Social Hangovers: Feeling Tired After Socializing

As humans, we're intensely social animals, some of us more so than others. However, maintaining social contact can sometimes be exhausting.
Social Hangovers: Feeling Tired After Socializing

Last update: 02 September, 2022

You probably know the unpleasant feeling after a night of too much alcohol. You feel exhausted with a foggy brain. In fact, your body needs to rest and your mind too and you just want to stay home and recover. However, have you ever felt similar symptoms after spending time socializing?  As a matter of fact, social hangovers can affect us all, but there are some people who are more vulnerable and who may need to take certain precautionary measures.

At first glance, it may seem contradictory that socializing can affect you in this way. After all, socializing is an enjoyable activity that you do voluntarily in your leisure time. Nevertheless, interacting with others can lead you to use up too many of your cognitive resources.

For example, you have to pay attention to everyone’s conversations and non-verbal language and think about what you’re going to say and how to behave. Furthermore, all of this takes place in an extremely stimulating environment that’s often full of lights, sounds, and lots of people.

Whether you experience a social hangover often, or only occasionally, you’ll want to know what causes it and what you can do about it.

tired man

Why do you experience social hangovers?

A social hangover isn’t a syndrome. In fact, it’s simply a colloquial expression that describes a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that occurs after spending time with other people. It makes your movements slower. In addition, your mind takes longer to process information and you feel listless and irritable. It can even generate somatic symptoms, such as headaches or muscle aches, due to the tension produced by the socialization period.

So, why do you feel this way after such essential and apparently enjoyable activities? These are the main reasons:

1. Introversion

As we mentioned earlier, there are certain personality traits that can make some people more vulnerable to social hangovers. For instance, introverted people have a certain tendency to recover their energy in solitary activities (unlike extroverts). They’re more focused on reflection, introspection, creativity, and their inner world. Therefore, continuous social interaction can make them feel exhausted.

This doesn’t mean that introverts should live in isolation, far from it. We’re all social beings and contact with others is necessary and good for us. However, an introvert must intersperse periods of solitude with outings in company so as not to become overwhelmed.

2. High sensitivity

Highly sensitive people may also feel more exhausted after socializing. This is because their nervous system is more receptive and permeable to environmental stimuli. They process more signals than others and do so more deeply. Consequently, a simple conversation in a bar can feel far more stimulating and overwhelming to them than it does to others.

These people feel, analyze, and respond more to environmental stimuli, such as lights, sounds, and touch. They also perceive emotional stimuli and non-verbal signals from their interlocutors more intensely. Therefore, their perception and processing of subtleties make the process of socializing more demanding, leading to greater fatigue.

3. Lack of motivation and reinforcement

Sometimes, social hangovers appear when socialization ceases to be rewarding and doesn’t motivate you or bring you reinforcement of any kind. As a rule, being with others allows you to feel connected, increases your self-esteem, and helps you have fun and release tension. In short, it’s both enjoyable and reinforcing. That said, in certain cases, either due to your own disposition or due to the characteristics of the situation, this doesn’t happen.

When you feel apathetic and unmotivated, when you’re stressed, burned out, or sad, it’s difficult to enjoy your interactions with others. Socializing then becomes an effort or an obligation and you’re more likely to end up feeling exhausted.

This can also happen if you interact with people who are overly dramatic and conflictive, who constantly start fights, or who are always complaining. In fact, these types of dynamics exhaust your emotional resources and can be extremely unpleasant. Therefore, if your environment responds to these characteristics, don’t be surprised if, when you get home, you feel exhausted.

4. Excessive socialization

It’s important to know that, even if you’re a healthy, extroverted, and motivated person, social hangovers can appear if you socialize too much. It’s something that many people experienced after confinement due to the pandemic. Our recently regained freedom made us accept and propose all kinds of social plans to ‘make up for lost time’. However, by overreaching ourselves, we often ended up feeling exhausted simply from being with others.

Even under normal conditions, if you’re an introvert or an especially sensitive person, it’s important that you regulate your moments of socialization and don’t force yourself to socialize.

Friends playing having fun

5. Psychological disorders

Finally, there are certain psychological disorders that can aggravate this situation. Depression usually occurs with an apathetic, sad, and irritable state of mind that causes demotivation and leads to socializing becoming an effort.

Furthermore, disorders such as generalized anxiety or social phobia can lead sufferers to be excessively vigilant or too attentive to stimuli and signals, thus depleting their resources. In these cases, they should seek professional help.

In short, a social hangover can happen to any one of us and we need to be able to identify the cause in order to take action. Knowing and accepting your social needs and not forcing yourself to socialize, allowing yourself moments of solitude and rest, and treating any related underlying mental conditions will make this exhaustion occur far less frequently.

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  • Freyd, M. (1924). Introverts and Extroverts. Psychological Review, 31(1), 74–87. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0075875
  • Trå, H. V., Volden, F., & Watten, R. G. (2022). High Sensitivity: Factor structure of the highly sensitive person scale and personality traits in a high and low sensitivity group. Two gender—matched studies. Nordic Psychology, 1-23.