I am an introvert. Who is also shy. Who also has social anxiety. Who wins the prize for the person most likely to become a shut-in who lives off the grid in a cabin in the woods? That would be me, except the woods don’t have a good internet connection, so I’ll pass.
Introversion, shyness, and social anxiety don’t always go together and they aren’t the same thing, although often they are lumped together. They’re kinda like BFFs, when you find one, you usually find one or the other hanging around too. At least, that’s how it is for me. Being an introvert means that being around people drains me. Being shy means it’s hard to open up and talk to and connect with people. Social anxiety means the thought of being around people + going out can make me really anxious.
When I was younger, I thought I was so weird. I was always sitting alone for lunch or sneaking off to the library. My idea of a Saturday night was laying in bed reading. Every week I spent my allowance on books. I skipped Prom and I didn’t walk for my graduation because no thank you. I didn’t understand why I was born without that part that let’s you have a group of friends like in every sitcom ever.
It made me feel like something wasn’t right with me. In my early 20s I tried to fake it. I went out to bars (by bars I mean twice and I hated it), I went to parties where I bathed in the discomfort, I tried to have friends and ended up being friendly with a lot of lovely people but never really having the kind of connection I wanted.
Thanks to the internet I learned all about social anxiety and being an introvert.
At its worst, it has led to a tendency toward agoraphobia and at its best, it’s just made me feel really, really, guilty.
You don’t want to be the person who always lets everyone down. You don’t want to flake on plans or always have to think up an excuse to bow out. The guilt of hurting or disappointing other people can make you want to shrivel up and die. So you push through it, you force yourself, and then there’s a different sort of shrivel-up-and-die that happens.
I don’t know about you, but when I force myself into uncomfortable social situations I spend the next few days feeling so depleted of energy that all I can do is sleep and sleep and sleep and nothing else in my life gets done and that can trigger an episode of depression.
Let me tell you how crappy a choice that is.
So often it literally feels like I’m choosing between making my friends happy or falling into a depression that might last for weeks. It’s not always that dire, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it’s a choice between my mental health and a social situation that anyone else wouldn’t think twice about.
I like hanging out with people (really, I do!). I like enjoying another person’s company… in doses… when it doesn’t cut into my time for me… and when I’m comfortable with them. This doesn’t mean I need to shut myself away forever, as much as I’d sometimes like to.
What it does mean is that I have to pay attention to my energy and what I can give to other people. I have to make calculations and schedules and compromises when it comes to being social and that’s okay! When I honor my introvert and do the things that nourish that part of me it makes an amazing difference in my life. No more feeling run down and stretched thin and drained when I don’t need to be.
Here’s what I’ve learned about self care + being an introvert.
Learn to say “no”.
This one is hard to learn but it gets easier with practice. Remember that you don’t have go out or meet up or hang out if it’s something that’s going to cause you discomfort. If you aren’t feeling it, don’t do it, and don’t feel bad about honoring those feelings! Work on saying “no” and saying it right away. If someone invites you to something and you don’t want to go, say no! Don’t say you’ll think about it if you know you’ll end up canceling.
Chances are you’ll feel guilty about making them wait for an answer and it will just add more stress or you’ll just suck it up and go and wish you were home reading the entire time. That’s no fun for anyone.
Learn to say no in a way that lets people know that you genuinely care about them and it’s not personal. Reschedule if you can, for a time that’s more comfortable for you. For example, I would rather do things with other people on days I already have to work, that way I have my weekends alllll to myself and I don’t feel like I’m giving up precious “me-time”.
Also, learn to say yes.
It’s all too easy for the people around us to feel like our introvert-ness is a reflection of our feelings toward them. Instead of a flat-out “no” when someone asks you to do something, suggest an alternative activity that you DO feel comfortable with. You can also make sure that if you go you have an early escape plan so that you’re compromising. If you know something is going to be draining for you – make sure to try to clear your schedule afterwards so you get the time to recharge. Don’t let your introversion be something that pushes people away.
Let them know that you’re trying.
Be aware of what you need.
Know when it’s time to take a step back from immersing yourself in the company of others. Learn what signals your mind and body are giving you when it’s time to schedule in “you” time. You might start feeling tired and overwhelmed from social situations. You might get anxious about losing time you want to spend on non-social activities. You might feel depressed or burned-out or grumpy. It’s okay to honor those feelings and be flexible with what’s going on around you.
A lot of the time your introversion will ebb and flow – go with it.
Taking the time to re-charge is so important for your mental health. Treat it like it’s taking medicine. It’s something that you’re doing for your health. It’s something that you need to function properly. When you stress yourself out you’re compromising your immune system. Taking time to recharge is not frivolous. It’s important.
Check-in with yourself frequently and ask yourself if you’re taking care of yourself, really taking care of yourself. If the answer is “no”, it’s time to reshuffle your priorities.
Learn what recharges you.
As I’ve said before, self-care is different for everyone. It’s that thing that you do that takes care of you and makes you feel good. What things make you feel better after you’ve expended your energy with other people? What fills up your inner reserves? Do those things. Spend time with your best friend or partner. Spend time alone. Or spend time in quiet solitude or jam out to music. Do the things that pull you back together and inside of yourself.
Laying on my couch with my windows open and the sunshine flowing around me with a good book? That fills me up.
One of my favorite tools is to sit and read while I have ASMR videos playing in the background. It’s all about creating a comfortable and cozy atmosphere for myself where I feel safe and at ease.
What is that for you?
Don’t compare yourself to extroverts.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What things nourish your introverted energy?