Wellness·5 min read

How To Hang Out IRL Again (Without Overdoing It)

hang out irl
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Getty Images
August 12, 2021

The Story

We socially-distanced for months. But now we’re closing the gap...or at least trying to. 

Well this is a change.

Sure is. So it’s natural to feel some social anxiety about going out after more than a year of social hibernation. And then to feel exhausted once you finally do. See: “social jet lag” — what  scientists call it when your late-night partying throws off your sleep. Although you may have found (inner) peace in your “aloneliness” (i.e. a desire for solitude), being isolated is likely part of the reason why more than 40% of American adults under age 40 reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in a given week last winter (about quadruple the rate of 2019). The good news: Distress levels appear to be falling, and you’re likely more resilient than you think

Am I ready for a whole new world?

It could be a new fantastic point of view. But instead of jumping immediately from channel surfing to crowd surfing, start small. First, make sure you're up to speed on the rules (which keep changing) and risks for people vaccinated (and if you’re still not vaccinated, here’s why you might consider it). Next, start with intimate gatherings of friends before you commit to attending big concerts, parties, and weddings. Some plans might feel exhausting at first, but remember that getting out there can be good for your brain. Studies show that socializing could help restore cognitive function, and that people with larger social networks have larger limbic and temporal regions in their brains (areas associated with emotions and memory). Bonus: Socializing IRL can take less energy than it does on Zoom (where there’s a body-language barrier). Also, remember that you’re not required to hang out with every single person you used to in the Before Times, because relationships evolve. And it’s possible that there are friendships in your past that no longer serve you. Setting boundaries is important. Don’t say “yes” to every plan or idea that comes your way. 

But YOLO. (And I have FOMO.)

You haven’t been out much and you’re ready to do all the things. Understandable. But burnout is a real issue, and it’s not just about work. You can get stressed and burnt out from being “on” all the time in your personal life, too. And that’s a feeling you might be acutely aware of if you’ve been juggling working and caregiving during the pandemic. So try not to overdo it. Think about how you’ll actually feel on the day of a social plan before you accidentally overcommit ahead of time. And know that it’s OK to cancel if you’re no longer feeling it.

How do I say “no” to hanging out?

Reminder: "No" is a complete sentence. It’s hard to figure out when to prioritize yourself over the need to show up for someone else. Consider whether hanging with a friend would actually make you feel better and if you could be present. If you need to sit it out, be honest about why you canceled. Pro tip: It sounds like an oxymoron, but spontaneous plans might be the move if you’re a chronic bailer. Because you can’t regret the bad dates you don’t make.

Should we drink to that?

You can. Responsibly. Giving it to you straight: Alcohol abuse has been a major issue in the pandemic, with about one in four adults reporting this year that they drank more to manage stress. And the problem has particularly impacted women, who increased their drinking routine more than men did. Not to mention that “drinking too much” was the pandemic habit that hundreds of Skimm’rs said they wanted to kick in a survey theSkimm conducted about life since COVID-19 (which we talked about on our Skimm This podcast). Not to be a buzzkill, but it turns out consuming alcohol may increase the risk of getting more cancers than previously thought. So if you return to cheers-ing in person, take stock of your current relationship with alcohol. It’s worth noting that The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking for women as consuming four or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion, at least once a month. And having a BAC (short for blood alcohol concentration) of above 0.08 (which you could hit — depending on your gender, weight and drink — with about 2-4 drinks in one hour) makes it illegal for you to drive a car. But if done safely, drinking isn’t all bad. Moderate consumption can enhance your creativity and make you more open to new people and ideas.


Whether you’re a social butterfly or a house cat, it’s normal to need time to adjust to hanging out IRL. But don’t feel pressured to pick up where you left off. Instead, find your new rhythm. That might require saying no sometimes, so you can feel good about going all in when you say yes.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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