Lots of introverts are shy and possibly socially anxious but you can also be shy and socially anxious as an extrovert. Contrary to popular belief, being an introvert doesn’t always mean you don’t like being around other people. It can sometimes be more helpful to think of the introversion-extroversion spectrum as more about how much physical and mental energy socialising gives you or takes from you. And if you don’t fit neatly into one category, that is okay too; understanding your own energy drainers and boosters can be equally important.
So, what’s all this got to do with burnout?
If you are an introvert who enjoys spending time with people or has a very person-centred job involving a lot of interaction and consideration for other people, your energy is likely to be used up more easily than if you had a different kind of job. This involves roles in the helping professionals and many other service-based occupations. They often involve lots of meetings on top of discussions with individuals and little down time in between. This expectation to go from one draining task to another can often leave introverts heavily depleted at the end of the day, and if they are then spending social time with family or friends, this may further be exhausting. Over time, this level of depletion without good routines to restore energy can lead to burnout, having an impact on physical health, mental health and overall quality of life.
Does this mean introverts should avoid socialising?
No, definitely not! Especially if they enjoy socialising. Human connection and interaction is important for many of us, and having opportunities to do this outside of work is a wonderful thing that can help use different parts of our personalities and enrich our lives. However, I do think introverts have to be particularly cautious about how much socialising they do in one go and to consider how this fits in with the demands they have in their job. If there is scope for spreading work demands out a bit more, I would also encourage this but appreciate that this is not always an option. There are several challenges that can present themselves when introverts are trying to meet their own needs socially: knowing how much is enough/too much, learning to sometimes say no (especially to enjoyable activities) and finding other activities that restore energy. Some of this takes practice and some of it might take additional support. This may be more of a difficulty if the introvert is also a highly sensitive person, which I will write more about another day. Topics such as people-pleasing, boundaries, assertiveness, rest, mindfulness and self-compassion are all important ones to explore but can often be presented in a very black and white manner which might not be the best fit for a highly sensitive introvert who cares deeply about others, so please respect your own judgement when consuming any advice on these topics, including from me.
How can I start looking after myself as an introvert?
If you feel you are someone who loses energy from the stimulation of social activity, I would encourage you to start your day mindfully and to connect with your own body. Social activity can often lead to introverts getting lost in their thoughts in a stressful way, which is partly what makes it draining, so learning to connect more to your senses, your breath and focusing on the present moment is worth doing each day, ideally in the morning. This can also help with noticing your habits throughout the day, including any tendencies you may have to say yes to too many things and times when you might normally over-ride your desire to go home or end a call. And the more you start noticing these habits, the stronger your ability will be to make a different choice, which will hopefully feel rewarding in the long-term if you notice the benefit to your energy and quality of life.
Do I have to sit still and meditate every day?
This can be helpful but I don’t think it is necessary. Some people prefer to use simple grounding techniques and others prefer a gentle, movement based mindful activity, such as a yin yoga class. You can also take different approaches on different days. The important thing is to find a practice that is realistic for your current circumstances, which may require letting go of any comparisons with other people, your former abilities and your ideas of how things “should” be. Over time, you can find something that works for you and adapt if needed as your circumstances shift, which they are prone to do for us humans!
If you found this helpful and want to try a live yin yoga class without having to use up the energy and time required to attend a class at a yoga studio, I offer several online classes a week (UK only).