I’m suffering from a hangover. Not an alcohol hangover; a socializing hangover. These past few weeks I’ve been blessed with some wonderful gatherings but have tied one on and gotten lit on socializing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all been fun and amazing, but it’s also taken a toll on my introverted heart. Yep, my name is Carla and I’m an introvert. Again, loved them all but now it’s time for me to decompress and recover. Even if just for one day.
For fellow introverts like myself, the holidays are especially challenging. It’s one social event after another and one “what am I going to make or buy for such and such?” It takes a toll on our over-thinking minds and maybe that’s why January 2 is rightly celebrated as World Introvert Day. Hallelujah! Time for a little prescription to slow down and realign. It’s not only the holidays that can do this to us though, conferences, weddings, reunions, and retreats can all give us a hangover. An introvert hangover.
Many of you who know me are probably thinking, “You’re not an introvert! You’re fun and interesting and outgoing.” Yes, I can be all of that, and actually cope pretty well in social situations; they just wear me out. I prefer safe spaces and among those I consider safe and who give me peace. In a nutshell, I treasure time alone, I hate small talk, and large crowds are a big “no thank you” for me. I’m not, however, shy or aloof, I simply sit back and observe before taking a social or high-stress jump.
I discovered much of this during the 2020 Covid lockdown. All that staying safe at home was actually pretty easy for me and quite cathartic. While many were going stir crazy having to stay home, I thrived. I nested. I walked. I wrote. I read. One book I discovered was “The Powerful Purpose of Introverts” by Holley Gerth and I’ve referred back to it many times. It’s changed my life. I learned that we introverts are indeed powerful, don’t need to become extroverts, and the world needs us.
In her book, Gerth offers a test to see if you’re an introvert and if so, how big of one. Out of a total score of 100, I’m 85 percent introvert. I’m in good company though, as introverts make up half of the population and fellow introverts include Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Joanna Gaines, C.S. Lewis, Max Lucado, Michael Jordan, and Jerry Seinfeld; the last of which shocked me but proves introverts aren’t what you think they are. And if that isn’t enough proof that introverts are indeed successful and ambitious, consider that 53 percent of millionaires identify themselves as introverts. Woohoo! We may come across as silent, but we are silently strong.
It was interesting to learn that Finland is known as the land of introverts. The Nordic country has an affinity for peace, quiet, and calm. Personal space is a great value and breaks in conversations are not seeing as uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Finland also tops the “World Happiness Report” list every year as the happiest country in the world. Introverts out there: be happy!
It all also explains why I prefer yoga over spin class and why I’m such a dog person. There are photos of me with our family dog when I was as young as three-years-old and I never felt at home or fell in love with a fitness class until I met yoga.
One common misconception is that introverts need to learn how to be extroverts and that you must be an extrovert to lead. Not only are both of these outdated and a bit insulting, there are inaccurate. Introverts have so many strengths, gifts, and skills that the world needs but they are often overlooked by the chatter and banter out there. We were created as introverts and there is no reason for us to become extroverts. We may go quietly about our way, but we make a difference in ways no extrovert can and the two…extroverts and introverts…can make a heckuva team.
As Gerth says, being an introvert isn’t a struggle, it’s a superpower and many of the traits of an introvert have my name written all over them.
- We relish time alone but also love people, preferably in intimate and genuine small social settings. Still, time alone for introverts isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. We crave solitude and are never bored when alone. Introvert Emma Scheib of “Simple Slow & Lovely” says alone time is akin to air and water for her. It’s that important. It’s that beneficial. It’s something we can’t explain and extroverts will never understand.
- We recharge on our own and don’t need the world to help us think and feel better. Self-care is trendy but introverts have been doing it all along.
- We don’t mind being alone…at all..but we do appreciate good company. We actually “become” extroverted around people who bring us peace.
- Certain people drain us while others energize us. We find people both intriguing and exhausting.
- We’re great listeners but will speak our my mind when pushed. In fact, we’d rather say what’s on our mind than make small talk. On the flipside, listening can be challenging for extroverts.
- We are reflective, introspective, think deeply, and often overthink, but this allows us to act intentionally and make rational and well thought out decisions…for ourselves and society as a whole. We are not slow thinkers; we are deep thinkers. My extrovert husband tells me to “land the plane” but sometimes my flight is a long one!
- We have a knack for details and live a very detail-oriented existence. We are feelers and thinkers and excel in everything from accounting to artistry.
- We value quality over quantity in relationships, don’t like surprises, are perfectionists, and often allow fear to get the best of us. Routines are our best friends.
- We feel good when we turn inward, focus on ideas, have meaningful conversations, and do work that matters to us. We are motivated by internal rewards. All this inner-thinking also results in very creative imaginations.
- We are very observant, perceptive, and catch things many miss. This allows us to ad depth and insights to conversations and we’re good at making meaningful connections.
- We dread small talk but enjoy sharing helpful ideas and information. Much like Gerth, when I can, I bring along a “designated extrovert” to a socializing situation. This allows me to stand back, observe, and chime in when I feel the need while my “DE” can mingle and yack away. Many of my friends are introverts as are both my husband and daughter.
- We often rethink what we did or said in a public or social setting and wonder if we should have done things differently.
- We have boundless empathy, a deep desire to solve problems, and a unique drive to make a difference in the world.
- We tend to revel in keeping up with current events sometimes even at the detriment of our sanity. Headlines and breaking news are daily norms but we can tend to want to fix everything and help everyone. Being a former broadcast journalist, I know this firsthand. Once a newsie always a newsie.
- We listen and learn and pay attention…so much that that person you depend on to be there through thick and thin and when you need consistent and honest help is probably an introvert.
- Friends are important to introverts, but true and trusted friends. We are not big on big groups. An introvert with one best friend can be less lonely than an extrovert with lots of acquaintances.
- We don’t like being the center of attention but excel at supporting others. We’re okay with the fact that the talkative person may get the attention but thoughtful listeners build trust, likability, and solid relationships.
- We sometimes find it difficult to let go of perfection and don’t like taking risks. We also tend to compare ourselves to others, fear change and rejection, and struggle with setting boundaries; the latter of which is important for anyone but especially for introverts. It’s imperative we remind the extroverts in our lives that we simply can’t do life at the same pace they can. They wouldn’t want to slow down to our pace so they shouldn’t expect us to keep up to theirs. Don’t apologize and don’t explain. You don’t need to prove or justify your needs.
All of this comes in handy and into play all over the world we live in, from families to friend groups, places of work to places of worship, teams we’re on to classes we’re in. Thanks to our powerful, analytical minds, introverts are great problem solvers and idea creators and are very resourceful. We also tend to like order and planning, both of which are critical skills extroverts as a whole are not strong in. Our knack for details allows the extroverts in the room to be the “big picture” guys and know we’ll take care of it from there. Our much needed and much desired solitude boosts productivity, sparks creativity, builds mental strength, and give us the opportunity to plan and produce. We bring calmness to a situation and direction to a board meeting. We make sure our pantries have what we need and we don’t feel the need to be the boss. In fact, today’s fast-paced and stressed-out culture needs what we offer perhaps more than ever.
Something else society seems to need is social media. Companies have entire departments dedicated to curating a social media presence and friends and family seem to be all over Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the likes. Most introverts find social media overwhelming but not me. I actually enjoy my quiet time looking at pretty pictures, seeing new recipes, and learning it’s a friend’s birthday. I find it a safe and quiet space where I can share what I want and voice what I think if I choose. It’s almost like journaling to me.
For introverts and extroverts alike, it’s not about personality; it’s about how God made us and how our brains and nervous systems are wired. Extroverts are wired to spend energy while introverts are wired to conserve it. Not to get too analytical (one of my strengths though!), basically extroverts thrive on dopamine and have more of it in their brains than introverts, who prefer acetylcholine, which is more active in introverts. Interestingly enough, social media is intentionally designed to release dopamine. Social events also flood the brain with dopamine, which may initially give us the energy to enjoy and get through them, but they do ultimately take a toll on us. Dopamine energizes extroverts but overwhelms introverts. As Gerth notes, it’s not about the people. It’s about our nervous system being overloaded by external stimulation, including very stimulating people we enjoy hanging out with. In short, dopamine is like caffeine while acetylcholine is like herbal tea. Hmmm…funny thing is I love coffee!
Ask an extrovert how they feel when they’re happy and they’ll likely say things like energetic, excited, and enthusiastic. Introverts will respond the likes of content, fulfilled, and satisfied. Extroverts need external stimulation to feel good while introverts get recharged from the inside out and fill our energy tanks in private or in the presence of maybe one or two trust allies. An introvert’s natural state of happiness is calm and content while an extrovert’s is enthusiastic and excited.
But, even with all that dopamine and energy running inside them, extroverts aren’t the ones more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression. That would be introverts, likely due to our highly reactive nervous systems and strong sense of empathy. We introverts tend to be worry warts and excessive worry can lead to anxiety, depression, and other illnesses. We may not come across as very active, but our brains are constantly in overtime. Sadly, research has found that up to 70 percent of an introvert’s spontaneous thoughts can be negative. Raise your hands Negative Nancies. Remember that acetylcholine we talked about? Well, as Lindsay Dodgson explains in her article “What Everyone Gets Wrong About Introverts,” the acetylcholine brain pathway introverts use for processing is much longer and goes through the part of the brain that notices errors. This can not only make us glass half empty people, but may lead to us be more self-conscious and self-critical. Raising my hand again. But, extroverts are most likely to develop an alcohol addiction. No one’s perfect, right?
It’s for sure about worry with us, but also the dreaded “R” word: rumination, which is really just a fancy name for worry. With rumination, we focus on our circumstances and then go round and round a problem. We can learn something from our extrovert friends on this one. They are masters at getting their minds off unpleasant things by engaging in something fun or meaningful. We introverts on the other hand tend to, well, ruminate. As my extrovert husband tells me again and again, “don’t let it take up space in your brain” as well as “don’t overanalyze it, Carla. Make a decision and move on.” Easy for him to say.
An extrovert may occasionally have introvert tendencies or moods and vice-versa, but in general you are who you are and there’s little likelihood someone will do a complete 180 and switch. In fact, studies indicate our overall temperaments, including being an introvert or extrovert, don’t generally change. What is interesting however, is that as we age, we act more introverted. Maybe even extroverts get tired of the chaos and BS!
So, to all my fellow introverts out there: embrace your introvertness! It’s okay to prefer a quiet life. It’s okay to want to stay in. In fact, in many ways it’s courageous as it requires you to confront your own thoughts, hearts, and souls. It might not get a million likes and followers or be trending, but a quiet life is brave and intentional. It’s about value not volume. It’s in that quiet that we create, recharge, innovate, plan, and dream. We realign with our truest selves and hear the whisper of God. He made us this way and is happy to see us thriving. Think about it.