Do you feel quickly exhausted around other people?
You might be suffering from what is referred to as a low social battery. Too much socializing, and you shut off.
Fortunately, you can learn to manage your social battery and function better in meetings or at parties.
Learn what situations drain your social battery, which warning signs to look out for, and how to recharge yourself.
What Is Your Social Battery?
The term “social battery” refers to your endurance in social settings. The more powerful your social battery is, the longer you can stand being around others. But if your social battery is weak, you will soon feel drained.
While social battery is not a scientific term, it is a useful metaphor. It illustrates the limitedness of our social energy. Just like you cannot continue to use your smartphone past its battery life, you cannot keep using yourself up. You need to recharge first.
The social-battery metaphor originally became popular on TikTok. Users would post clips of themselves looking tired, next to a low-battery sign. The idea has since entered the mainstream.
Signs You Have a Weak Battery
There are a few telltale signs that you have a weak social battery:
- You dread attending social events.
- You quickly become annoyed with people.
- You loathe huge crowds, e.g. at concerts.
- After a social event, you need a lot of time to recuperate.
What Drains Your Social Battery?
Certain activities drain our social battery more than others. If you know what these are, you can plan for them.
The Level of Familiarity
How well you know somebody affects the energy cost. Talking to a stranger will be more draining than having a beer with a close friend.
High-pressure environments — a classroom, the workplace — will deplete your social battery faster. In contrast, familiar settings will cost you less.
The Level of Abstraction
The more abstract the conversation, the higher the energy cost. Discussing Wittgenstein will cost you more than talking about last night’s game.
The Level of Conflict
The level of conflict in an interaction determines its energy cost. If you are having a fight with your lover, that will be more draining than snuggling up on the couch together.
Givers vs. Takers
In every interaction, there are people who give more and there are people who take more.
For someone with a weak social battery, the taker type is problematic. If you have little social energy to start with, the taker will suck you dry.
Group size affects your social battery. For example, interacting with a large group of people at a wedding will tax you more than in an intimate dinner setting.
That is for two reasons.
First, complexity. The more people there are, the more information you have to keep up with.
Second, noise. Larger groups create more of a ruckus. Communicating over that noise is more exhausting.
The longer you socialize, the less battery life you will have left. A five-hour meeting will leave you more fried than a five-minute meeting.
Differences in Social Status
If the person you are talking to is of higher social status, that increases the cost of energy to you. But if you perceive each other as equals, the cost goes down.
For example, I have a friend who used to be my professor. Back in college, our interactions were more taxing. Since he was an authority figure to me, I was always concerned with making a good impression.
But now that we think of each other as friends, I can relax around him. The interaction takes less out of me.
Your baseline stress level impacts your social battery.
For example, if you experience a lot of stress at work, you will have less patience with others and quit social interactions earlier.
What you want out of an interaction influences how much it will cost you.
If I am talking to a prospective client for my marketing agency, I have the goal of selling them. This outcome dependency makes the interaction more draining to me.
But if I am talking to my best friend, there is no agenda. We just goof around. Hence, the cost of energy is much lower.
A “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP) is someone who is especially perceptive. They notice more things and they experience them more intensely.
Because they process so much sensory data, HSPs quickly feel exhausted in social settings. So, that might be another reason why your social battery is low.
Mental Health Disorders
If you are suffering from mental health disorders like depression, social anxiety, or autism, this can have a negative impact on your battery life.
Number of Social Events
The more social interactions you have, the more you will exhaust your social battery.
For example, as a touring musician, you will experience more drainage than as a solitary writer.
The Effect of Social Media on Your Social Battery
Social media is essentially a never-ending chain of virtual social events. That makes it the biggest threat to your social battery as of today.
It’s three reasons that make social media so draining:
- Infinite input. Our feed never runs out of things to say. It buries us in pointless information.
- Low barrier of entry. To attend real-world events, we need to plan for them. With social media, you just need to grab your smartphone.
- No restraint. Hiding behind their screens, people will drop any restraints they would show in real life.
Thus, watch out for social media. You might successfully manage your social battery in real life but still exhaust yourself online.
How To Recharge Your Social Battery
Here are nine strategies to manage your social battery.
1. Watch Your Self-Talk
By watching your self-talk, you can tell if you are getting close to your social limit. Here are some examples of red flags:
- “This meeting sucks. It is just a bunch of blowhards trying to impress each other.”
- “When will this be over?”
- “Please, don’t come over here and talk to me.”
- “I can’t wait to sit on the couch in my pajamas later.”
When you practice checking in with yourself regularly during social interactions, you will soon be able to heed the warning signs.
2. Plan For Known Stressors
There are certain people and situations that are more draining to your social battery than others. When you know these stressors, you can plan for them.
With exhausting people, try to limit your exposure to them. It helps to have a ready-made excuse, like, “I have an important presentation tomorrow that I still need to prepare for.” Work trumps everything.
Then there are especially draining situations. For example, travel days wear me out. I don’t enjoy crowded airports and even less being stuck with hundreds of people on a plane.
But you can plan for such situations. You can arrive at the airport early when there is no line at the check-in counter yet. You can reserve a seat in an aisle with fewer seats. You can get a pair of noise-canceling headphones to shut yourself off.
3. Schedule Alone Time
Always plan for a post-event breather. For example, if you know that your friend’s big wedding is coming up on Saturday, don’t plan anything social for Sunday. Keep the day open for quality time with yourself.
Also, plan for micro-breaks. For example, take two 30-minute breaks spaced out over the wedding festivities on Saturday. If you have to sneak off to your car or lock yourself in the bathroom, so be it. By recharging yourself, you will be of more use to everybody.
Finally, be strategic about your vacations. Look at your calendar, the whole year. Think about which months are especially demanding socially, like the holiday season.
Then schedule your vacation time to counterbalance this. Place your vacations right after your socially busy months, so you get a chance to recharge.
4. Explain Your Behavior
Let close people know how you function. Explain to them how must pay attention to managing your social battery, otherwise, you will run out of energy and not be of use to anyone.
With the right people, this will create more understanding. They won’t view your behavior as erratic anymore.
However, don’t overexplain yourself. Some people will not get it, no matter how much you try. With these people, just take a time-out.
5. Recharge Yourself
Just like the battery in your smartphone, your social battery can be recharged.
There are two modes of recharging — passive and active.
Passive recharging is about slowing down. Examples include:
- Taking a hot bath
- Taking a long walk
Active recharging is about experiencing ourselves as creators. Group settings prevent that; they require conformity.
- Playing an instrument
- Creating digital content
- Practicing an athletic skill
Think of this as a cycle.
First, you have a social interaction with someone.
Afterward, you need to do some passive recharging, e.g., take a walk. This is to clean the slate, so to speak.
Now you can engage in solemn creation, e.g., work on your screenplay.
Once you are done, you’ll probably want to reconnect with people again. And so the cycle starts over.
6. Limit Your Social Media Intake
Social media is the kryptonite to your social battery. It’s like a social interaction on steroids — a never-ending stream of opinions and gossip.
Therefore, you should try to reduce social media in your life.
Make this a progression. Start with an easy thing to do, then build up to more challenging behaviors.
Here is a sample progression:
- Stage 1: Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning.
- Phase 2: Don’t check your social media accounts until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
- Phase 3: Only check your social media accounts once a day.
- Phase 4: Same as phase 3, but with a time limit. You only get 10 minutes on social.
If you want to take things further, I recommend you try monk mode.
For a specified time, e.g. three months, cut out all distractions, like social media, in-person socializing, and dating. Instead, completely dedicate yourself to your most important project. You will see incredible progress.
7. Learn To Say “No”
Meetings, family gatherings, nights out, dates — it is easy to overschedule. But do so, and you will burn out.
The problem is that we struggle with saying “No.” We don’t want to disappoint the other person. So, we go along with their invitation even though we are socially maxed out.
Fortunately, you can become better at saying “No.”
The key is to treat it as a skill set. Just like you would practice an instrument, practice your “Nos.”
Start being direct with people you don’t care about. Any kind of salesperson is great for that. Next time that pushy telemarketer calls, tell them to bugger off. That Apple Store person trying to sell you a useless upgrade? Let them know this won’t fly.
Then extend your practice to people that you will regularly see but that you don’t depend on. When they come to you with a request, reject it. Don’t be rude, but don’t justify yourself either.
Finally, start telling everybody “No.” With people close to you, you can soften your “No” a little bit. For example, tell them, “I am really busy with work right now, otherwise, I would love to attend your event.”
When you encounter people who will not take “No” for an answer, just ignore them. Don’t respond, walk away from them. When someone is being pushy, that is a perfectly fine response.
8. Examine Your Living Situation
If you have a roommate around, they will be a constant drain on your social battery. You should seriously consider moving out.
I realize that for some people, living alone is not an option, especially if you have a spouse and kids.
But you can at least explain your predicament to the people close to you. And you should negotiate for a space of your own — a small office, an artist’s workshop — that you can retreat to once you are running low on energy.
9. Train Your Social Muscle
Your social battery is really a social muscle. The more you train it, the more resilient it will become.
Thus, make a point to regularly talk to people. Join a club. Play a sport. Sign up for a coworking space.
One of the best things you can do is to learn how to chat with strangers.
Initially, this will be extremely draining. But the more you do it, the more you will desensitize yourself to this high-pressure situation. In comparison, regular social interactions will now seem like a piece of cake.