Protecting Your Social Energy in a Demanding World
Whether or not we like it, we live in a world made for extroverts. Life demands so much of our social energy, and while extroverts feel energized in the company of others, introverts like me feel drained when they spend too much time around other people. Neurodiverse people and those with mental illnesses might feel even more drained in social situations than neurotypical individuals. If we don't recognize when we're socially overwhelmed and do something about it, we can end up coping with it in other less healthy ways.
Neurodiversity and Mental Illness Take Away Social Energy
I am a highly sensitive person, or a person with sensory processing sensitivity, which I talked about in a previous article you can read at "Keeping Emotional Boundaries as a Highly Sensitive Person." Social interaction is particularly draining for people with sensory processing sensitivity because the demand on our nervous systems is so high. Even though I am an introvert, I like being social, I make friends easily, and I truly enjoy connecting with people and getting to know them, but I require quiet time to recharge in order to be mentally and emotionally healthy.
After long days, especially overwhelming ones, I find myself having moments when I just want quiet and can't handle another person speaking to me. I'm sure people with other types of neurodivergence like sensory processing disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or autism spectrum disorders can relate to this as well. Those with social anxiety might funnel all of their energy for the entire day into preparing for, coping with, and recovering from one social encounter. Any mental illness can make social situations a little more stressful or challenging, meaning they require more of our energetic resources.
The thing is that society isn't set up for people like us. We live in an extrovert's world where people expect a certain amount of friendliness, openness, and social grace from us. What ends up happening is we start to borrow social energy from tomorrow to cope with today, and this leads to some unhealthy relationship habits.
Spend Too Much Social Energy, Go into Energetic Debt
I think of my social resources as a certain amount of currency I have to spend per day. If I have a quiet day alone, I have plenty to spare. Other days, I run out quickly. Days when I have to meet new people, be self-disciplined in a formal or business setting, interact with someone who is unpleasant, or spend time in crowded places, I end up spending more energy than I have in the bank. It's like buying on credit when I can't pay the bill. If I have too many days of this without enough quiet time to build back the reserve, I get into serious energetic debt.
Energetic debt for me looks like being irritabil, coping poorly with minor inconveniences, having difficulty making decisions, or experiencing extra anxiety and stress over everyday life. I am at least aware that these behaviors are the result of energetic debt, even if I am unable to take the time to fix it. Other people who may not be aware of what's happening might have even bigger problems functioning with this debt. They might take their stress out on loved ones, turn to unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol or stress eating, or neglect responsibilities.
Budget Your Social Energy and Spend It Intentionally
I find that becoming aware of how much social energy you have to spend and identifying the more expensive situations in life can help me budget my days to avoid going into debt. If I know I have a socially demanding activity ahead, I try to plan quiet time to build my energy back up and avoid overscheduling the day. If I can't avoid overscheduling, I try to be intentional with whatever downtime I have. Sometimes, even just a few minutes alone in the bathroom or a short walk outside alone can help. I take those moments wherever I can.
Can you relate? What do you do to protect your social energy?
Sabatello, J. (2021, August 16). Protecting Your Social Energy in a Demanding World, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, September 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2021/8/protecting-your-social-energy-in-a-demanding-world
Author: Juliana Sabatello
Recognizing first and foremost that we truly do live in a world designed for extroverts can be such a helpful first step. If you are not someone who identifies as an extrovert, or even if you are, our society has become so used to having things as fast and convenient as possible and always connected that our social lives have also been tinged with these behaviors. Wonderful read, protecting our energy and upholding personal boundaries is something we should all consciously practice.