Setting boundaries is all about taking ownership of your introvert needs and finding balance between “you” time and “people” time.
My first job out of college was in sales and recruiting — I was told my personality helped me land the position. I was a “people person” who always had a witty joke or a funny face at the ready to lighten the mood. I chose professional opportunities where I needed to be that outgoing, bubbly Leah that people seemed to like. Frankly, I enjoyed the positive reinforcement I received for being this version of myself — highly engaged and available. Little did I know, I was acting like an extrovert while masking my introversion.
What people at work didn’t know was that after a full day of interaction, I needed to run home to hide away in my apartment and refuel. Few colleagues knew why I declined invites for events starting after 7 p.m., which is about the same time I started sending all phone calls to voicemail.
Taking Ownership of Your Introvert Needs
The truth is, I carried a lot of shame about my feelings and the excuses I made up for why I couldn’t attend yet again, like “My ringer must have been off.” Even when home alone, I was fighting off guilt for not being up to socializing. It wasn’t until I learned about introversion that I felt some level of understanding and ownership for my feelings. I felt a huge sense of relief when I learned there was not only a word to describe how I felt, but also a community that felt the same way. I was not alone. With this new understanding, I started looking for ways to take care of the introvert in me and interact with the world. I learned how to set boundaries, and here are my methods for doing so.
9 Ways to Set Boundaries as an Introvert
1. Schedule “me” time for rest and relaxation so you can recharge.
I intentionally block time on my calendar for personal rest and relaxation. Work leaves me drained at the beginning and end of the work week, so I put a “save the date” on my calendar for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. This time is blocked purely for reading, watching Netflix, and city hiking with my dog, Remi, and makes for great introvert “me” time.
My brain likes signposts and boundaries, and a Google calendar appointment signals to me that the time is off-limits for booking. Similarly, if I have a big afternoon event that weekend, I block the morning and evening so I don’t feel inclined to attend another event the same day. This helps me prioritize my needs so I don’t feel drained for the planned social time. It is also a handy reminder of its importance in my life.
2. Plan your escape in advance and let your friends know, too.
I have been teased for years about being the first person to call it a night or sneak off to bed. Because of my inclination to cut my evenings short, I now plan my exit ahead of time.
A few weeks ago, for instance, I called my friend who was hosting a party ahead of time to tell her I would be scooting out the door early. It was a win-win. She knew what to expect, and I felt much more comfortable joining. This was a much better alternative than spending the time I was with friends stressing about how to make a graceful exit.
Lately, I have also been driving myself to these events, rather than catching a ride, so that I can make the decision to leave on my own terms. This way, I don’t have to resort to the carpool consensus. An exit strategy puts my mind at ease, and it’ll probably do the same for you.
3. Evaluate your job setup: What elements can stay and which ones need to go?
It took quite a bit of time, but eventually I came to the conclusion that my job and my introverted personality were not a match. That doesn’t mean I trashed every element of my professional past. Rather, it meant I had to dig deep to evaluate what elements could stay and which ones needed to go; what was working and what was not.
- The type of work I was doing? This was a “stay”! I am passionate about training, coaching, and facilitating.
- The pre- and post- work socialization with colleagues? That needed to go (at least, the requirement to do so was tossed out!).
- The opportunity to work one-on-one with clients? This was a keeper also. Like 99.9 percent of introverts, I prefer personal, meaningful interactions to large meetings. One of my big takeaways was that I needed to seek places and opportunities that offered “face time” flexibility.
- The pressure-cooker environment? This was another element that I thought best to leave in my past. I needed time to think and tended to beat myself up when in competitive environments.
4. Give yourself an “opposite day” and do something out of your introvert comfort zone.
Believe me, I know it can be difficult to advocate for yourself. But, over time, I’ve built up my confidence and have started shaking things up now and then. Meaning, every once in a while, I step outside of my comfort zone, throw my schedule to the wind, and say “yes” regardless of the day or night.
My friends found tickets to the sold out Van Gogh exhibit after a particularly busy work day? An old friend was flying into town and wanting to meet up on a night where I already had breakfast plans? These are clear “yes” moments to me (though the old me would beg to differ). They don’t come along often and I now realize I’d regret letting them pass me by.
Mixing things up also ensures I don’t fall into a rut and helps me savor my sweet, sweet introvert time.
5. Beware of virtual overload — on-camera conversations are just as exhausting as in-person ones.
I thought my energy pools may automatically increase with the advent of COVID-19 culture because of all of the solo time… but I quickly learned that my energy drained just as easily when working from home (which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere).
I max out after three straight hours of “Zoom-erang” calls. I also felt this overwhelming need to smile during calls, and this was exhausting. News flash: It is perfectly acceptable to take a break and set up a phone call. Your colleagues would likely welcome the change of pace after endless months in front of the camera.
6. Monitor your energy levels: Which types of environments drain you the least? And most?
When out and about with family and friends, I started to notice a direct correlation between my energy levels and my surroundings. I used to defer the where-we’re-going location to others without a second thought, but then started to understand how important the environment was in regards to my introverted nature.
For example, I feel like a ticking time bomb at a loud club or outdoor venue; I don’t have much lasting potential and feel eager to recharge. On the other hand, I am often able to extend my plans if I’m in a calming environment, like in nature or a soothing coffee shop.
The same goes for how I spend my time during work hours these days. When given the choice, I like to do my deep thinking work solo at home, because conversations and music can be distracting.
7. Just say “no”! (Only you can protect your need for alone time.)
The prior recommendations are useless if you don’t speak up for what you need. This means you must advocate for yourself.
The biggest difference in how I respond to invites today vs. years ago is that I say “no” to requests with confidence. I speak up to make sure I’m setting myself up for success. I don’t need an elaborate excuse. I don’t need to tell them why. But I do need to be aware of my boundaries.
I remember a time when I slumped through a full week at an Airbnb with colleagues because I didn’t want to be the complainer who asked for my own hotel room. It was incredibly taxing. When going into situations now, I set up expectations right away and let others know that I will catch up with them in the morning at work. And, surprisingly, the more I decline in this manner, the less push back I receive from those around me. It has been an education, of sorts, for all of us, and I highly recommend you try it.
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8. Make peace with technology and don’t be tethered to your phone.
I generally know what fills up my cup: eating a tasty meal, a bath with Epsom salt, a walk to the beach. I found myself in a rut a while back and couldn’t figure out why. I was checking all of my self-care boxes and still feeling wired. And then I realized my smartphone was joining me on all of these activities: I was googling and texting up a storm. I had unknowingly invited a large, rowdy room of social media and email guests into my introvert recharge time.
So while I was alone and background noise was minimal, I was engaging in a full-on sensory experience. I thought I could read an online article or two, but would get sucked down a rabbit hole. I left the experience just as overwhelmed as when I started because my phone was merely a distraction and didn’t help me refuel in a meaningful way. I now socially distance from my phone and know it will be okay without me for a few hours (and yours will be, too).
9. Talk to your support system and explain your introvert needs to them.
Being introverted is not an infliction or a diagnosis. It does not define who you are. That being said, it can be helpful to let people in your life know more about this side of you. Some people don’t have a concrete understanding of the differences between extroversion and introversion. But a simple explanation may uncover a lot and help them to see why certain environments, requests, or invites may be a no-go for you.
Some of my preferences came to light during a group vacation where several of my friends were “schedule stacking,” planning back-to-back activities with little-to-no downtime in between. I felt isolated and confused, wondering why no one else seemed to be overwhelmed by the fast-paced flow. Talking openly with my travel crew about this helped clear the air, and it helped me learn more about them, too.
Setting Boundaries Is All About Finding the Right Energy Balance for You
Don’t get me wrong — these recommendations are not foolproof! There are times when I need to be flexible. An after-work event to get to know new teammates? Super important. Joining a volleyball team with a weekly commitment? Not so much. After a bit of trial and error, I started feeling like this connection with my energy is a superpower rather than my Achilles heel.
I use these boundary tips to guide my self-care. And on occasions that seem to be out of the norm, I ask myself a few questions: Will I feel good using my time this way? Are the people I’ll be seeing individuals who bring connection and warmth to my life? What can I do to fuel up before or after the outing?
Because, in the end, we are looking to be in alignment with both our head and the actions we take. And I learned that if I am not fueling me, I have absolutely nothing left to give anyone else.
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