Why partying in the ‘grey zone’ could be key to avoiding social burnout

Too many party invitations and not enough time? Socialising in the grey zone can help you navigate the busy festive season without running out of steam.

It seems the build-up to the festive season begins earlier each year and from November onwards, for many of us, life turns into party central. 

Workplace dinners, catch-ups with different groups of friends, and family gatherings followed by still more get-togethers can lead to a packed calendar – and burnout.

“People feel torn, and that feeling is likely to be even worse this year because we’ve come out of Covid-19 lockdowns – people are socialising with a vengeance,” psychologist Joe Hart says.

“But trying to do too much, and trying to be everything to everybody, means you end up being nothing to nobody – people don’t get the best of you; they get a burnt-out version.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to hang up your party shoes just yet as there are ways to navigate this busy time of year.

What is the social grey zone?

To manage the onslaught of social invitations, psychologist and Headspace mental health expert Mary Spillane recommends socialising in the “grey zone”.

“We often think socialising is black and white – we go to an event or we don’t go – but there is a grey zone where you can be social on your own terms,” Mary says.

“Everyone has different tolerance levels for socialising and they vary over time; our health, stress, personality style and sleep also impact our tolerance, but socialising in the grey zone helps us feel more in control during busy periods.”

How to socialise in the grey zone

A good time is a short time

One way to manage a full social calendar is to go to some events for a shorter time, or to attend and not drink, so you don’t feel worse for wear the next day. 

“Let the host know before the event that you have a lot on your plate at the moment, you are very tired and so you’ll only be there for an hour, but you are looking forward to spending that time with them,” Mary suggests.

“Or tell them that you aren’t drinking because you have a few busy days ahead. 

“At some point, the decisions you make may not meet other people’s expectations, but you just have to accept that it can happen.”

Telling people that you’re not attending an event or that you’ll only be there for a short time isn’t easy. 

Joe recommends being honest. 

“You can say, ‘I appreciate the invite, but I just can’t come this year’,” Joe suggests.

Be choosy about the events you attend

Say yes to events you know will nourish you, not drain you.

“A full calendar sucks your energy and saying a tentative ‘yes’ can be distracting – remember that sometimes when you say no, people won’t care as much as you think they will,” Joe says.

“Choose social events using a framework of whether that community makes you feel supported and energised,” Joe says.

“When you’re deciding on an invite, think about what that community means to you – if you walk away from those people and feel lifted, put them at the top of your list.”

Remember, you can still socialise in January

“Often, we feel this sense of urgency around catching up with people before the year finishes, as though catching up in January wouldn’t be as good,” Mary says.

“The end of the year becomes a psychological fence or barrier.” 

Instead, ignore this false deadline and spread out your social events so you don’t feel trapped on the party hamster wheel.

Written by Sarah Marinos.