A Beginner’s Guide to The Social Hangover


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The day was passing slowly – too slowly – each second oozing by with the slow, sticky pace of honey sliding down the side of a glass bowl. The same honey-drenched bowl I seemed to be stuck in, sounds muffled, vision blurred, movement hampered.

Well, it wasn’t really that bad.

But from my perspective, information was simply coming in too quickly to be processed, tasks too numerous to be completed, and people too draining to be considered. What really was another day, exactly like every other at the office was quickly turning into one giant thunderstorm of a mess. And as the pressure in the back of my skull kept building, the headache growing stronger, I found myself blank staring at the clock, wishing I had just called in sick.

No, it wasn’t alcohol. Nothing that fun.

A social hangover, is – at its simplest – a form of exhaustion. Introverts, as a general rule, have a set amount of social energy, which builds up during alone time (pets, books, television, and certain good friends excluded), and is expended when engaging socially with other people. The rate at which this energy dissipates varies drastically based on the type of social interaction, the personal preferences of the introvert in question, and is a subject for another day. Suffice it to say that this energy is much like a phone battery. As long as it stays above, say 15%, the world will never know that we are tired.

Then there is that day.

You know. The one where you thoughtlessly booked one too many social activities, and you find yourself in bed, cursing the alarm clock, knowing that you do not have the social energy you so desperately need to get through. The day where you hit 15% at noon, and start loosing the ability to have any form of meaningful interaction with people by two in the afternoon. By the time you get home, and collapse against the deadbolted door behind you, you feel nothing.

Oh, it’s just getting started.

The thing most of us introverts take for granted is the aftereffects of a dead social battery. You know how you are never supposed to let your phone die completely? And, if you do, getting the thing back alive and charging takes little less than a presidential mandate? The same is true with your social energy. Once it hits 0%, your are dead wasted drunk, and you are going to pay for it tomorrow, and likely for a couple days after that too.

What gives?

Let’s talk a bit about the introvert’s power grid. All healthy humans have some (even if only a miniscule) need for interaction. For this discussion, we will refer to these as our social needs. Deprived of this base human desire, we will go full stark, raving, lunatic, mad. So in order to fulfill this need, and therefore avoid insanity, we have social energy. Extroverts have it easy. As they fulfill their social needs, they gain social energy, resulting in a high that they often find intoxicating, making social interaction a form of drug. Highly addictive, highly sought after. Introverts, on the other hand, almost always find themselves incapable of gaining energy from socialization. (There are exceptions to this, and we will discuss those soon.) Instead, to fill their social needs, they have to expend social energy, resulting in a tired state that they find vexing, making social interaction difficult. Very expensive, to be avoided if possible.

Hold on, we’re getting to the point.

 Normally, an introvert can afford to expend a small amount of social energy, and thereby refill their social needs. They stay healthy, happy, and avoid becoming a lunatic. But when an introvert is compelled to go beyond simply filling their social needs, and especially when they must completely exhaust their social energy, the status quo is broken. They are no longer healthy or happy, and they begin slipping towards a depressed state.

So, just refill your social energy!

It’s that simple, right? Wrong. For many introverts, refilling social energy requires considerable (read: ponderous, massive, extensive, etc.) alone time. This can take on many forms, such as introspection, extrospection, quiet time, time with family, time with pets, movies, music, or even time to write, as well as many, many more activities. Once again, we will discuss this further at a future time. However, thanks to our rapidly devolving, and massively extrovert-centered society, time is not often a luxury we possess. This leads many introverts into devouring the quiet, dark hours of the night, when the world is naturally more suited to introverted lifestyle, sacrificing sleep. And as the nighttime hours are sopped up by our hour-hungry social energy, our total energy begins to fade. Now we are tired, as well as unhealthy, unhappy, and possibly depressed.

This is the social hangover.

What is the solution? As with avoiding all types of hangovers: know your limits. Learn to say no, or be honest, and call in sick. (If you were coming down with a cold, you would. A hangover can be worse.) Sometimes it is better to have a few peeved friends, a inconvenienced boss, or a missed party, than a pissed introvert.


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