For introverts, focusing on the present moment is the best way to ground into the right here, right now.
The other night, my husband and I were spinning circles inside our heads, debating about a trip. It would be our first time traveling since the COVID-19 pandemic hit over two years ago.
“Maybe I’ll just buy the airfare now,” my husband mused. “Or… maybe we should wait?”
“Maybe we should drive instead of fly,” I replied. “What if we book it and we have to cancel?”
The world, it would appear, is falling down around our ears. For introverts who love the comfort of what’s familiar, planning ahead has never felt so uncertain. Even the most privileged choices (like taking a vacation) are extra complicated right now while we all struggle to regain our bearings.
My husband and I aren’t unique in our propensity for overthinking. Introverts spend a lot of time “in our heads” — we’re deep thinkers and enjoy contemplating life’s complexities. There are so many benefits to this aspect of how our brains work. The fact is that with a pandemic, the threat of nuclear conflict, and the escalating climate crisis, we’d be remiss not to thoroughly consider our decisions right now. But there comes a point at which contemplation becomes rumination, making us even more anxious than we might otherwise feel.
How Did We Get Here?
On Instagram, I share daily content for a community that consists primarily of introverts. What I’ve gathered from the DMs and comments is that most of us share similar experiences in early childhood: Growing up in a culture that favors extroversion, we were encouraged to “push ourselves” to be louder and “more social” as kids. Many of us were shamed for being quiet and shy.
We now know that introversion is a trait that can be explained by brain physiology — it runs so deep that we could never actually change it even if we wanted to. But we didn’t know this when we were little. We tried our best to be something we weren’t (aggressive, gregarious, and so on). And, to do so, we needed to dissociate from the cues of the body. When our body craved quiet, reflection, and alone time, we ignored it. Instead, we pushed ourselves to meet the external expectation of extroversion.
Further, if we were good at school, we were rewarded for brain-based knowledge. We learned that it was safer and more acceptable to rely on what the brain was saying than to listen to the nudges of the body. As the late Sir Kenneth Robinson pointed out, many of us have learned to see our bodies as merely vehicles that take our heads to meetings. And while this is a humorous observation, it actually has potentially damaging consequences for our mental health.
Out of the Head and Into the Body
When we worry, overthink, and ruminate, we automatically leave the present moment. Either we’re fretting over something that we predict may take place in the future, or we’re mentally replaying something that happened in the past. To this extent, returning to the present moment is the cure for overthinking — and the best way to ground into the right here, right now is to lean into the sensations of the body.
As a certified mindfulness instructor who works primarily with corporate clients, it’s my job to guide overthinkers, many of whom are introverts, into present moment awareness. That’s all mindfulness is, by the way: Paying attention to the present moment, without judgment.
Unlike meditation, mindfulness does not require you to sit still, clear your head of thoughts, focus on the breath, or even repeat a mantra. For this reason, you can practice mindfulness while you’re out for a jog, washing dishes, or in a virtual meeting.
Sensations vs. Stories
Mindfulness allows us the freedom to just witness our sensory experience as it’s happening, distinguishing between the sensations that arise and the story we ascribe to those sensations. That’s where anxiety originates — when we feel a sensation and then jump into a story about what the sensation means. And since introverts often excel at creative tasks, boy, can we make up a good story.
Example: Imagine that you are about to give a big presentation at work. You might notice that you feel very nervous. If you’re someone who tends to get caught in your head, you might begin focusing on a story like, “Oh no! I’m so nervous and everyone is going to see it! They’re going to think I’m not prepared. Maybe they’re right — maybe I’m not as prepared as I should be! If I knew what I was doing, I wouldn’t be so nervous! I’m a fraud…”
Now imagine that you’re in this same scenario and decide to practice mindfulness instead. You notice that you feel very anxious and nervous. You get curious: Where do you feel this sensation in your body? You notice that your chest feels tight. Your mouth feels dry. Your heart is racing. You slow down enough to notice that the physical symptoms of nervousness don’t actually mean that you’re not capable of giving an excellent presentation. You begin to look at the room around you and notice details that bring you back to right here, right now. Maybe it’s a photo on the wall, or the feeling of your feet inside your shoes. The more you do this, the more you notice that your heart isn’t racing anymore.
Mindfulness reduces the emotional charge of stressful situations and frees up space for us to identify the best way forward. It takes us from a reactionary state (in which we won’t make great decisions) to one in which we can respond from a calm and clear place instead.
The next time you notice yourself getting wrapped up in a story (whether projecting future peril or stewing over a past mishap), try these three easy mindfulness exercises.
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3 Ways Introverts Can Get Grounded When Their Mind Is Racing
1. Drink mindfully and pay attention to all the sensations you’re experiencing.
Grab a glass of water or a mug of tea, preferably either nice and warm or very cold. Take a quick sip. Now, sit in a quiet place for a moment, holding the glass or mug. Notice how it feels in your hands. What do you notice about the temperature? Can you feel the heat or cool transfer to your palms? How does the glass or ceramic feel? Smooth?
Then lift the drink to your face. Notice how it smells. Can you feel heat or cool from the drink on your nose?
Take a sip and hold it in your mouth. Notice how it feels and tastes. What parts of your tongue sense the taste?
Swallow the sip. Notice how it feels.
Compare this mindful sip to the first quick sip you took at the beginning of the exercise. What do you notice?
2. Notice rest and relaxation around you.
Sit or stand in a place where you won’t be distracted. Then scan your body for areas that feel relaxed. Maybe it’s the bottom of your feet, the top of your thighs, your ears, or your cheeks. Notice how they feel.
Next, scan the space you’re in visually for images of rest. Maybe there is a sleeping pet at your feet. Or a corner of the room where everything is still.
Listen for quiet and calm sounds. Maybe it’s only a brief moment when conversation ceases, or that a car alarm stops. Can you notice the sound of rest?
3. Face the facts of a situation, not the story your brain is telling you.
When you notice yourself falling into a story, try to peel the story back to only the facts. Focus on what is taking place right now. Dismiss anything that isn’t in the present moment.
In the example above, before your work presentation, your facts might be: “I am a person standing in a hallway,” “I am a person wearing pants,” or “I am looking at a painting of a bird.”
Notice that the story you’re telling yourself is often unrelated to the facts of the present moment. Instead, it’s focused on things you are imagining to be true — either in the future or the past.
Why Mindfulness Is a Necessity for Introverts
In my opinion, mindfulness is the perfect practice for introverts because it’s all about noticing. This is perfect for us introverts since we’re perceptive and observant by nature. When we learn to direct our attention to the present moment, we’re leaning into one of our introvert superpowers.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that mindfulness is easy, especially at the beginning. Like learning any new skill, it takes practice. Just because I teach mindfulness doesn’t mean I nail it in my personal life all the time. I still often find myself pulled out of the present moment and into worrying about the future or ruminating about the past — like when my husband and I were trying to plan our trip.
The good news is that mindfulness is the practice of both straying from and returning to the present moment. I get it wrong all the time. And that’s okay! That’s the best part about mindfulness: The present moment is always here for us, waiting patiently, right when we need it the most.
Introvert, Dear readers – I have a gift for you! Click this link to access my free, 10-minute audio guided mindfulness exercise called, “Overcoming Overwhelm”.