How to Maintain Your Relationships When You’re Really TiredA guide to not giving up on your people when life is…a lot.
After I got laid off from a job last year, one of the first things I did was go on an Official Texting Apology Tour. Following a year of flakiness at best and radio silence at worst, the friends and family who I had woefully neglected in favor of my demanding workplace got some variation of this: “Hi! I’m SO SORRY for disappearing off the face of the planet—I’ve been too exhausted to be a real human but I’m free now and would love to catch up if you don’t hate me for dropping the ball!!!”
My plight—totally failing at maintaining the important bonds in my life due to burnout—wasn’t exactly unique. Over the past few years, I’ve received as many texts like this as I’ve sent, citing the pandemic, the news cycle, terrible jobs, exacerbated mental illnesses, even run-of-the-mill winter blahs…the list goes on. And as much as I’d like to say that I no longer struggle to nurture my relationships now that that one job is behind me, it turns out energy-zapping things aren’t exactly in short supply these days.
Because of that, I’ve realized the importance of maintaining my relationships despite my exhaustion—instead of, you know, waiting for some magical, mythical time when I’ll be flush with energy and motivation to be the best companion that I can be. But the question remains…how do you do that when you’re so damn tired?
1. First understand the source of the feeling.
Even if you can’t solve the problems behind your lack of bandwidth, it helps to name what you’re struggling with. “We all have different capacities,” says therapist Hope Kelaher, LCSW, author of Here to Make Friends. “Some relationships and activities require different types or amounts of energy than you're able to give.”
She recommends starting by digging into the roadblocks between you and your relationships: Is it physical fatigue or mental fatigue? Are there times you feel more or less available, or types of socializing that feel more or less draining? The more you understand why it’s difficult to stay up on your relationships, the easier it becomes to pinpoint solutions that actually feel doable. For example, if you’re physically beat from a taxing job or a winter of 5 p.m. sunsets, you might lean more into texting and calling than hanging out. On the other hand, mental fatigue may leave you less available for deep emotional conversations but more down for casual hangouts.
2. Slap recurring quality time on the calendar.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like planning to spend time with loved ones is way more exhausting than actually doing it. Reaching out, finding a good time, choosing an activity—it’s all enough to kill your desire to socialize when you’re already struggling. Scheduling a regular commitment, on the other hand, cuts out a lot of the usual song and dance required to connect with someone on the reg. It could be a weekly date night with your partner, a daily catch-up call with your mom, or a quarterly movie marathon with your friend group—the specifics will depend on your needs, but aim for something everyone finds low-lift and predictable enough to automate.
An added bonus: Scheduling—and therefore establishing a firm start and stop time—also comes in handy for creating boundaries and setting expectations, two invaluable tools for the weary. “You can prepare to expend that energy and not overdo it,” says Kelaher.
3. Embrace low-lift hangs and mini catchups.
While special traditions and good ol’ quality time are nice, sometimes they’re just not realistic. Luckily, not everything has to be A Thing. Release yourself—and your loved ones!—from the expectation of being super engaged and engaging when you’re together, and the whole thing might feel less daunting.
If you’re not sure where to start, try inviting people to join activities you have to do (or want to do) anyway, like coworking, running errands, or even lazing around your house. Similarly, look for smaller touchpoints that can add up over time, like brief phone calls while you walk your dog instead of lengthy conversations you can only commit to once a month at best.
The key is making sure you’re both on the same page so no one feels ignored, disrespected, or confused if the vibes are different than usual. Kelaher suggests saying something like, “I'm not feeling like my best self, but if you’re down to do something low-key, I’d still love to see you,” or “I don’t think I can be fully present for a long catch-up call for awhile, but it’d still be awesome to hear from you and chat about silly things in the meantime.”
4. Don’t forget about your casual relationships.
When our energy is limited, it can be tempting to dedicate what energy we do have to our deepest intimate relationships, be they platonic, romantic, or familial. But Kelaher warns against leaning on that as a solution during your Tired Era. Not only can your casual relationships provide less demanding opportunities for social contact in general, but you also never know when your support system will be unavailable due to things like fatigue, burnout, mental health struggles, or life in general.
Often, low-commitment local meetups and community groups are perfect for this purpose, because you can drop in and out of them as your bandwidth allows and you don’t necessarily have to put a ton of energy into fostering one-on-one connections. (Though if you happen to hit it off with someone and want to deepen that relationship, good news: You already have a built-in time to hang out with them!)
5. Send signs of life (and love) when you can.
Even if it’s totally understandable, it never feels great when someone you’re used to having around suddenly doesn’t have the energy for you. So avoid going ghost for long stretches of time if you can help it. “If you aren’t available to do the work of maintaining a relationship, there are still small practices you can put in place to show someone you haven't forgotten about them,” Kelaher says. To that end, make a habit of sending small “thinking of you!” missives from the trenches of your exhaustion, even if it’s just liking their social media post or texting them a meme. Kelaher also suggests scheduling reminders to make this easier on yourself, like setting an alert on your calendar or putting it on your to-do list.
If you do have to disappear entirely—it sucks, but it happens—communicate that and make it crystal clear that maintaining this relationship long-term is important to you. In an ideal scenario, you can also tell them when they can expect to hear from you again. Then, what Kelaher describes as the most crucial part: Circle back when you say you will, even if it’s only to let them know your situation hasn’t changed from the last time you chatted. You might want to hold out until you have better news or a firmer update, but being honest is more compassionate than leaving a loved one anxiously wondering if your lack of follow-up is actually a soft end to your relationship.
“Circling back can be a challenge when you’re the tired one, but you don’t want to leave someone hanging,” says Kelaher. “Let that person know you haven’t abandoned them and do your best to make them feel supported, seen, and heard.”
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.