I don’t know about you, but for me, 2022 has flown by. As unprepared as we may feel, November means the holiday period will be with us sooner than we know. As tinsel and trees appear, so do invites to work Christmas parties and family gatherings. Social calendars are filled quickly by catch-ups with friends returning to hometowns and trips to festive markets.
Our social batteries are put to the test.
For some of us, the holidays may see a considerable rise in our alcohol intake — and subsequently, the amount of time spent hungover. But, it’s not just a few too many drinks that can leave us waking up feeling foggy — social interactions can leave some of us feeling like this too: enter the ‘social hangover.’
When lockdown was lifted, I noticed patterns in how many of us dealt with social interaction (more on this later), and was fascinated to learn the term ‘social hangover’. When I’m not acting as writer and co-editor for Inspire the Mind, I’m working full-time as a mental health researcher and completing a part-time PhD. So, embracing that very researcher spirit, I decided to roll up my sleeves and investigate.
In this blog, we look to answer questions on what exactly is a social hangover, who may be susceptible, and what it can mean for our mental health if this becomes an ‘introvert burnout’.
So, what is a social hangover?
Many of us over the age of 18 know what an alcohol-induced hangover feels like: a pounding headache and the kind of nausea that makes you feel like you can’t risk leaving the safety of your own bed typically describes it well. Aside from these tell-tale signs, one too many glasses can leave us feeling very tired, struggling to concentrate, and maybe feeling a bit achey. Coincidentally, the last three are also symptoms of a social hangover — where no alcohol is needed, nor can it be blamed.
In short, a social hangover is the label given for a kind of temporary burnout experienced after lots of social interaction.
For some, a party with friends or gathering with lots of new people can be overwhelming, and the overstimulation of interacting with others can have us feeling physically and emotionally drained the next day, and maybe for a couple of days after.
Aside from feeling very tired, struggling to concentrate, and maybe feeling a bit achey, this type of hangover may also leave us feeling a little more irritable than normal, perhaps emotionally overwhelmed, and we might even get a headache!
Sometimes dubbed the introvert hangover, guess who is most susceptible?
If the title didn’t give it away, that did. Introverts may be more akin to struggling after an evening out.
‘Introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ are commonly used terms to describe different personality types. An introvert is typically someone who may be relatively shy and maybe quieter. Most confident in smaller groups, or one-on-one interactions, they differ from their extrovert counterparts who tend to be more outgoing and thrive in social situations.
This terminology is well embedded in our everyday language, but was originally described by a Psychiatrist called Carl Jung, nearly 100 years ago. In the years since, many Psychologists have redefined the terms, and one major consideration is whether we can put people into the two categories or whether it is more of a spectrum. Many of us probably fall somewhere between the two extremes.
There is a common misconception that introverts are not sociable and tend to be more isolated, but this is not the case. Humans are a social species inherently, we just thrive in different types of interaction. So many introverted people do enjoy socialising, they may just need a little time alone after.
And while it may be a more common occurrence for those on the left of the continuum, anyone can feel the ill effects of a social hangover.
But why do we get hungover you might ask?
What it seems is, it is just a way of your body telling you that you could do with some time to reset.
Those who have experienced it will understand that need to recharge. And, it makes sense when we think of the demands that socialising has — we have to listen, respond, observe, learn… it actually takes a lot for our brains to have a conversation, and really works our cognitive capabilities. Not to mention different types of conversation have our brains doing different things to different degrees.
The term seemed to start generating more attention after lockdown — presumably as more of us could relate. We simply weren’t used to the demands of communicating with real faces rather than digital ones. My own interest was sparked after I noticed myself feeling more tired than I used to after an evening of socialising, and many people clearly related. But, even when Corona was just a beer, social hangovers were a very real thing! And while we have been re-exposed to socialisation for some time now, there are still many people who experience this.
If you are one of those people, it is helpful to know the value in taking that alone time to recharge, perhaps spending the day indulging in a bit of self-care and doing your best to relax. These social hangover cures are a personal thing so it may be different for everyone but the long and short of it is, find what works for you.
On a larger scale, we can experience ‘introvert burnout.’
What I learnt in my deep dive into the topic is that the temporary, shorter-term experience is dubbed a hangover, but there can be implications when the symptoms last a little longer than a couple of days — there is a risk of experiencing an ‘introvert burnout.’
Most of us think of burnout as a work-related phenomenon — the point of complete mental and physical exhaustion that may be met after working tirelessly without a resting period. Well, an introvert burnout isn’t too far from that. If you are the type of person who feels tired after socialising and needs their reset time, socialising for continuous periods without that much-needed break can lead to a point of exhaustion.
A type of stress, introvert burnout can cause symptoms such difficulty sleeping, experiences of anxiety and low mood, and loss of motivation. Like burnout, this isn’t a recognised diagnosis, but a very valid and common experience with profound implications for our mental health.
So, as we inevitably get busier over the holidays, be kind to yourself — much like drinking alcohol, it’s important to know your limits and embrace them. Whether introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, adapt to what works for you and don’t shy away from giving yourself the time you need.