4 tips to overcome post-lockdown social burnout

Because the temptation to overload our diaries is real.

Have you noticed that you're completely exhausted after a fairly standard social outing - lunch with a friend, for example?

You're not alone. Many of us have been left feeling utterly depleted since we've been able to socialise in person again. But why?

According to clinical psychologist Dr Julie Smith, this is expected after a long period of lockdown.

Speaking to BBC's Newsbeat, she says: "What you do every day becomes your comfort zone. So when you do something that is new and different, your brain is set up to give you a little spike in stress.

"It's your brain's way of saying 'we haven't done this in a while, stay alert and be careful'. That's just your survival response."

Here are a few tips to keep yourself mentally healthy and avoid post-lockdown social hangovers:

1. Pace yourself

Or, in other words, don't say yes to everything. After over a year of socialising predominantly via screens, it's tempting to pack your calendar with brunches, garden gatherings and evenings out. However, spending every waking moment with other people can lead to social burnout.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, leading to sufferers feeling overwhelmed, drained (physically and emotionally) and unable to meet constant demands.

"When it comes to socialising, this can be the result of trying to do too much at once and not listening to how you’re feeling," says cognitive behavioural therapist Claire Luchford. "The result will be a shift in starting to feel overwhelmed, tired and seeing socialising as stressful rather than enjoyable."

2. Lean on small talk

You've been waiting for months to have a conversation in person and now you've finally got the opportunity, you can't think of a single thing to say! Sound familiar? Living under heavy restrictions has left us with less to share, which means things may feel awkward at first.

Don't put pressure on yourself to be full of funny anecdotes and exciting things to tell - we're all in the same boat, after all. If you're struggling, stick to topics everyone can relate to, like working from home, or whether anyone has a holiday planned.

If you have social anxiety, it's even more important to cut yourself some slack. Re-entering society after a temporary respite from social situations may feel particularly difficult, so go easy on yourself and exercise self-compassion.

3. Take your time

Pictures and posts on social media can make it feel like if you're not brunching or partying, you're missing out. Needless to say, this isn't true - what's important is that you're doing what makes you happy and comfortable, whether that's meeting a close friend for coffee or enjoying some 'me' time.

The thought of going back to our pre-COVID lives where we're surrounded by people all the time - at the gym, on the train, at the office, in restaurants - can be overwhelming, and it's crucial to give yourself the time and space to readjust.

"We’ve had a year of being told that socialising is actually dangerous – it’s no surprise people will not only be feeling wary about being able to pick up where they left off with friends, but about being in social situations at all," Luchford says.

4. Shake off comparisons

Try not to succumb to social comparisons about how you've spent the past year. Many of us went into lockdown thinking we'd learn a new language or write a book - and while some people may have seen their goals through, others focused purely on coping, which is an achievement in itself.

The expectation that we should have been filling our time with new hobbies and achievements isn't healthy or realistic. Feeling anxious and stressed isn't exactly conducive to creativity, and not everyone had more time on their hands - homeschooling parents and key workers, for example.

The upshot? Don't put too much pressure on yourself to live up to the lockdown ideal. Take comfort in the fact that in your social circle, there will probably be more people who didn't tick anything off their list than those who did!