Introvert Monday: Why Finding Alone Time is Vital

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written about introversion, but I finally got my act together and wrote a post.  Sorry it’s late again!

alone time

Today I will be discussing alone time for introverts.  A common trait among definitions of introversion includes the need for alone to time to regain lost energy.  Often the need for alone time is likened to recharging a battery.  As a reminder, introverts expend energy in social encounters while extroverts feed off the energy of other.  Marti Olsen Laney, Psy. D., writes in The Introvert Advantage, “Introverts are like a rechargeable battery.  They need to stop expending energy and rest in order to recharge.  This is what a less stimulating environment provides for introverts.  It restores energy,” (pg. 20).  A less stimulating environment often means someplace where you can be alone.

I’ve already briefly written about why introverts feel drained by social interactions, but happens when they are drained of energy?  Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way numerous times about what happens when I don’t take the time to properly recharge.   While I have many examples of times that I exhausted myself by taking on too much, one night in college particularly emphasizes what happens when an introvert doesn’t have proper alone time.

The Night I Caused Myself to Fall Apart

Every year, my church in college hosted a weekend seminar on a theological issue.  I loved having the opportunity to spend several hours of study on a specific topic taught by a guest pastor or professor.   During my time as a student, our church started inviting students from another Lutheran campus ministry program to attend the seminar.  Consequently, the weekend was jammed with activities.  Friday night was a social time for all the college students, all day Saturday was filled with the sessions, Sunday morning had the final session as well the church service, and finishing the weekend with a luncheon after church.  It was a busy weekend that took a lot of energy, but like I already said, I enjoyed going to this event.

Unfortunately, during my junior year this event landed during on of my hell weeks (you know, one of those weeks when several exams and papers are due).   I spent the week juggling studying and work.  Consequently, I was already exhausted by the time Friday arrived.  However, in my stubbornness I decided that I could work my full shift, attend the much-needed study session for my exam on Monday, and still go to the social event that night.

Big mistake.

By the time I got home that night, I felt irritated and tense.  I could also feel waves of overwhelming exhaustion coursing through my body.  I walked into my blessedly empty apartment (which was a bit of a miracle since I had three roommates), curled up on the couch, and started to sob.  In that moment, the world felt like it was too much for me to handle and I wanted to quit everything that had drained me that week:  school, work, and church.  At least I had enough sense to drag myself to bed where I promptly fell asleep.

Fortunately for me, I am a morning person, so I felt much better after sleeping off my emotional breakdown.  The rest of the weekend went well:  I enjoyed listening to the guest speaker, I decided to forgo going out to lunch with everyone else so that I could quietly study for my exam, and I enjoyed spending time with people again.

Unfortunately for me, I’m slow at accepting that I am not invincible.  Despite the obvious agony I put myself through by attending that social event on that Friday evening, I simply thought of my fit as being tired.  I continued the cycle of pushing myself to do everything and be everywhere until an exhausted sobbing fit would overtake me and force me to take a break.  It took me another year to realize that it wasn’t healthy for me to push myself to an emotional crashing point.  It’s taken me until this year to realize that I need alone time to recharge; it’s just part of being an introvert.

Signs that You’re Not Getting Time to Recharge 

Not every introvert has an emotional breakdown if they don’t get enough alone time.  Other signals that an introvert is feeling drained include:

  • Feeling unfocused
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Feeling withdrawn
  • Being self-critical
  • Feeling anxious

Finding Balance

While it’s easy to know that introverts need alone time to recharge, it can be harder to find that alone time.  In a perfect world, we would never have to go to events that we didn’t want to attend and would have the energy to do all the things we want to accomplish.  However, life doesn’t work that way.   The Introvert Advantage explains, “We grow up in a society that promotes ‘having it all,’ ‘doing it all,’ without limitations.  But the fact is, we all have limitations–introverts in particular.  We do not have boundless energy,” (pg 225).  Consequently, we have to make choices about what we can and cannot achieve.  Again, The Introvert Advantage states, “Our energy is limited, and we need to think carefully about how we spend it.  This can be a hard pill to swallow.  However, it can also make our life more precious.  When we make conscious choices, it allows us to really appreciate what we can do,” (pgs. 225-226).

It does take some rethinking to appreciate what you can achieve with limited energy.  In my story above, I could have very easily skipped the Friday night social event and saved myself from falling apart.  But I wanted to go; it sounded like a fun evening.  I didn’t want to miss out on what many of my friends were doing.   However, if I would have taken the time to think about how the evening would actually make me feel (which I can now do with my 20/20 hindsight), I would have realized that I was too tired and drained to enjoy myself.  While the event itself was fun, I couldn’t have fun.  If I would have accepted this part of my personality, I would have saved myself from feeling irritated with my friends and completely overwhelmed.

Again, it can be difficult to admit that you can’t do everything.  Students can be envious of classmates who can socialize all weekend and get straight A’s during the week, adults can feel frustrated that they don’t have the energy to be the star employee at work, and parents can feel inadequate because they struggle to juggle the demands of child-rearing.  However, Laney explains how to start accepting our energy limitations:

“One of the quickest ways to accept the absence of something we wish we had–but don’t–is to acknowledge disappointment.  Many people want to skip over this step.  It’s called denial.  But if you pretend you don’t mind not having an energetic body or the ability to spit out snappy repartee, you may be secretly mad–critical of yourself–or feel that you have a serious flaw.  And you may keep expecting yourself to be different.  We are given feelings to help guide us through life.  It is disappointing not to be a giant ball of energy.  If you let yourself feel the loss, the sadness will pass.  In its place will be appreciation for the efficient energy you do possess,” (pg. 227).

I still struggle to acknowledge my disappointment when my energy fades and to accept that I need to say no to something I feel obligated to do or an event that I want to attend.  But I’m also starting to realize that life will be much more gratifying when learn to enjoy what I can do and that being properly charged is the best way to find this enjoyment.

Are you diligent in making sure that you have time to recharge or do you often push yourself too hard?  How do you find a balance between things that need to be done and finding time to recharge?  For extroverts, how often do you need alone time?    


One Comment on “Introvert Monday: Why Finding Alone Time is Vital”

  1. Tiffany says:

    If I don’t get the alone time I need to recharge, my tends to force it on me by the end of each day until I do it. I usually end up sleeping for far longer than I need to and I get incredibly irritable. I’ve also found that my appetite almost completely disappears as well. This was an interesting read since right now I’m actually having issues with getting my alone time. I was dating an extrovert until a few days ago and he wanted me to magically not be an introvert. I can’t do that, so unfortunately we can’t continue. It is upsetting and I had pushed my need for alone time back until just recently and it exploded in our faces.
    Thanks for writing this. I found it interesting and informative.

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