I’m An Introvert: How Can I Deal With Stress?
The whole concept of introvert vs. extrovert may be well known among our culture – it’s common to hear someone proudly declare they are one or the other and even in conflicts, it’s not unheard of to use this as your back up argument – or to shirk your responsibility in the ruckus. “I’m just an extrovert, I can’t help that I’m outspoken!”
What we might not see so often though, is how the introverted – the more reserved and inward turning folks – deal with stress. Today we are going to focus on what most commonly happens to introverts to worry and overwhelm them – and how they can identify their own triggers to restore the clarity and calm they so badly need to function properly.
How to Identify an Introvert:
It’s not like bird-watching, although you might have to wait quietly to capture one in its uninhibited state. Introverts are most commonly described as people with personalities that are:
- Contemplative and thoughtful
- Quiet and reflective
- Focused on their inner mental world
One of the most helpful ways to identify introversion from extraversion is by how one becomes energized. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone or engaging in more quiet, thoughtful circumstances. Being around too much unexpected noise can easily overwhelm these folks, leading them to feel stressed simply by an overabundance of information if they don’t know how to bring it down to a palatable level.
The more outgoing extraverts, on the other hand, become energized by being around others – you can see how this could provide issues when two extremes meet in the middle and try to engage for longer periods of time. Either might feel as though their energy is being sucked right out of them in order to provide for the other. Here is where the term, ‘energy/emotional vampires,’ stems from as well.
Not many of us lie firmly in one camp or the other. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung meant it to represent a spectrum – you may be 60% introverted, for example. He is famously quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert.”
Like anything else in life, this is a conversation around balance. Both carry wonderful qualities, but veering too far off in one direction can lead you to feel like you’re coming apart at the seams. We can also learn how to be more like the other side of the spectrum, especially if we see a benefit in doing so.
Are You an Empathic Introvert?
Do you know the difference between sympathy and empathy? Simply put, sympathy is to care about someone’s suffering, while empathy is actually feeling the suffering of someone else. While this can be incredibly touching when you connect with someone in emotional pain, those who are naturally and even powerfully good at this can be in danger of emotional stress through osmosis. Empaths are people who absorb the feelings of those around them.
You may not be both an empath and an introvert, but there are many people who are and it shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the introverts’ need to find deeper meaning. They are already so attuned to the world around them, in fact, this is thought to be one reason they are so in need of being alone or finding seclusion. German psychologist Hans Eysenck’s theory on introversion/extraversion points to the differences in cortical arousal, or how fast and how much our brains are active. According to this, introverts have high cortical arousal and may process information per second.
No wonder you’re so stressed! To start with, you need to learn how to block some of this out without losing out on your unique way of experiencing life. This ability can make you hyper-aware of what’s going on around you, but in a way, it can be so overwhelming, feeling like waves and waves of information, noise and emotions are pouring over you and you have to shut down to come back to yourself.
While being an empath can bring you profound connections between you and those around you, it can also make you feel like you’re perpetually pushing a boulder up a steep hill. The weight of other’s emotions can burden you in ways you may not even recognize. Do you tear up when someone else starts crying, even at work? Do you become immediately overwhelmed or even angry when you find yourself in the middle of a sidewalk crowd of pedestrian commuters? (Side note: I think the flip side of angry-commuter-crowd lies in sports stadium events or concerts. As soon as those 30,000 people start singing the national anthem, I am completely overwhelmed with emotion, like I’m infused with their pride. Yes, that means I cry at football games before they play.) If you identify with either of these, you are at least part empath!
Energy Investment & Stress
This Psychology Today article talks about the research of Jennifer Grimes, a graduate student at the University of Central Florida, who has been looking more deeply at the introvert/extrovert scale introduced by Carl Jung.
Introverts are more likely to seek a deeper connection when in conversation, whereas extroverts get a boost by interacting in the first place. Grimes poses that either way, we feel more drained when we don’t get the interaction we hoped for. Extroverts may feel down after trying to chat with a more withdrawn person just as much as the introvert would with someone who won’t go beneath surface conversation.
Extroverts have a more active dopamine reward system than do introverts. Introverts seek meaning, not necessarily something tangibly rewarding like a raise or a trophy. That’s not to say introverts don’t want to get promotions and win baseball games, but generally, they would feel more satisfied by contributing to a greater good or establishing a strong bond with someone.
When you’re contemplating what it is that’s stressing you out in the first place, look to this theory for help. What are your expectations in any of those stressful moments and can you turn them around to benefit your mental health and the people around you? Knowing this going in can help you get in front of any worries or dread you hold onto and ensures you achieve exactly what you want by being there.
How to Stop Stressing
- Address your triggers and listen to your intuition
- Realistically set your expectations
- Rearrange your schedule
- Be vigilant in YOU time – no excuses
- Communicate with those around you
Whether you’re aware of it or not, most introverts will have a real advantage in trusting their guts, especially if you also identify as an empath. You know when to avoid a particular building or person, why aren’t you turning that powerful tool towards yourself? It can help you avoid stress in the first place. If you get a hinky feeling about a project you’re being asked to do or a person you know, look into why you’re feeling that way at all and trust it.
In terms of stress, perhaps more so emotional stress, you may dread going to the office Christmas party or to another networking event because you can’t bear the toll it takes on you to disingenuously smile and make small talk. We’ve learned how and why this can be so stressful to introverts. What’s the real point of this event? To show respect and celebrate a successful year? You already know these people, do you need to impress anyone? Show up, introduce your spouse, pay your respects to the people who put it all together and leave early. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. A completely different way to manage this type of stress? Would it be a catastrophe if you didn’t go at all? Another equally important way to set expectation is to be firm on your own boundaries. Know when to say no – because you know while saying yes may help them, it could have a huge negative impact on your own stress.
One of my hardline rules is when I take lunch. As a downtown employee, I know the time between 11:45am to 1pm is going to be insane, but for some reason, everyone still hauls ass to the same few blocks of real estate to stand in a 30-minute line and then rushes back to the office. I find it incredibly frustrating, especially because it threatens my personal space being around so many bodies and noise. Now, I only go for lunch at 11am or 1pm. Even if I’m asked to go for lunch. I don’t make a big to-do about it, usually, I just ask to make the reservation. It has significantly cut down on my daily stress and I get more time to look in windows, talk to my lunch mate or really think about what I want to eat and intentionally head there, instead of grabbing grub from wherever has the shortest line. Much of our stress can be controlled if we recognize where it’s coming from. What can you do to decrease yours?
What is it that you need most when you’re at your wit’s end? Is it a yoga class? A chocolate bar? A night alone in bed with a good book with your cell phone turned off? Whatever it is, you need to be making time for it. Every day. No questions asked. How are you going to jump back in and get everything else done if you can’t even function? It’s not uncommon for introverts to feel completely drained, even after a night of sleep. Who and what is draining you and how can you find reprieve, even for a few minutes a day? Heck, sneak into the office bathroom at random times and play Candy Crush. (Yes, I also do this. It totally works until, well, you know, someone actually comes in to use the loo.) It doesn’t have to be profound, but start to take the time you need until it becomes a practice.
Does your stress come from feeling misunderstood? Some introverts start to feel very lonely or worried because of the way they do or do not communicate. When confronted or faced with extreme emotions, a lot of introverts retreat or walk away from the situation because it’s too much to handle in the moment. The person you were speaking to or arguing with just thinks you don’t care or you’re avoiding them altogether. Learning to explain how you feel at the time or what your process is can be a significant help when it comes to stress, especially in your work or personal relationships. “I need some time to process this,” or “It’s too heated right now, can we talk about this when we’ve calmed down?” People just want to know you hear them, it may not matter exactly when if they trust you’ll address what’s going on. You can focus on the actual solution, instead of the moment of perplexing emotion.
Wherever you land on the introvert/extravert scale, even without doing one personality test, you need to first understand what your own individual needs are before you can hope to tackle stress of any kind. What are your triggers? What helps you to feel safe, confident and energized? How much time do you absolutely need to spend in environments or situations where you are not comfortable? Are you acquiescing to someone out of a sense of duty, or are you just not sure how to behave in these uncomfortable situations?
Don’t ever forget that you hold the power to take control of your life! Knowing what you need and how to ask for it can make your word much easier to navigate and may even inspire those around you to do the same for themselves. You got this!