interacting with others just doesn't come as naturally to them and taxes more of their mental resources. Someone with Asperger's may have to consciously decode information, such as tone of voice, that a typical person may process instantly and automatically. It's easy to see how they'd run out of gas quickly.

Sensory processing differences

Some people's senses are wired in a way that they're more or less-sensitive to certain stimuli. For example, they may find certain types of lights or sounds, which most people wouldn't notice, to be painfully distracting. It takes more out of them to socialize in a setting where their senses are also being overwhelmed, such as a loud, crowded pub.

Anxiety in social situations

Being nervous is physically and mentally draining just by itself. People also often try to 'fight' it and force themselves to be in situations where their anxiety appears, which is also very tiring. If someone is anxious under certain social conditions, or around people in general, they won't be able to last as long before they start feeling depleted and like they want to leave. Where this can be insidious is when someone isn't totally conscious of their anxiety and are mislabeling that vague "I'm exhausted, I want to go now" feeling as something else. They may be telling themselves they just get drained by socializing, but deep down they're getting uncomfortable around people and wanting to bail out.

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The amount of time spent with other people over the semi-long term

When I say 'semi-long term' I mean over a period of several months. I'm not referring to, say, whether a bunch of your relatives stayed over at your house during the last two weeks. I find that how quickly people get drained in social situations, and also how much alone time they need, is related to the baseline level of social contact going on in their lives. Someone at a period in their lives where they live by themselves, have a lot of solitary hobbies, or have a job where they don't have to speak to people very often will develop a baseline that's set pretty low. They're temporarily not as used to socializing and it won't take as much of it to tip them over the edge. Skills-wise they're also likely to be a bit out of practice.

If that same person was living with their partner or roommates, and had a people-oriented job, their social baseline may be higher. They may find they don't crave quite as much alone time, and they get bored and antsy more quickly when they're not around people. This isn't to say they'll want no private time at all. However, even when they feel like they just have to escape everyone for a while, they may only take two hours for themselves before they pop out of their room to see what everyone else is up to. Previously they may have happily spent a whole weekend without talking to another soul.

How much they enjoy the activities they're doing

Fun activities energize us. Things we don't like doing, or that we're indifferent to, leave us feeling bored and like we'd rather be somewhere else. Sometimes people will feel they get drained by socializing, but it's more that without realizing it they've hit a streak of always doing things that they're not that into. If they started taking part in activities that were more to their taste they may suddenly find that being with people isn't as tiring as they once thought it was.

An example would be hanging out with people who want to sit around and watch TV when you'd rather be out doing something more active. Sometimes the activity in question is a type of socializing itself. What if someone just doesn't like the 'activity' of being loud and crude with your friends and poking fun at each other?

How much they like the people they're with

Do you feel tired because that's just what socializing does to you, or is it because the people you're with are kind of dull company that you don't have a lot to say to? Maybe most of someone's recent experience of socializing comes from making forced chit-chat with their co-workers who they have little in common with. I know if I was with people like that it wouldn't be long before I had thoughts of being weary and wanting to be somewhere else. Like the previous point, I think sometimes people are surprised at how energizing it can be when they hit on the right group of friends to spend time with.

How stressed, busy, and preoccupied with other problems they are in general

When we've got other stuff going on in our lives it takes away some of the energy that we can devote to being social. In some cases someone may feel that socializing is draining them, but they've really just got too much on their plate. Of course, sometimes when we're stressed socializing is what makes us feel better. Not always though.

General tiredness

I talk about this in the other article. If it's 2:00am and you're out with your friends and you find yourself feeling unenthusiastic and checked out of the conversation, the fact that you want to sleep, you've had a few drinks, and nothing to eat since 10 o'clock is playing a part in that. Our minds like to attach thoughts to the physical feelings we have after the fact. If our stomach is upset we might interpret that to mean we're nervous, then we'll start having anxious thoughts. If we're sleepy for totally natural reasons, we may tell ourselves it's because we're bored and drained by being around people.

Having to communicate in a second language

Anyone who's tried to have a conversation in a language they haven't mastered yet will tell you how mentally draining it is. Not only that, but if you're speaking in another language there's a chance you're also having to process and respond to the differences of being in a whole other culture. This extra mental cost may only affect someone short term while they're a tourist, but can also put a tax on the energy of an immigrant over a longer period.

So those are my thoughts on why people may feel drained around others. Again, for some practical advice on dealing with the issue, you can go here:

When You Easily Get Drained And Tired In Social Situations