By Patty Laushman
If you're autistic, chances are you've experienced what is known as "social fatigue." This is a feeling of being drained from social interactions in person. It can be hard to explain and even harder to deal with.
But don't worry—in this blog post, I will help you understand exactly what social fatigue is and how to manage it.
What is Social Fatigue?
Social fatigue is when an individual experiences a decrease in their willingness or ability to interact with others due to the challenges and effort required to navigate social situations.
It's not just a feeling of being tired after interacting with other people; it can be something much deeper and more complex that affects an individual's ability to engage in social activities.
Essentially, social fatigue occurs when someone's energy levels are significantly reduced after engaging in social activities. This can include talking, making eye contact, or even being around other people.
It's important to note that this type of fatigue isn't the same as mental exhaustion—it's an actual physical feeling of tiredness and low energy levels. For many autistic people, this feeling can be quite intense and can last for hours or even days after the interaction has ended.
Why is Social Fatigue More Common in Autistic People?
Social fatigue is a common issue among autistic people, but why? Why is it that autistic individuals tend to experience social fatigue more often than non-autistic people? Let’s explore this topic to better understand how and why autistic people experience social fatigue.
There are several factors that can contribute to this phenomenon. First, many autistic people have difficulty reading facial expressions and body language, which can make it difficult for them to interpret the intentions behind certain interactions. They are probably working a lot harder to participate than the neurotypical people around them.
In addition, they may find themselves overwhelmed by the sensory input of large crowds or loud noises, which can make it difficult for them to process what is happening around them. This combination of issues makes it difficult for many autistic individuals to navigate social situations, which leads to exhaustion and ultimately results in social fatigue.
Another factor that contributes to this phenomenon is the fact that many autistic people tend to be highly sensitive individuals who take on the emotions and feelings of those around them. This means that if someone else in a group setting is feeling stressed or anxious, an autistic person may take on those same emotions as well and become overwhelmed by them. This feeling can be amplified if there are multiple anxious or emotional people in a group setting, which can cause even greater stress for the individual with autism.
As a result, they may find themselves wanting or needing time away from such situations in order to recharge their energy levels and regain focus.
Signs of Social Fatigue
The most common symptom of social fatigue is a feeling of exhaustion that begins shortly after engaging in a social activity.
Other signs may include headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and decreased motivation or interest in activities that used to bring joy. In extreme cases, it can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety.
Ultimately, these feelings will differ among individuals as well as with various social interactions - not all activities will be equally draining. Being able to identify your personal signs of social fatigue is your first step toward working with it in the future.
Tips to Help You Overcome Social Fatigue
Being social is hard. We get it. It's easy to experience social fatigue from time to time. But don't worry! We have some tips and tricks that can help you overcome your social fatigue and get back out there in the world—so let’s dive right in!
Accept That It Might Happen
The first step to overcoming social fatigue is to accept that it might happen. It's normal for everyone to feel overwhelmed or exhausted by social interactions from time to time, so if you're feeling this way, know you're not alone.
It helps to recognize what triggers your social fatigue so you can be proactive in avoiding them. This could be anything from loud environments or long conversations with people you don’t know well. Knowing what causes your exhaustion can help you put limits around or even avoid those situations in the future, or plan ahead for how best to manage them when they arise.
Know What Will Help You Recharge
When it comes time for you to recharge after a particularly draining day of socializing, make sure you have an idea of what will help you do that most effectively.
This could be anything from going for a walk or taking a bath to reading a book or watching a movie with friends—whatever works best for YOU. It's important to take time for yourself and allow yourself space away from any kind of social interaction if needed.
Don't Feel Like You Have to Say Yes to Everything
It's okay if the answer is no sometimes. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to attend every single event or say yes whenever someone asks you to socialize with them —take the time to figure out what feels right and what doesn’t instead of just going along with whatever other people suggest without giving it much thought.
Make Time for Exercise and Other Self-Care
Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to managing your own well-being—and that includes making sure you get enough exercise and self-care activities into your daily routine, as well as finding ways to relax and unwind after stressful days (or weeks!).
Exercise has been proven time and again as an effective way of reducing stress levels and promoting better sleep quality, both of which are essential components of overall health and well-being. So make sure that taking care of yourself is at the top of your priority list!
Schedule Some Alone Time Every Day
Making sure you have some alone time every day is crucial for managing social fatigue. Taking even just 10 minutes out of your day to relax and do something for yourself can make all the difference in how you feel afterward.
During this time, try to limit your exposure to technology as much as possible – put down the phone, turn off the TV, and focus on activities that make you feel peaceful and relaxed. This will give you a chance to recharge without feeling overwhelmed by all the noise around you.
Don't Be Afraid of Making Online Relationships Instead
Online relationships can be just as meaningful as face-to-face ones, so don't be afraid to reach out online if it helps reduce your fatigue levels.
There are many online platforms where people from all walks of life come together to connect, share their stories, and form meaningful relationships – finding someone who understands what you're going through can really help reduce social fatigue levels. Plus, it's easier to communicate over text than in person sometimes!
When you're feeling overwhelmed by your social life, taking microbreaks throughout the day can help keep your energy levels up. Instead of scheduling long breaks in between tasks or conversations, break them into shorter chunks – this way, you won't become too fatigued too quickly, but will still get enough rest between conversations or tasks.
Taking regular microbreaks during your day will also help prevent burnout in the long run.
Use Positive Affirmations
Using positive affirmations throughout your day can help boost your confidence and combat feelings of stress or anxiety associated with social interactions. Try repeating simple phrases such as “I am capable” or “I am strong” when you start feeling overwhelmed – this will remind you just how capable you are of handling any situation you may find yourself in!
I find remembering to use affirmations is the greatest challenge, and to solve this problem, I really like an app called “I am.” The app includes more affirmations than I can count, and it allows you to set them up as phone notifications or widgets on your home screen so you can't help but see them. You can change the font and background, and best of all, you can add your own affirmations, the ones that are really meaningful to you personally! (iOS Android: Free three-day trial, then $19.99/year)
Put Down the Phone
Even though we tend to rely on our phones as a distraction when we are stressed or overwhelmed, sometimes, disconnecting from technology is the best thing we can do for ourselves – especially when it comes to managing our mental health and reducing feelings of social fatigue.
Put down your phone for a few hours each day so that you can focus on being present in whatever situation or conversation you are in without getting distracted by notifications or incoming messages from friends or family members. Doing this regularly will help reduce any feelings of stress or anxiety associated with never-ending conversations over text messaging platforms!
If this is just too difficult, try engaging in messaging during predetermined hours of the day. For example, respond to all messages in all channels (email, text, Facebook or LinkedIn Messenger, Discord, etc.) between 9 and 10 am and then again between 5 and 6 pm. You’ll find that this also reduces the total number of messages you receive each day because the fewer messages you send, the fewer messages people will have to respond to that you in turn need to respond to again!
Make a List of Conversation Starters That Will Keep You More Engaged
One way to make sure you stay engaged in conversations is to take some control over the conversation topics by coming prepared with conversation starters that are interesting to YOU!
Try listing some topics in your phone that interest you before the event and bring that list along as a reference point. That way, if you find yourself struggling to think of something to say, you can quickly glance at your list and have something ready.
As an example, when I arrived at a recent small group gathering that was experiencing painful, boring conversation, I asked the group, “If you could have any one person alive today over to your house for dinner, who would it be and why?” Not only did I quickly learn things about the other people in the room, some of their answers led to more interesting conversations.
Explain How You Feel to Those Around You
It’s important to remember that not everyone understands what it’s like being autistic and dealing with social fatigue. If someone notices that you’re having difficulty engaging in conversation, don’t be afraid to explain how you feel and why it might be hard for you right now. People are often understanding and willing to help if they know what’s going on—all it takes is just a bit of communication!
Just set their expectations with something like, “I’m feeling really socially tired right now. I may not be as responsive.”
Keep Things Short and Small
Sometimes the most overwhelming part of attending a large gathering is simply the sheer number of people attending. To make things easier on yourself, try breaking up the event into smaller chunks instead of trying to engage in one big gathering all at once—it may make the situation more manageable for you mentally and emotionally. For example, try talking in groups of two or three rather than trying to carry on conversations with larger groups all at once.
Bring a Friend
Having someone who knows you well by your side can help make any situation much easier—especially when it comes to socializing with strangers or new acquaintances! Bring along someone who knows your idiosyncrasies well enough that they can step in if things start getting overwhelming for you so that all of your energy doesn't have to go toward maintaining conversation every single time.
Know Your Reason for Going to a Social Event
It's important to know why exactly it is that you're attending this event—whether it is work-related or simply because someone invited you and asked nicely enough that saying no seemed rude (we've all been there).
Knowing why exactly it is that we're doing something helps us keep perspective about our situation and focus our energy on what's truly important—and can even motivate us when we feel like giving up halfway through an event!
Having a clear goal also makes any task less daunting because then we know where we're headed even if we don't know exactly how long it'll take us to get there.
Social fatigue is an all too common issue among those on the autism spectrum, but understanding why it happens can help us better care for ourselves or support others affected by it.
While there are several different factors that contribute to this phenomenon, it all boils down to one thing – an inability for some autistic individuals to navigate complex social situations without becoming overwhelmed by sensory input or emotionally drained from taking on other people’s emotions as their own.
Being aware of these issues and gaining support when needed can go a long way toward coping with the challenges social fatigue creates on a daily basis.