I've always been a people person. I grew up in a large family with a bunch of noise and activity. I make friends easily. I like to be out and about trying new things, going to new places, and chatting up strangers.
So imagine my surprise when (not too long ago) I discovered that I'm actually an introvert.
I'd bought into the myth that introverts are shy folks not entirely comfortable with larger social gatherings. I’d found my way into far too many random house parties in college for that to be me.
But there were signs from the get go. As a kid, my parents always threatened not to let me go to sleepovers because I was usually crabby the next day. That may have also been due to a lack of sleep but I think people overload also played a role.
This people overload became more and more noticeable when I began to hold space for other peoples’ emotions. Usually low energy and intense emotions such as sadness, anger, and anxiety because happy people don’t come to therapy.
I feel privileged that people trust me with their innermost thoughts but I'm also hella sensitive. I really feel others emotions, almost like my own, so in order to regroup I need to go within. But I didn't know that for a long time. So I just got cranky instead.
I found myself not wanting to spend as much time with friends or make eye contact with anyone. Particularly on work days.
I certainly didn't want to hear about anyone else's problems. This worried me since I pride myself on being someone my friends and family can count on. I had less patience and optimism. My mind was cloudy.
When I learned that introversion actually had more to do with how we recharge our energy than whether or not we’re particularly social, I came to terms with being an introvert. I have a social threshold and when I encounter people overload I need to recharge on my own. Or with a very small group of trusted souls. Often outdoors.
I’ve always enjoyed my alone time but now I began to be more intentional with it. I learned to recognize when I was nearing people overload and made it a priority to go within. The signs for me are mild anxiety and feeling tired even when getting plenty of sleep.
When I see the burnout coming I retreat for a bit. I get outdoors, exercise, meditate, write, and create. When I do this I return reinvigorated, energized, inspired, happy, peaceful, and clear headed. Ready to hang with some friends or see more clients.
I’m still in the process of figuring out how to create my life so that I can avoid people overload as much as possible. I schedule alone time most days. I tell more and more people no (This is really hard when it’s fun people doing fun stuff. I hate missing out!). I ask colleagues not to bother me between sessions unless absolutely necessary. I limit how many complaints I’ll listen to.
I’ve also structured my career to include more writing and other solo projects so that there’s a more manageable balance of social interaction and solo recharging. I’m still figuring out the right balance, which I imagine will always be shifting, but it’s become much easier and I don’t experience burnout as often.
Would you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert? How do you recharge your batteries?