Compared to extroverts, introverts have a higher baseline level of arousal and use increased mental resources when processing external stimuli. This is part of the reason we’re so much more sensitive to light, noise, and people in general. It’s also why we’re so easily overstimulated and need time alone to recharge.
Unfortunately, whether we’re working in an open office, forced to attend a networking event, or spending time with family around the holidays, there are times in our lives when being surrounded by people is an inevitability. It’s during these crowded moments that we want to escape into ourselves the most — and that’s not always the easiest of feats.
The good news is that it is possible to manufacture alone time even when you’re fenced in. Here are six simple ways to do just that.
1. Pop on your headphones.
Headphones are the introvert’s best friend. Not only do they allow us to drown out intrusive noise, they’re also a well-known social cue to leave the wearer alone. Though noise-cancelling headphones provide unrivaled means for silencing the tumult of a crowded room, they can be rather expensive. If you can’t afford noise-cancelling headphones, regular headphones paired with white noise are your next best bet. White noise not your thing? Consider relaxing electronic music featuring binaural beats.
The following techniques for carving out a slice of alone time in a crowded room can be achieved without headphones — however, they’re far more likely to be effective if carried out while wearing them.
2. Break out the coloring book/crossword puzzle.
If you haven’t noticed yet, coloring books aren’t just for kids anymore. There are a few reasons adults are jumping onto this trend, but most experts believe the stress-relieving qualities of coloring are the force behind its renewed popularity. Coloring reduces stress by forcing us to utilize our imagination and focus on what we’re doing in the moment, thus allowing us to leave our problems behind. Any adult coloring book will do, but if you’re looking for a unique, introvert-themed one, check out Introvert, Dear creator Jenn Granneman’s Introvert Dreams.
Like coloring, crossword puzzles are a great way to relax and forget your worries for a little while. Furthermore, this mind-consuming activity vastly improves verbal and problem solving skills, while causing you to think deeply.
3. Open a book.
Reading is yet another fantastic social cue that plainly says, “Leave me alone,” to any passersby. It’s also good for you! A study by Mindlab International found reading to be one of the best ways to lower your heart rate, relieve muscle tension, and reduce overall stress. And, strangely enough, reading is one of the ways many introverts socialize.Through books, we can tap directly into the collective human experience and satisfy some of the needs of social interaction — all without ever speaking to another human being.
4. Do a basic craft.
You may not have the time to break out your latest knitting or woodworking project when you’re surrounded by people (especially if you’re in the office), but small crafts like origami or macrame are a great way to take a quick break and focus on something other than making small talk with the people around you. And, much like the activities mentioned above, crafts are a stress buster. Laid-back, repetitive physical activities alleviate tension through progressive muscle relaxation. Plus, when you’re done, you have something awesome to show for your downtime!
5. Pull out your phone.
Forget sliced bread — smartphones have to be one of the best inventions ever to grace the human race. For introverts, our phones are so much more than the sum of their parts. They allow us to carry an entire library in our pockets, to socialize in a way that grants us the time we need to carefully articulate our thoughts, and to become absorbed in games that are both relaxing and didactic. And, of course, there’s always social media, which can have a surprisingly positive effect on our wellbeing.
But, perhaps the most appealing aspect of our smartphones is that they give us the ability to avoid small talk and other shallow forms of socializing when in public. I can’t tell you how many times my phone has saved me when standing in line at the store or waiting in the doctor’s office. No longer do I have to furtively avoid eye contact with people nearby in fear that they’ll decide to strike up a conversation with me. Smartphones are a godsend.
6. Try a little meditation.
Traditional meditation might not be possible in the office, but breathing exercises certainly are. If you’re not already wearing headphones, pop them on and crank up some white noise or any other noise/music you find particularly relaxing. Start by paying attention to your breath and observing how it feels. Is it long or short? Deep or shallow? Steady or shaky? Once you’ve ascertained how you’re currently breathing, begin taking longer breaths, fully inhaling, and fully exhaling.
Then, count to four as you inhale and to six as you exhale, making your exhale slightly longer than your inhale. Keep counting your breaths for 5-10 minutes before resuming normal breathing. This guided breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing your heart rate and allowing your body to rest.
Though these simple methods for creating a contrived isolation may not be quite as rejuvenating as genuine alone time, they can at least tide you over until you’re able to get away. So, the next time you find yourself trapped in a crowded room, put on your headphones, take a few deep breaths, and pull out your favorite relaxing activity.
Your introverted brain will thank you.
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