5 Tips for Introverts to Fight ‘Seasonal Extrovert Disorder’

One day last summer, as I was pretending to nap so my houseguests wouldn’t realize I was hiding from them, I found myself thinking about the seemingly impossible conundrum of relationships. We introverts love our people and are exhausted by them at the same time. How often have we waved goodbye to the visitors feeling undeniably relieved at their departure, already missing them deeply, and simultaneously devastated that we hadn’t connected with them while they were visiting?

I lay on the floor and stared up at the ceiling, thinking that I really needed to tackle the cobwebs in the far corner of the room as I listened to my nephews charging around the yard. The two-year-old was brandishing his new vocabulary like a blunt sword. “Ball! Mine! Baby do it!” in mounting pre-nap hysteria. The eight-year-old was sulking in the shade knowing that the water balloon fight he had awaited with such anticipation was about to be eclipsed by his little brother’s afternoon snooze. Neither one of them was happy despite the efforts of the adults tap-dancing madly around them.

I felt both sad missing out and exhausted by the thought of joining them. I popped in a pair of earplugs and closed my eyes. But my pretend nap turned out to be a sort of solution: When the water balloon fight erupted a day later, I was ready to join in. And as a wet missile exploded against my bare arm in the afternoon heat, I had the glimmer of an answer to my own struggle.

Just like the toddler needs his naps and the older boy needs his game, I must guard some periods of quiet and calm so I can join in the noise and mayhem of family fun. This is the crux of the problem for introverts like me: being called upon to act like an extrovert for periods of time. I’ve found it helpful to think of these episodes as “seasons of extroversion.”

Why I Need Occasional Seasons of Extroversion

Seasons of extroversion are not only inevitable, they are imperative to balance our personal and professional lives. They are especially necessary in our relationships with the extroverts we love.

Let’s face it — sadly, many of those people will simply never understand how we are wired. They listen, nod, say they get it, but they don’t really. They think we are just being moody or unreasonable. Appearing to respect our boundaries, they agree not to run the nail gun during our morning writing time, but five minutes later will fire up the Sawzall and be completely surprised by our resulting ire.

Since we love these people, it’s important to try to meet them halfway and sometimes engage in what Quiet author Susan Cain calls “pretend extroversion,” which allows us to act out of character “in the service of core personal projects,” as she writes.

Those core personal projects can take the shape of family visits, friendships, performances, and work-related events. However, since the unnatural mode of pretend extroversion is quickly exhausting and has diminishing returns, we have to find some way to recharge.

The sustainable solution I’ve found is to flash charge during seasons of extroversion. By identifying easy ways to withdraw and re-energize, like a singer taking staggered breaths during a long and difficult phrase of a song, we can meet our own needs while staying connected with the outer world.

How to Fight Seasonal Extrovert Disorder

While occasional extroverted periods are all well and good, sometimes the social demands pile up and become too much for us introverts. That’s when I consider it seasonal extrovert disorder. So, here are five strategies to help fight seasonal extrovert disorder:

1. Identify your seasons of extroversion.

About the time I realized I was an introvert, I did a writing workshop with author Lidia Yuknavitch, who opened my eyes to the idea of a creative cycle. Yuknavitch had us chart the seasons of the year with an eye toward our writing productivity. I felt excited and joyful as I sketched out my activities for fall, realizing that the steady rain, gloomy days, and empty sidewalks coincided with my most productive days.

Winter offered long hours of darkness to create and read. Chilly spring days provided structure for revision. The mere thought of summer made me anxious, and I realized I hardly got any writing done during this season. After this exercise, I went into the next summer with modified expectations and less anxiety, comforted by the thought of fall.

What’s your season of extroversion?

Perhaps the winter holidays bring an annual dread with their overly warm dining rooms packed with relatives. Or maybe it’s weddings and baby showers that put you on edge. Spring Break with other people’s children, soccer-season small talk, or a series of work conferences makes you want to lie face down in the buffet line. Chart your year to identify your personal seasons of necessary extroversion and be better prepared.

2. Identify your hours of extroversion.

In the same workshop, Yuknavich had us chart the creative cycle of our days. I noted that early morning is my most creative time and afternoon is best for extroversion. I’ve used this knowledge in my career as a writer. I book interviews and meetings later in the day, and meet colleagues for afternoon coffee or lunch. I guard my morning time, even if I have to get up earlier when I have a house full of guests or a packed work schedule.

What are your hours of extroversion?

Identify when you can most successfully interact with others. See how you might organize your day around that inner clock. If the timing of a particular work or social situation doesn’t work for you, see if you can change it up.

3. Identify quick recharges that work for you.

“It’s too bad there’s not some introvert battery recharging machine,” I wrote to a friend during a busy stretch. “Oh wait. It’s called Netflix.”

Like most introverts, I can feel my personal battery recharging when I’m doing the things I love most — walking in the woods, playing my ukulele, or micro-managing the recycling. Alternatively, I can feel the meter spinning backwards when I have to make small talk, do work presentations, or go out to lunch with a colleague who talks too much.

I’ve found that the pretend nap works well to recharge. A pair of earplugs buys me 30 minutes of quiet time or reading, and then I can join back in. My dog’s mandatory morning and evening walks offer twice daily reprieve. Classical music on my headphones works wonders too. (Netflix doesn’t really work. It’s more akin to Doritos for the soul when I need chicken soup.)

What are your quick fixes?

Identify your best flash recharges and sneak them in during busy times. Disappear for a short walk at lunch during a work trip. Go to bed early on family vacation or get up early to putter. Skip a conference session and go sit by yourself.

4. Identify what drains you and stop doing it.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I often think to myself at 2 a.m. after I’ve decided to combat my social anxiety with alcohol. A cocktail or two always sounds like fun but simply never helps. I sleep badly, can’t concentrate in the morning, and feel crabby all day. I now know that one certain way to help myself during seasons of extroversion is to avoid alcohol.

Which habits drain you?

You don’t have to understand why you feel terrible after you’ve held Thanksgiving again (don’t you love your family?) or hosted the neighborhood sleepover (aren’t they nice children?) or volunteered to take the new guy to happy hour (he’s really fun, isn’t he?). To find other ways to be loving and kind, first avoid the things that exhaust you.

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5. Stop apologizing. 

The hardest part about seasonal extrovert disorder is the hardest thing about being an introvert: People don’t get it. While it has become easier for me to explain myself, I’ve stopped trying. I make an effort to articulate to the important people in my life how much I need my alone time. But usually, I depend on the Irish Goodbye and just disappear.

Some people take it personally, think I’m a killjoy, or try to bully me into behaving differently. Sometimes those relationships don’t last. That’s okay, because if I can’t be myself, those friends weren’t worth keeping. 

Practice being yourself.

Imagine what it would feel like to stop apologizing for doing what you really want and need to do. First try it out on someone who supports and respects you. Notice how it feels to say no and stick to it. Then bask in the glow of JOMO (Joy of Missing Out).

That summer day, I lay on the floor thinking of seasonal extroversion as difficult but fleeting. I understood well what I gained in exchange. By accepting the challenge, I would wrap up the summer with my heart full of treasured memories: picking 36 pounds of cherries with my nephews; camping with dear friends on the Oregon Coast; late night shenanigans with my tremendous tribe of girlfriends, hobnobbing with new musician friends, and professional work that makes me feel satisfied and challenged.

And when the clouds came back, when the rain fell in sheets, and the wind sent the leaves sailing through the air, I’d be alone in the woods with the dog, or solitary at my desk, and I’d know these seasons of extroversion are a necessary part of my life as a happy introvert.

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Eileen Garvin is the author of How to be a Sister: A Love Story With a Twist of Autism. She’s working on a memoir about midlife called Misfitting. You can see more of her work at www.eileengarvin.com and PsychologyToday.com.