Does Socializing Leave You Exhausted? Or Exhilarated?

Individual Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

Getting out and enjoying an evening with friends is one of life’s delights. And that’s true whether you’re young and single or a little older and happily involved in a long-term romantic relationship. Savoring dinner in your favorite restaurant with family or friends and catching up on everything in each other’s lives leaves you with a satisfaction unlike any other. Mounds of research back up this simple observation. Friendships increase happiness and, indeed, your health and even the longevity of your life.

Why, then, do we sometimes find it so hard to make time to socialize with old friends? The question may be straightforward, but the answer is anything but. Writing for Medical News Today, Zawn Villines describes the concept of a “social battery.” Basically, it’s the idea that we need energy to socialize. When our battery is charged, we’re inclined and eager to make plans and then actually carry through with them. The twist is that people recharge their battery in different ways. “Some people, such as extroverts,” Villines says, “get their energy from social interactions. Therefore, when they feel low in energy, they may choose to spend time with others… In contrast, introverts expend energy during social interactions. They may need to recharge by spending time alone.”

There are various factors that drain your battery, each more or less so depending on your personality type. Villines cites several.

The people a person socializes with. Stands to reason that hanging out with a friend from childhood is a quite different experience than happy hour with colleagues from work. Both qualify as socializing but the stress level — hence, energy drain — is quite different.

The type of interactions. If what you thought would be a nice get together with friends turns into a tense political discussion, count it as an energy downer. On the other hand, if a family birthday party that you thought might be a mundane affair that you attend out of duty turns into sentimental and touching reminiscing, you might actually come away energized.

The size of the group. You never know about group dynamics. The more people, the greater the chance for things to go south.

Duration. Dinner with friends or family typically provides a fair amount of time to catch up on news and maybe have a couple nice in-depth discussions. When plans are for a long weekend getaway (or even a week-long vacation), chances are you might come away ready for some alone time.

Power imbalances. Villines touches on many of the problems that may pop up if your social group comes from mixed backgrounds. “Racism, sexism, ableism, and imbalances of power affect social interactions,” she says. “A person belonging to a historically marginalized group may feel more drained when interacting with a person who does not understand their experience.”

Stress. Sometimes social events are more complicated than simply dining out with friends. Anyone who has been a best man or maid of honor and expected to make a toast in front of a large crowd knows that the wedding reception is a social event but it can also be highly stressful — and absolutely exhausting.

While the description of energy levels as a social battery is a useful metaphor that applies to extroverts and introverts, it doesn’t apply to another condition: social anxiety. “Social anxiety and introversion are distinct concepts,” writes Villines. “Whereas people with social anxiety feel tense or worried in social situations, people who are introverts can feel comfortable until their battery starts to run low. They may feel at ease around others but have less capacity to spend extended periods with them.”

That’s an important distinction. Research indicates the population is nearly evenly split between people who tend toward being either an extrovert or introvert, with slightly more people leaning toward extroversion. But as with virtually any personality trait, there’s a bell curve, with a small number of people at either extreme end of the curve. So to people leaning toward introversion — remember that’s it’s okay to be who you are and participate in social situations as much or as little as you care to and as much as your “battery” allows.