Post-Quarantine Burnout Is Real—Here’s How to Avoid It
Since 1949, May has been Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. It’s a good time to break down stigmas, advocate for proper mental healthcare and, most importantly, take the time to check in with yourself. And this year, that’s true more than ever.
Last year around this time, we were all settling in for a potentially long-haul quarantine. We were right in the sweet spot of bread baking and “I’m going to have so much time for personal projects!” planning. But instead of personal growth and glow-ups, I spent the year taking consistent hits to my mental health. Between a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, civil unrest, isolation, the political landscape, et cetera, ad nauseam, it has been A Time.
But this May, things are looking up. The vaccine is widely available (at least in the U.S.), cities are opening up, and the return of “real life” is right around the corner. And that’s exciting! For some people.
As we get closer and closer to “real life”, I’ve found myself growing apprehensive, and based on the memes I keep finding, I’m not the only one. The truth of the matter is, I like the hidey-hole I’ve created for myself (and my cats) over the last year, and I’m not too eager to leave it to brave the big bad world again.
But contrary to popular belief, it’s not only the feral introverts who are going to have a hard time with the whole returning to normal thing. In fact, I think there may be even more pitfalls for the folks who are chomping at the bit to go back out there.
Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad
In the coming weeks and months, you may feel compelled to make plans with every human being you’ve ever interacted with in your whole life. Fight this compulsion. Take it slow.
As much as we’re loath to admit it, we’re probably not our best selves right now. Our social stamina is simply not what it once was. In 2019 you may have been able to hang out with a different group of people every day of the week, and two on the weekends, but after the year we’ve all had, it’s probably harder than you remember. We’ve all been so used to staying at home with limited contact that going too fast, too quickly can be detrimental to your mental health.
Think of it this way: you don’t break your Dry January by pounding 12 tequila shots in an hour — you take it slow, one drink at a time. The same theory applies here. You might want to get drunk on friendship and social interaction, but you don’t want to end up hungover on friendship or in the hospital with too-many-events poisoning. Okay, the metaphor is getting away from me, but you know what I mean.
So how do you actually do that? Well, my therapist has given me some advice, and since it’s Mental Health Month, I’ll share it with all of you for free.
Preventing Social Burnout
Ease in slowly and don’t plan too much at once.
Instead of planning out your next 12 weeks of activities, try limiting yourself to scheduling a month out. That way you can assess how you feel and not worry about having to cancel something two months down the line because you’re exhausted. It’ll also help free up brain space to actually enjoy your plans, rather than occupying yourself with all the things you have to remember to do in the next however many weeks.
Space out your interactions and give yourself time to recover.
You may be the kind of person who wants to do brunch with Friend A at 11, then go on a hike with Friend B at 1, and then do dinner and drinks with Friends B and C at night, but overloading yourself like that is a recipe for disaster. Give yourself some time to decompress from each event so you can be refreshed for the next one.
Check in with yourself frequently.
I still say you should start slow, but ultimately you know yourself best. If you find that you’re recovering from your interactions quickly and are seeing no negative effects on your mental state, feel free to increase in frequency as you see fit. But! Don’t forget to continue to check in. You may need to dial it back down, and that’s okay.
The most important thing: give yourself time and grace to recover.
Don’t beat yourself up over feeling exhausted by things that should be fun. I get it — my best friend is constantly on my case about dragging me back into the world kicking and screaming, and I want to hang out with her! But the desire to see people and the need for recovery can exist at the same time, and you need to let yourself do both. Don’t get trapped in a guilt spiral where you’re overloading yourself to please others. Put on your own oxygen mask first, and all that.
So what I’m leaving you with is this: be safe, go slow, take your time, be kind to yourself. And just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean the pandemic is over!