The holidays are supposed to be about spending quality time with those you love. But what if you’re an introvert? What if the idea of sitting in a room with people for hours on end fills you with dread?
As an introvert, it can be hard to find a balance between appeasing your family’s needs while respecting your own. It is entirely possible, however — even if you sometimes feel like you’re going to pull your hair out and run screaming toward a silent retreat for the rest of the year.
For years I dreaded the holidays. The obligation to spend hours interacting with family, standing in line at stores shopping for presents that people didn’t really want, and dealing with everyone’s dietary requirements was enough to make me feel insane. Often, my anxiety would be so acute I felt like my heart was in my throat. One year I cracked my mouthguard overnight. The incessant chatter and the questions about every aspect of my life — even though they were from my very caring and interested relatives — often left me feeling like I wanted to scream. Can everyone just shut up for half an hour, I’d often say to myself while smiling sweetly and pretending I’m having a good time.
Fortunately, getting sober and being in the process of recovery led me to a new level of self-honesty. Those of us in addiction recovery have to be able to be true to our innermost selves and stop avoiding our feelings — it’s not like numbing out is an option anymore.
For me, that means that I have to honor my feelings of anxiety and what it means to be an introvert.
I recently attended a three-day conference with an extroverted friend of mine. At the end of each day, I craved alone time and felt exhausted, whereas she was energized by being around others and interacting all day. At the end of the event, it took me a week of alone time to recharge.
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For years, I’ve let friends, family, and romantic partners criticize my need to go to my room after dinner, but now I’m better equipped knowing my introverted self. I no longer dread the holidays because I have a strategy to cope with it.
Here are my top tips for surviving the holidays as an introvert:
1. Honor your body's needs. If I need alone time, I take it — even if that means leaving a family event early or saying no to a social gathering.
2. Block out extra time for self-care. Knowing there will be more events over the holiday period, I book out more time for therapeutic activities such as yoga, a long bath, an extra day off work, a massage, or rearranging my schedule to sleep in the day after a night out.
3. Always have your own space. If I am staying away from home, I never share a room (unless it’s with a partner) so that I have my own space to recharge. I also ensure I take my eye mask and earplugs with me because I often get sensory overload.
4. Saying no is your friend. I have zero qualms about saying no if I am too tired to attend something or I don’t want to. Doing something out of obligation will only drain me further, bring out crazy Liv, and make me resentful.
5. Know your limits and have an exit strategy. I limit all activities to two or three hours maximum and ensure I either park a car close by or have access to Lyft or Uber.
6. Communicate your needs. I often need to remind friends and family that I am an introvert and what that means. Once people realize that your quietness and need for alone time isn’t about them, they’re much more respectful of your needs.
7. Consider not buying gifts. In a consumerist society, and as an introvert who hates lines, I often tell my family I’m not participating in gift-giving, and I don’t expect a gift from them. Once they’re over the initial shock, people are grateful for the extra time and the money they’ve saved.