An Introvert’s Guide to Thriving: Simple Life Hacks to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed

Introverts can get drained from things other than socializing, like when their surroundings are messy or there’s a family emergency.

Introverts can get drained from things other than socializing, like when their surroundings are messy or there’s a family emergency. 

Let’s face it: Introverts get overwhelmed more easily than extroverts do. A study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that introverts had increased blood flow in the frontal lobes, while extroverts had lower blood flow in regions associated with behavioral inhibition. 

The frontal lobe contains the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which not only controls voluntary body movement, but is also involved in “higher thinking” and memory. “Higher thinking” refers to tasks such as decision-making, predicting outcomes, and determining similarities and differences between things.

All of this explains why introverts tend to engage with their inner dialogue — which may include reflecting on past events, as well as thinking and planning about the future — more than their extroverted counterparts. 

On top of that, the frontal lobe is where you’ll find most of the cerebral cortex’s dopamine-sensitive neurons. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s known as a chemical messenger and plays a role in how we feel pleasure. So, a lot of activity in the frontal lobe explains why introverts seem more sensitive to dopamine and are likely to get more overwhelmed by excessive stimulation.

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For Introverts, Overstimulation Can Come From More Than Just People

In the past, I used to think that the only kind of stimulation I needed to be wary of was my social interaction. I noticed that when I filled up my social calendar, it would leave me feeling tired and drained. Since then, I’ve learned to space out social events and give myself more “me time.”

However, what I didn’t expect was that, now and then, I still found myself with a general feeling of overwhelm, despite the fact that I’d been keeping my social interaction to a reasonable pace. When this happens, I am like a gray cloud, just wandering aimlessly — I have no focus and no sense of motivation. I have no interest in doing anything, and I waste my days doing nothing. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know it’s not a good place to be.

Because I reflect and journal a lot, I have managed to pick out a few things that have helped me get out of this rut, or better yet, have helped me from getting to this point in the first place. Some of the tactics are pretty simple, while some require more effort. Here are a few introvert life hacks to avoid getting overwhelmed.

4 Hacks for Introverts to Reduce Overwhelm

1. Make your environment clutter-free.

Ever since the decluttering craze led by Japanese tidying aficionado Marie Kondo, we’ve learned that clutter can negatively impact our mood, sleep, anxiety, and ability to focus. For these reasons, a clutter-free environment is important for introverts

Our introverted brains tend to like order, and having visual reminders of disorganization can increase our cognitive load and impact our ability to focus and reduce working memory. One study even found that the stress hormone cortisol was higher in mothers whose environment was full of clutter. 

I used to travel a lot and had this tendency to jump right into work when I got home. This meant that I didn’t deal with my suitcase and dirty laundry until my next day off. By the time the weekend came, my pile of stuff to sort out had grown enormously, and I’d feel overwhelmed. 

One thing I’ve since learned, from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, is to follow the “one-minute rule.” If there is one thing you can tidy up in one minute, just do it — put away the newspaper, hang up your wet towel, and put the dirty socks in the hamper. By doing so, you’re avoiding the clutter from piling up into one big overwhelming mess. 

Along with the one-minute rule, I dedicate time on my day off to cleaning up my room. Every time I do so, and look around at my now-organized space, I feel the weight lift off my shoulders instantly. 

2. Take a break from screens and engage in more productive activities, like journaling or reading physical books.

It’s a well-known fact that spending a lot of time in front of our screens can negatively impact our mental health. I am currently reading a book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. In his book, he emphasizes the value of spending time in solitude. In fact, in one of his recent blog posts, he mentions a new paper published by researchers at the University of Tübingen. In it, they concluded how satisfying it is to engage in free-floating thinking, and how it can “aid problem solving, increase creativity, enhance the imagination, and contribute to a sense of self-worth.” The development of our mobile phones, and having instant access to the internet, has caused what Newport calls “solitude deprivation.”

As introverts, we know how downtime and alone time are crucial for our well-being. When we are constantly scrolling through social media, bouncing from one app to another, and checking the news every moment we get, we are depriving ourselves of the quiet that our mind needs. 

I, for one, am guilty of too much screen time, and I am aware of how edgy I get when I’m on my phone for long periods of time. Not only that, but I find myself comparing myself to other people, with their perfectly curated photos, which leaves me feeling anxious and inadequate. 

In his book, Newport suggests different ways to take a break from our screens. One is to completely remove social media apps from our phones. Some of his readers went back to using old-fashioned cell phones used just for calling people. 

My personal approach has been to set a time limit regarding my access to some apps. When I reach a certain number of hours of usage, it locks me out. I’m also unable to access these apps at set times of day, even during weekends, and only my partner has the password to unlock them. 

Not only has this improved my sleeping habits, but I’ve now found myself with extra time to do productive tasks, like reading a (physical) book, learning a new language, journaling, and meditating — which, in turn, has given me the downtime I need.

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3. Create a morning routine — and actually follow it.

I have often found myself in situations where there were a lot of things happening all at once. I had an important job interview coming up, I was due to move apartments in a couple of days, and a family member was sick and required some financial support to help pay off hospital bills. 

It was pretty overwhelming, to say the least, and I know many people find themselves in similar situations at certain points in their lives. As an introvert, being bombarded with situations that require a lot of thinking and decision-making can often make you feel like you’re spinning out of control because you just can’t shut off. If anything, you think and think and overthink… more and more and more!

When I get overwhelmed, I procrastinate. Then everything piles up, and I end up feeling even more overwhelmed, and the cycle goes on and on. Desperate to break this cycle, I decided to create a morning routine for myself. I figured that even though I don’t have much control over whatever overwhelming situation may be happening, my morning ritual will provide me with something in my day that I have control over. 

Besides, having a morning routine has been shown to help avoid decision fatigue. In addition, it generates momentum and helps build up to the brain’s peak time for cognitive work, which is late morning. 

My routine looks something like this: When I wake up, I make my bed, drink a glass of warm lemon water, and have a cold shower before I start my day. Over time, I have added more habits, too, like journaling and meditation, to help me set the tone for my day. 

I’ve found that doing my morning ritual daily has made me feel productive and accomplished, and has helped me avoid procrastinating. 

4. Accept the fact that you won’t have control over everything that goes on in your life.

The other year, just a few days before Christmas, a hurricane hit my hometown where my parents live. Luckily, my family and friends were safe, but the after-effects of the hurricane were devastating. There was no electricity or running water for days, and people had to line up for hours to get food and supplies. I was living on the other side of the world, and there was nothing I could do except send some money to help them get back on their feet. It was a really difficult time — not just for them, but for me as well. I couldn’t sleep, I felt guilt-ridden, and I found myself crying over things I couldn’t put my finger on. 

I turned to my mental health coach, because I didn’t know how to deal with the situation. I remember him asking me to state what things were bothering me at that moment. Then he followed up with the question, “Which of these do you have control over, and which ones do you not have control over?” 

He then told me that there was no point mulling over the things I had no control over — I had to let them go. This is actually the single most important practice in Stoic philosophy, being able to differentiate what things we can change and what we cannot. It sounds simple on paper, but it’s not as easy to put into practice. 

Every day, when I find myself stressing over certain things, I pause and reflect on this concept. There’s a war going on, there’s a worldwide economic crisis, and there seem to be train strikes every month… Are these things that I can change? If the answer is no, I set that thought aside. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care or empathize with the people affected by these situations. However, constantly worrying, and allowing thoughts about them to consume me, isn’t going to improve the situation for me (or them).

Introverts can easily feel overwhelmed, not just by social situations, but also when they face too much stimulation. However, simple strategies and changes in mindset can help us avoid this overstimulation. The important things are having self-awareness, knowing what pushes our buttons, and managing the stressful situations as they arise so they don’t get out of control.

Introverts, what would you add to my list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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