Socializing can lead to social overload. Social overload can lead to social burnout. Let’s consider what overload or burnout might feel like. For many people with autism, social overlead manifests as anxiety, irritability, appetite changes, and increased stress, which may snowball into shutdowns, meltdowns, and burnout. Social burnout looks like severe fatigue, extreme executive dysfunction, mood swings, mutism, and lost interest in hobbies.
While the best way to prevent social overload and burnout is to pause socializing, it’s easier said than done in the wake of friendships, relationships, social media, and work culture. Here are a few ideas on how to limit socializing and monitor our mental health as people with autism in the NT-world:
1) FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. We push ourselves to social limits often to mask our autism and keep hold of rocky relationships. But interpersonal relations are meant to build us up, not break us down. IG Story and Snapchat can keep us involved at a distance. I have many friends that I see only once a month, but those interactions are more meaningful when I can fully engage.
2) Social overload and burnout is caused by physical and virtual socializing. Try creating “No Phone Zones”, where social media texting and calls aren’t accepted. The zones can be places or specific time periods, i.e., during meals or work breaks. If the phone is too tempting, turn on airplane mode, hide apps, shut off notifications, or power down the phone and leave it in a drawer. I’ve learned that most people don’t take it personally if a text or DM is left unread for 24 hours.
3) Burnout recovery is complex, but I believe it helps to consider burnout on the same level as food poisoning. If we are throwing up every 15 minutes, it’s useful to call in sick, cancel plans, or go home early to rest in a dark room. We can say, “I’m feeling awful. I need to go home. I’ll update you tomorrow on how I feel.” The stress caused by burnout weakens our immune systems, making us more susceptible to physical illness and pain flares. By taking a whole day to recuperate, we’re taking care of both our emotional and physical health.