Staying home alone – illustration of a woman with curly hair, listening to headphones with two slices of cucumbers on her eyes, surrounded by her laptop, a take out box and a smartphone.
Illustration: Djanlissa Pringels

I Lost a Bunch of Friends After Taking Some Time Out for Myself

I set my boundaries a little too firmly, and now I can go weeks without speaking to a mate. How do I reconnect with people?

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, like how to deal with unrequited love or handle annoying flatmates. Today we’re hoping to help a reader who’s looking to rekindle old friendships.


I was never the type of girl with a massive group of friends, but I always had enough of a circle around me. I usually had someone to go to the pub with and plans for almost every weekend. When I began dating my boyfriend a few years ago, my social group got even bigger because I also hung out with his mates.


Two years ago, I noticed I was starting to get overstimulated much quicker around people. Rebooting after the pandemic was pretty hard – I also had doubts about my job and was always exhausted by the end of the working week. I realised I had really pushed myself too much in previous years and wanted to set better boundaries.

Instead of going to a birthday party on a Friday night, for example, I’d stay home with some good food and a movie. I found it increasingly difficult to make plans far ahead, because I didn't know what mood I’d be in [on the day]. I began to dislike the prospect of getting dressed up and going out for just a few hours. On good days, I’d exercise alone, read in the sun or go on a walk with my boyfriend. On bad days – there were many of those – I’d stay on the couch all day. In the beginning, my friends asked if I was OK. I simply said that I was enjoying a simpler life and they understood.

Resting has genuinely done me some good: I sleep better and I think I intervened just in time to avoid burnout. But taking some time off has significantly reduced my friendship group. Sometimes weeks go by without me talking to a friend. I'm really bad at WhatsApp communication myself, but I also notice that friends get back to me less quickly when I send a message. 

In the meantime, they've made new friends and are doing all sorts of fun things together, while I feel like I've watched the whole of Netflix. I still have fun with my boyfriend, but I don't go with him to his friends' as often, and the bond with them has also faded. I don't think anyone is mad at me, but I feel I'm just not on their radar anymore. And that's becoming increasingly painful, especially because I feel better now and I crave having people around me more and more.


I don't really know what to do. I'm afraid that if I make too much of an effort to revive my social life, I'll disrupt my mental peace again. At the same time, sitting at home is making me more introverted, and it feels like life is passing me by. How do I handle this?



Hi L.,

There's a lot to be said about how the past few years have affected the mental health of young people – and although COVID-19 had a big impact on that, things had been bad for a while. According to a study by the career site Indeed, up to 58 percent of millennials and 59 percent of Gen Zers reported burnout symptoms in February 2021, up from 47 percent and 53 percent in January 2020.

The mandatory slowdown of our lives due to the pandemic brought much-needed relief to some, even if only temporarily. But that same quiet time also had negative effects in the long run, as up to 60 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds reported feeling lonely often or all the time during the pandemic.

You said in your letter that you’re struggling to find a balance between finding your inner zen and having fun with friends. Rotterdam-based psychologist Iris van der Steen, who specialises in treating millennial patients, says she’s seen this dilemma quite often in her practice. “People had fewer obligations during COVID, and that temporarily led to a lessening of their fear of missing out,” she says. “Many people enjoyed having fewer choices, and found peace.”


Van der Steen says many of her patients also took a break to re-evaluated their lives, and lost a few friends in the process. “FOMO is back now, but so is the fear of getting as exhausted and overstimulated as before,” she adds. But finding the right balance is key for overall mental health, as studies have shown that young people with a good social circle handle stress better

According to Van der Steen, this is a good time to establish exactly what you want from your social life 2.0, and that should help you avoid old patterns of overstimulation.

If going out to a bar doesn’t sound fun, maybe you could meet up with friends during the day. It's OK if you feel most comfortable with friendships that don't require intense contact, but where you can meet up now and then to catch up. It could also help not to see plans as obligations, and to tell your friends you need to go home when you feel overstimulated. 

To start rebuilding your social group, you could begin by asking yourself, “Who do I actually miss the most?”, Van der Steen suggests, as “those are the people you can gradually build up contact with at your own pace”. You say your friends are less responsive to you when you text them – but have you tried opening up to them to tell them you're struggling to balance friendship with your sense of quietude? 

Of course, being this vulnerable is pretty nerve-wracking, even if it’s with people you trust. But, as Van der Steen puts it: “Friendship is a two-way street.” It's normal that some relationships fade over time, but it’s also possible to rekindle old connections if you approach the situation with an open heart. “I recommend you discuss these issues with your really good friends,” she says. “It's beneficial to you, but it's also a way to rebuild the connection.”

Since you only narrowly avoided a recent burnout, you should also consider which other parts of your life might be draining your energy, Van der Steen adds. “From your letter, it seems to me that your work was the main cause of your symptoms, not necessarily your social contacts,” she says. “Even though you may associate your tiredness with your social life, you might realise it actually energises you.” 

The more you start seeing people on your own terms again, the better and less anxious you’ll feel about it. Trust us: Pretty soon, you’ll have a social life that actually works for you.