Balancing a healthy social life is a box we all want checked in our common quest for fulfilment. It’s no wonder that the show F.R.I.E.N.D.S carved a comfort zone in our hearts. Having a warm circle of friends who grow with you seems like a simple reality of life that we all deserve.
Apart from the fact that we are evolutionarily driven to seek lasting bonds with others, there are several documented benefits of having an inner circle, spending time with trusted people, and building relationships you can count on. Research shows that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression, have better functioning immune systems, and may even live longer lives.
But not all of us are the type to find friends wherever we go and might need to put the extra groundwork in to build and sustain a balanced social life (looking at you, introverts). And tbh–the process can get exhausting. You could be suffering from a chronic illness, battling with your mental health, and sensibly wanting time to yourself as a way to cope. Maybe you have moved to a new place and left behind the intimate friendships you could take for granted. In these situations, choosing to turn up for a social hangout on a Friday night with a broad smile on your face can be daunting, especially when you’re not doing so A-okay.
Getting in touch with your social battery
Studies show that indoor living during the pandemic has altered our capacity to socialise. It’s not just you. We all have a swinging pendulum that rolls between the desire for social connection, and the need for alone time. Psychologists use the term “social battery” to describe this feeling. It is defined as the amount of energy a person has for socialising. People with a full social battery have plenty of energy for social interactions, whereas those with a low social battery may often feel that it needs “recharging.”
Understanding how your social battery works–how much downtime you may need–can work in anticipation of scheduling social plans, and put the guilt trip at bay. Here are a few ways that can help:
- Tracking your social battery. Just as mood trackers or period trackers can be helpful tools, keeping a track of your social capacity can help you schedule for heavy weeks in advance.
- Learn to say no. Peer pressure can be a constant tug in managing our social schedule. Once you know more about how you function, learn to say no when you need downtime, or if you simply would prefer not to go. Opportunities will always come. Unhurry the process!
- Schedule your downtime. Make sure to fit in some me-time. Take it as seriously as planning a date with a partner or friend, and put it on your calendar.
- Recharge your energy levels. Engage in activities that tend to re-energise you. It could be watching a show, doing a cardio workout, or clocking in more sleep. Try getting your creative energy flowing for a rewarding feeling without the pressure of being productive.
- Take a tech break. Unplug to unwind. Exposure to screens may be a source of your energy drain. Try leaving your devices aside to get better control of your focus.
How to cancel plans?
There are moments when the option of cancelling a pre-made plan is tempting. Oftentimes we convince ourselves to show up at the risk of being called flaky or a ditcher. There is an unsaid social ethic of shame around preferring to be in your cocoon. Fortunately, from a psychological view, the ethics of socialisation has been evolving. It might even be that the friend you cancel with might need some alone time themselves, but didn’t feel comfortable enough to say it. Here are a few things to remember when you find yourself in this odd position.
- Try to be honest with others about why you can’t make it. The best way to cancel if you’re just not up for it is to say so. It can feel like an odd predicament, but being honest allows your friends to accept you better, and also be open about how they honestly feel. #NoShame.
- Visualise how you would feel after the social event. This can help you decide on going or not. If you think you might feel equally drained after the event, then it might be best to skip it. Sometimes pushing yourself to go might also end up being a really fun time. Learn to tune in to your true feelings, and follow them.
- Ask for what you need. Learn to take control of your social battery. If you are someone who finds it hard to make plans, you might also share the anxiety of turning up for a spontaneous hang-out. Although it might be hard to do, nudge yourself to make spontaneous plans yourself. There might be a dull moment when you could call a friend over, or share a walk with you. Taking control of social plans is a way to boost your energy, and give yourself a pat on the back for taking control.
Most of all, remember to be kind to yourself if you find yourself struggling to do any of the above. We’re each built in our ways, and cycles of friendships, social bonds and even loneliness have their place and will come and go.