Off DeWall: When Social Connections Induce Fatigue

          I love feeling connected and writing about connections. And for good reason; my mental and physical health depend in large part on my social connections; my writing about social connections helps pay my bills. But can the benefits of social connection boomerang, leaving people worse off than when they were on their own?

          I started my day having meetings with my graduate students back at the University of Kentucky. We met over Skype, which enabled us to see each other and hear each other through the use of our web cameras. My first meeting was at 6am (2pm Eastern time), and the second meeting took place at 7am (3pm Eastern time). As usual, they meetings were stimulating, engaging, and inspiring. Next, I wrote for an hour, walked to school with Tom Denson, wrote for two more hours, and then went to lunch. After lunch, I emailed, called a couple of people back home, and did some more writing.

          By the time early afternoon rolled around, I was exhausted. I had been so connected to others the entire day that I had worn myself out. I went home with aspirations to go to the gym and cool off in the ocean. I took a nap instead.

          The point is that social connections bring benefits, but they also have costs. This is why people usually don’t have more than five or six friends. Sure, you know more than six people, but do they really know about your deeply help beliefs, insecurities, and goals? I doubt it. You fend off people to shield yourself from mental fatigue. Juggling lots of relationships takes time and energy. Because our time and energy are limited, we do well by limiting our social connections.

          I learned the same lesson from social connections that I learn every time I overdo it on sweets: They’re good in moderation, but eat too many of them and you’ll crash and burn after the initial buzz dies down.

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