why is social interaction so exhausting?

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Joined: 19 Apr 2007
Posts: 393

12 Apr 2012, 9:06 am

I try not to systemise now, which means I find it less intense than I used to, but it is still such hard work.
Normally I hang on the outside of the group, being quieter, and only occasionally contributing.
Even so if I have more than a little interaction I begin to stop functioning.

Maybe it's exhausting because
a) I'm actually systemising and working my brain very hard, so my brain gets exhausted?
b) people just penetrate deep into my being somehow, and disturb me in all sorts of ways, which wipes me out? If so then maybe I could somehow let those people's impacts just go straight through me without touching? I don't know.
c) I am expecting too much of myself - to be able to contribute normally in an NT group - and thus I'm exhausting myself with over-high demands of my performance?

Maybe I'm doing something wrong - has anyone found a better way?

Any thoughts very welcome. Thanks


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Joined: 24 Aug 2011
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12 Apr 2012, 9:19 am

for me, social interaction is tiring partly because i'm an introvert and need to be alone to recharge.


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12 Apr 2012, 9:22 am

I don't know what to say. That is my biggest obstacle. Even if I think of something, I stay quiet because I have little confidence about the value of what I am about to utter. I also am trepid about the response I will garner from people. The only advice I can give is be confident and do not think about it. Thinking about it is what causes me to be timid and this hinders my joining in conversations. I think what I say will not be appreciated or cause awkwardness. This is why I do not bother to say what pops into my mind. Be spontaneous.

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Joined: 18 Jan 2012
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12 Apr 2012, 12:20 pm

It tires me out too. When I am with people for extended periods of time (like an 8 hour day at work, or some all day activity on the weekend), I need downtime. It is emotionally and intellectually taxing for me to remain engaged with people, to analyze what they say and make an "appropriate" response. I think in Tony Attwood's book, he says that communication among NTs is intuitive, whereas for Aspies it is an intellectual exercise, like a challenging game of chess.


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Joined: 15 Jan 2008
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Location: SLC, Utah

12 Apr 2012, 12:31 pm

For lots of reasons. Anything someone isn't particularly good at doing exhausts them mentally.

Such as, say, math homework. I was godawful at it in high school, and it was always exhausting. Or something I was better at doing, like planning deliveries at my job, can be more mentally stimulating.

Social situations.. gotta do this, should I say this, say it when, oops shouldn't of said that etc, man should i have done this differently yadayada.. it goes on and on. It's so exhausting. =.='

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Joined: 22 Sep 2011
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Location: Central Europe

12 Apr 2012, 1:34 pm

There are so many reasons why social situations are exhausting. I don't want to list them all now but maybe just one of them is that NT social interaction is quite different to what one would naturally feel comfortable with. I went to an aspergers self-help group a few times and didn't find it exhausting (though it was a bit dull and not particularly useful :roll: ). With time I have come to realise that it's probably like the textbooks say and there's all this non-literal social messaging going on in normal group situations which wears the aspie mind out really fast.

Snowy Owl
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Joined: 3 Oct 2011
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Location: Germany

12 Apr 2012, 2:21 pm

i have been wondering what makes it so exhausting for me too. i think its a combination of sensory overload and stress. in a study published 2004 dickerson and kenney compared several causes of stress in healthy subjects and found that for a demanding cognitive task in combination with a public situation or lets say observation by others the subjects cortisol levels were pretty much through the roof and in fact the highest ones measured, while the same healthy subjects were not as strongly affected by noise or triggered emotions and similar options.

for an aspie participating in a conversation while trying to figure out all the "what does she want, is she smiling, why is she smiling, what am i supposed to say, eyebrow up was a bad thing wasnt it, how do i reprocicate, is she mad now?" stuff that goes with it, eventually with several people at once or at random times during the day, is definately a demanding cognitive task and you probably didnt need me to cite that study to know that being watched when doing something while you have no freaking idea what the hell you are doing can cause stress, add the stress too much sensory information results in for someone with AS to that and there you go.

in my job the worst case scenario is that i have to be out of my appartment for 12-13 hour which means 12-13 hours in constant alert mode. bus rides alone freak me out (especially when someone decides to sit next to me or school kids are screaming or theres one of those old men who are so damn talkative they try to start conversations with complete strangers like me at 8 in the morning or someone in the bus wears parfume or one of these quilted jackets that make this indescribably awful sound when the sleeves brush over the side of the jacket - ok i think you got the picture) but even simply the fact that i might have to quickly react to my unpredictable environment at random times is incredibly stressful for me. i already have a lot of routines and im trying to follow a strict schedule each day to prevent myself from going mad, but there is often something not working out the way i planned it and human communication has just way too many variables.

cognitive demanding tasks alone do not exhaust me. when i can focus on something specific like reading, programming or drawing its actually very relaxing for me. i might be frustrated or euphoric depending on how much im struggling with the rather complex stuff but im never exhausted. maybe its because in order to do things like that the brain has to solve one problem at a time, while social interaction and being outside your appartment in general requires the simultaneous integration of a lot of input and solving problems in parallel without having any control over the flow of information.


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Joined: 30 May 2010
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12 Apr 2012, 2:28 pm

I think its because there is too much dynamics going on. With a group there are too many relationships to keep track of and trying to figure what to say and to whom and how to respond to others wears me out. Also there is the background noises, the lighting (if its in a bar or club). But also socialising is informal and has no structure. It is like going out for a walk without any idea where you are going. You end up lost, then have to figure out how you got there and how to get back.

Tufted Titmouse
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Joined: 23 Mar 2012
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12 Apr 2012, 2:38 pm

My experience has been that there's a lot of sensory input and the need to self regulate my more annoying impulsive behaviors so I don't do or say things that I know bother people is tiring. Sometimes I don't even realize how draining its been until I get home. The more I can do things that help be be centered (meditation, positive self-talk) before going into social situations, the less draining they are though.

Snowy Owl
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12 Apr 2012, 3:45 pm

For me it is a pretty simple short answer, and of course long one is quite complicated.

What it comes down to is this, having to intellectualize everything.

Socializing for me is like doing high order math, its a hard, demanding task for me and it takes me putting in my "All" to get through it.

But yeah, it all comes down to not being able to react inherently to socializing, and having to process it all through my mental computer, and that just plain exhausts me.

?If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.? - Mark Twain

Tufted Titmouse
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Joined: 11 Apr 2012
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12 Apr 2012, 5:33 pm

I have autism and its exhausting for me to socially interact with people because im trying so hard to fit in and i cannot really help it


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12 Apr 2012, 5:36 pm

I think it's hard because it just takes so much thought. It's like solving lots of difficult math problems one after the other, with no break. After a while, your brain just checks out--you need to relax for a while.

Just like math, you can get better at socializing, so that the easier parts aren't as brain-intensive anymore. But I think for us it'll always be a little difficult and a little more exhausting than it is for NTs.

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Pileated woodpecker
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12 Apr 2012, 5:49 pm

It's exhausting for me for me because I'm hyper-aware, not only of my personal issues, but also of how much other people suck. I never know what to do with my eyes. I'm afraid I'm going to say the 'wrong' thing, not respond with the appropriate speed in which a lot of folks demand answers, trip on my words, give off the wrong body language, or insult the person I'm speaking with in some other manner. I hate it when I screw up - I misspeak/say something stupid, and NTs do that thing where they laugh and cover their mouth at the same time. I feel as though I'm either going to be attacked by them or they're going to insult me by lieing to me - Sociopaths are experts at doing this compulsively - so I avoid people at all costs.


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Joined: 27 Jul 2010
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Location: Calgary, Canada

12 Apr 2012, 5:54 pm

It seems to exhaust me very quickly because I m dealing with other people and their emotions and personalities, and on some level I just dont want to, so there is a conflict that gets set up in my mind. It is called cognitive dissonance.

Snowy Owl
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Joined: 15 Jan 2012
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Location: Bloomington, MN

12 Apr 2012, 9:52 pm

I don't think it's possible to "let peoples' impacts run through" one.

Maybe you should try "people watching." In case you haven't heard of it already, that's basically where you go someplace where you can watch other people but won't be expected to interact with them...and observe. Go to a park (especially when there's an event such as a youth sports game; you don't have to make yourself conspicous), a mall, an amusement park if the noise doesn't bother you, or some other place where people go to have fun. That way, you get the "atmosphere" of fun without having to interact.

Autistics can often see what others can't see. When you interact, you could be taking in more than what NT's notice. Be open to what other people are saying.

Lastly, when you're socializing in a group, recognize that you may NOT be able to contribute fully and, be ok with it. Social interaction is demanding when you think about it.

Letting go is not a skill--it's the lazy way out. The real skill is having the courage to stand up for yourself and demand justice.
I'm not mentally ill--the world is!