If you’ve explored the 16 Myers and Briggs personality types, you’ll know that an Introvert’s social battery can run out pretty fast. In fact, we Introverts may love our friends, get-togethers and even the occasional party, but we need our downtime away from other people after socializing (my ideal scenario includes a good book, a beloved movie, and several slices of pizza).
But what makes Introverts this way?
Today, we’re looking at the science that explains why Introverts need this precious alone time to themselves.
What does it actually mean to be an Introvert?
Introversion and Extraversion are personality dimensions that describe where you get your energy from. Simply, Introverts get their energy from spending time alone, whereas Extraverts feel re-energized when they get to interact with other people.
This does not mean that Introverts are anti-social creatures or they don’t like people—they just get socially drained quicker than an Extravert would. Words like "Introversion," "shyness" and "social anxiety" are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings. It's possible to be an extremely bold and sociable Introvert who is the life and soul of the party—for a while. Once your fuel tank is empty, you'll need to get back in your shell.
Obviously, not every Introvert is alike. Introversion makes up only one trait of your personality puzzle and all personality types exist in a spectrum. You can find Introverts who need much more alone time than others, and you can also find Introverts who fall into the middle of the Extravert-Introvert dimension (Ambiverts) and are comfortable around the most intense social settings until they reach their limit.
Why Introverts Need Their Downtime: What the Research Says
Any Introvert who has ever been stuck in a social event they couldn’t get away from knows how stressful and uncomfortable it can be. The explanation for why Introverts behave differently to Extraverts in these situations is down to the way the brain is wired.
Research shows that the Introvert’s brain is more responsive to dopamine, the neurotransmitter that controls the brain's pleasure and reward centers. This results in Introverts needing less dopamine than Extraverts do to feel engaged and motivated. Too much dopamine can leave them feeling overstimulated and exhausted (cue: social hangover), causing them to seek time away from noise and crowds.
Another piece of the puzzle has to do with a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is more active in Introverts than it is in Extraverts. Like dopamine, acetylcholine is connected to feelings of pleasure. But unlike dopamine, it's triggered when we turn inwards instead of outwards. It explains why Introverts prefer quieter environments where they can read, think and reflect.
Three benefits of spending time alone as an Introvert
We all need time alone but, as the science shows, it’s especially important for Introverts to make sure they get enough. Here are three benefits you can enjoy if you take the time to recharge.
1. It ensures you have enough energy to get through your day.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of spending time alone as an Introvert is that it allows you to replenish your energy and get much-needed time for peace, quiet and pleasure-building after a busy day. Give yourself permission to disconnect from the demands of your daily life and think of this downtime as the perfect opportunity to indulge in some self-care.
2. It creates space for creativity to flourish.
Spending time alone does not have to be wasted time. For most Introverts, it is the perfect opportunity to explore ideas or activities that you find rewarding, like writing, painting or drawing. It’s also a great way to kick-start creative projects and actually finish them without external distractions. Researchers have often suggested that boredom sparks creativity— when you have nothing to do, your brain is propelled to look for something exciting and voilà, a new idea appears.
3. It may help you feel more connected to yourself and others.
Ironically, choosing to be alone can actually help you feel more connected to other people. It’s when Introverts are alone with their thoughts that self-reflection takes over, and the ability to be truly honest with yourself can help you make better decisions, both in work and in your personal life. What are your values? What binds you to other people? Spending time alone can help you strengthen your self-awareness positively, leading you to feel more grounded and be compassionate towards yourself and others.
Carving space for yourself during the day as an Introvert
Knowing that you need alone time and actually making it happen are two very different things! Scheduling time for yourself can be especially tricky if you’re an Introvert who has to juggle a full-time job, family or other commitments. Here are some tips that will help you stay sane when life gets hectic:
- Look for refuge in nature. Something as simple as having your lunch in the park instead of stress eating at your desk can help rebalance the overstimulated Introvert.
- Establish healthy boundaries. Sometimes lovely people with the best intentions can be overbearing. If you have a tendency to let people push you into socializing when you're not able to handle it, learn to say “no” and draw your boundaries.
- Incorporate self-care habits into your routine. It's important to take care of yourself. Just don’t let what is supposed to be a relaxing ritual turn into another task you’ll feel guilty about not completing. Take it step by step.
- Find outlets to express your emotions. When everything feels too much, it can be helpful to find an outlet to express your thoughts and emotions. There’s no right way to do this, so do what feels right to you. Personally, I enjoy making lists of favorite books, movies, and things that bring me comfort in general. For you, it can be other activities such as painting, karaoke or hiking, for example.
The bottom line
Science shows that spending time alone is crucial for Introverts. This is their way of restoring their energy levels and engaging in activities that bring them pleasure. From writing to exploring nature to simply taking an afternoon off, carving out quiet time for yourself to recharge is not only beneficial, but also necessary in order to keep your brain working as it should. So start small and find what works best for you. After all, self-care is a lifelong journey that should be enjoyed!