The rapid spread of the coronavirus has forced us to change our lives in many ways, but one of the most significant alterations has been how we approach human interactions. Physical distancing mandates have required us to limit contact with one another and almost all of our socialization has moved to a virtual landscape.
For people whose jobs have not been affected by the staggering rise in unemployment, this has likely meant having to adjust to a new remote work environment and an increase in video conferencing and virtual meetings. As for the rest of our social interactions, we’ve come to rely on video chats, texting, phone calls, and social media to keep us connected.
While some people might still be in search of that supplemental social time, others are beginning to feel burnout with overcommitted virtual social calendars. Here’s how you can tell when you’re reaching your limit with quarantine socializing and advice from Jefferson Center clinician Amy Miller on how you can establish boundaries around your time to support your mental wellbeing.
Adjusting to Our New Virtual Lives
There’s no doubt that modern technology has made our transition to this new pandemic lifestyle vastly different than it would have been if the same event had occurred ten or twenty years ago. Entire industries have moved to online operations in a matter of weeks, students are able to learn in remote classroom environments, and we’re able to have (almost) face-to-face conversations with our loved ones on a daily basis. While it’s important to acknowledge and be grateful for these capabilities, access to technology doesn’t negate the serious anxiety caused by our fears of getting sick and the stress of having to make drastic alterations to the way we live our lives.
Even before the pandemic, screentime use was on the rise, but now we are at an all-time high of connectivity. In fact, Americans are spending an average of two to three more hours each day on work, and in our empty-feeling free time, we’re booking every available time slot for a virtual happy hour, coffee date, or board game night. In many ways, this ‘busyness’ is what keeps us from feeling lost, disconnected, or helpless during a time of such a significant lack of control, but the reality is that all of this time spent being ‘on’ is tiring.
Increased Social Pressure and Constant Connectivity
When fears over the spread of the virus were mounting and nonessential operations were forced to halt, many people felt a sense of disappointment and apprehension at the idea of not being able to see their loved ones for the foreseeable future. For some, the result was shifting prior plans to virtual meetups and taking on new commitments as a way of keeping up with everyone all the time.
Perhaps you only spoke to your grandparents once or twice a month prior to the pandemic or your only plan to celebrate your nephew’s graduation was to send a congratulatory card. Now, you speak with all of your grandparents on a rotating weekly schedule and you’ll be attending an hourlong virtual graduation ceremony and hopping online for the virtual after party along with a slew of other social hours.
There’s a collective pressure to be there for every person in your life because everyone is stuck at home, going through the same isolating experience. However, Miller says it’s important to acknowledge your own needs and treat yourself with compassion the same way you would treat a friend who was reaching a point of exhaustion. It might feel like you can’t say no to an invitation because people know you don’t have anywhere else to be and because you don’t want to cut someone else off from their social support network. Mix all of this together with work demands, homeschooling and 24/7 parenting, health fears, and the possibility of caring for sick loved ones and you’ve got a recipe for burnout.
Why is Virtual Socializing So Exhausting?
You might be wondering why you feel so much more tired after a day of working from home as opposed to working in the office. After all, this might have been your dream working set up in the past. So why do you feel so exhausted after completing the exact same tasks from the comfort of your couch and why are you suddenly dreading jumping on that Zoom happy hour call with all of your best friends?
The answer is complicated. First, over the past month, we’ve come to rely on Zoom, Facetime, Skype, and other videoconferencing applications for almost everything. From work to family events and online classrooms to doctor’s appointments, we’re looking through a screen for almost all of our interactions. A lot of transitional context is lost as we stay in the same spot for days on end and we lose a lot of the ‘resetting’ effect that happens when we move from one environment to the next.
Second, there’s the fact that although we have adapted to rely on technology for most aspects of our lives, we are not biologically designed for exclusively remote encounters. Audio lag, freezing videos, and dropped connections make for an erratic, disconnected experience but there’s also the element that we’re constantly watching ourselves interact with others.
In a normal social setting, we’d be able to make eye contact, look away, and observe other elements of our surroundings, but in the virtual landscape we’re never really making eye contact with the people we’re speaking to and it feels like our attention can never be directed away from the screen. Videoconferencing is a type of extended performance that feels like it has no end.
On top of all of this is the fact that video chats are a constant reminder that our lives are currently not normal. As much as we try to maintain our routines, there’s the underlying fact that so much has changed and many things are out of our control.
Signs of Burnout
Although burnout is often associated with the working world, reaching a limit can happen with any environment or activity. This applies to virtual socializing. Some common signs that you’re reaching the burnout stage include:
- Increased cynicism
- Emotional distancing
- Physical ailments like headaches and stomachaches
- Lack of energy
- Reduced performance or involvement
- Lack of creativity
The threat that burnout presents isn’t just feeling tired or spread too thin, but not wanting to partake in an activity altogether. In the professional sphere, this might mean a huge dip in productivity, but when it comes to virtual socializing, burnout can mean lasting mental impacts and damaged relationships. Miller also says to look out for signs of acute stress such as exhaustion, poor sleeping patterns, changes in eating habits, increased irritability, and physical pains such as headaches or stomach aches which can be warning signs that you’re spreading yourself too thin.
When to Cut Back on Virtual Meetups
There are some videoconference sessions that you won’t be able to avoid. For example, most people who have transitioned to a work-from-home space are expected to participate in virtual team meetings or presentations. However, you still have plenty of options for regaining control over the amount of virtual socializing you take on. Give yourself a break on video conferences by switching the presentation mode to speaker view as opposed to gallery view so you’re able to focus your attention on one face at a time. Additionally, you can simply turn off your own video for some meetings or choose to make phone calls whenever possible.
After an entire day spent working from your webcam, it’s okay if you don’t want to chat with your friends. Mental health experts say it’s all about finding a balance and acknowledging your individual needs.
For more extroverted people, virtual hangouts might be their best form of self-care and combatting isolation during the pandemic. However, for the introverts, this can feel counterproductive to their mental wellbeing.
Reflecting on your virtual time and identifying how you feel before, during, and after a call can help you determine how much time to spend socializing. If the thought of signing online for another Zoom call feels oppressive or if you feel completely drained after that group chat with your family, it’s okay to decline the next invitation and tell your loved ones that you need some time to recharge.
Benefits of Being Alone
Being alone can often be confused with being lonely, but there’s a significant difference between the two. There are plenty of psychological downsides to social isolation and loneliness, which can lead to increased feelings of depression over time. However, research also shows that time spent alone voluntarily can offer a variety of benefits. Some of the advantages of solitude include:
- Improved concentration and memory
- Boosted creativity
- Increased productivity
- Greater feelings of empathy
- Improved relationships
- Time to prioritize your interests
In this era of constant connectivity, it can be healthy to create alone time for ourselves to mentally and physically recharge from the events of each day. Miller suggests engaging in meditative self-care practices such as yoga, deep breathing, and journaling to reconnect with your body and your mind in between social commitments.
How to Limit Social Time
At the end of the day, the pandemic has affected everyone differently which means that each person’s individual needs will vary. It might be helpful to think of quantity versus quality when it comes to planning your virtual socializing calendar. Miller says that knowing your capacity for engaging in conversations and clearly communicating your limits can help you maintain healthier relationships.
If you’re finding that you need more time to yourself, don’t feel guilty for limiting your social interactions. You can get the solitude you need by unplugging and disconnecting from your devices for an hour or two, blocking off alone time in your schedule each day, or even just going to another room and closing the door. Respect your own boundaries by knowing when to call it quits before you reach the point of burnout and simply explain this to your loved ones. Who knows, they might even be feeling the socializing fatigue too.
Whether you’re an introvert who loves alone time or an extrovert who thrives on making connections, recognizing your virtual socializing limit and taking time to disconnect can benefit your overall wellbeing. To learn more about healthy socialization and maintaining relationships during COVID-19, watch the webinar hosted by Jefferson Center clinician, Amy Miller, or check out our website for the services we offer.
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.