Confessions of an Introvert Who Struggles to Relax

An introvert relaxes on her bed and reads

If I’m doing a relaxing activity, my brain goes: Why are you spending all day reading? You have places to go and things to accomplish. 

It’s a quiet, rainy autumn afternoon. I’m curled up with a book, blanket, and steaming cup of coffee. I have no plans and another whole day before going back to work. No immediate obligations. Zero other people in sight. An introvert paradise, really. I should be completely relaxed. Mostly, I am. 

And yet…

My mind is hard at work, doing anything but relaxing.

So many introvert-friendly activities fall under the category of “relaxing.” Take reading, walking, writing, cooking, painting, or listening to music, to name a few of my favorites. 

But if so many relaxing activities are naturally enjoyable to introverts, why can it be difficult for an introvert to relax?

Recently, I sat down and got honest with myself about why I, as an introvert, have trouble relaxing sometimes — and what I can do to help myself. I hope that my own reflections can help other introverts who experience similar struggles. Here’s what I came up with.

5 Confessions of an Introvert Who Struggles to Relax

1. I get restless… a lot.

Yes, I love quiet time, alone time, and a nice routine. But is there such a thing as too much quiet and routine? Or is this just me and my struggle to slow down?

Recently, I spent a Sunday afternoon binge-watching a show I wanted to catch up on. It was super-relaxing and fun, at least initially. But late in the afternoon, a few episodes in, I got this weird, creeping feeling like… guilt. Or frustration with myself. 

Yes, part of that feeling was a touch of cabin fever. But it was also guilt about not doing something productive. (How many episodes had I watched, exactly? And how many other things could I have done during that time?)

Yes, some of that feeling was a touch of anxiety brought on by the stresses and pressures of a fast-paced 21st-century world (more about that below!). But some of it is just not knowing how to slow down. 

In the past decade and a half, I’ve moved back and forth between several states and countries, traveled extensively for work (and for fun), and worked full-time while finishing a dissertation. 

Occasionally, I still have a hard time adjusting to a slower pace of life in a small city after being in major cities for so long. My independent nature (something a lot of introverts possess!) has pushed me to get used to always going and doing.

On that note…

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2. The recovering overachiever in me is my own worst enemy.

I was the classic overachiever growing up — always chasing the next goal, always using my quiet, driven, diligent, book-smart nature as an asset to get ahead. And I’m grateful for (and proud of) all of the opportunities that my ambition has gotten me.

And yet, I have to remind myself that I don’t need to be the so-called “overachiever” anymore. I just have to achieve whatever makes me happy. Including the relaxing stuff.

In my day-to-day life, I have a full-time job, plus I write several hours each week outside work. Relaxation time is precious, and I do prioritize it and try to compartmentalize, shutting off work when I’m not there. So it would make sense that I can set those boundaries and relax, right?

… Right?

Well, sometimes. For example, though writing is often relaxing for me, it still sometimes feels like something I have to be doing in order to achieve certain goals. And just like that, the overachiever in me starts to encroach upon the things I find relaxing. 

And — similar to the binge-watching scenario I mentioned above — if I’m doing a relaxing introverted activity, like enjoying a novel, sometimes my brain goes: Why are you just spending all day reading? You have places to go and things to accomplish. (This is that classic introvert tendency to overthink, front and center.)

3. Imagination is tough to switch off.

I love that I have an imagination. It’s given me the creative fuel to write fiction since I was a kid, for example. Using my imagination for creative pursuits has always been a form of relaxation for me. Every time I sit down to write, I can’t wait to see what I come up with. (As long as that old overachiever in me isn’t lurking over my shoulder, that is!)

But sometimes, all of those thoughts and ideas require a lot of creative energy. Maybe I get a new idea of something to write in the middle of working on another project, for example. If my mind is racing with ideas, it’s more difficult to relax. 

Sometimes, for introverts, there is more going on in our own heads than in our immediate surroundings — to the point where it becomes noise. Introverts aren’t exactly fans of prolonged overstimulation. 

Similar to overthinking, daydreaming and imagination are part of that internal introverted world so central to who we are. But I have to remember to step out of my imagination sometimes in order to relax in the present.

4. My need for solitude can work against me.

As an introvert, I value my alone time, and it’s critical to recharging and getting some rest. But as an extroverted introvert, spending time with others (in moderation) is also a nice way to relax. 

If it’s been a while since I’ve had quality social time (as many of us experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic), spending time with others can be restorative, especially if we’re around people who “get” us. If a social situation is comfortable enough, like dinner with family or a game night with close friends, it actually reenergizes me, rather than the reverse.

While I love my quiet weekend routines and my own company, I’ve learned it’s important to vary my social vs. not-social relaxation. Sure, if I’m not around others for an extended period of time, I’m not complaining. But sometimes, sometimes, being alone with all of my thoughts can get tiring (remember what I said about overthinking above?). 

Ultimately, introverts aren’t averse to spending time with others, and we do value genuine connections. Humans need other humans, even if introverts tend to recharge the most during time alone. 

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

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5. The “shoulds” in an extrovert-centric world keep me from relaxing.

Certain aspects of the pace and pressures of 21st-century life, like having to be “on” all the time (the constant stress of emails, anyone?), are not compatible with my personality. Introverts can only be “on” in moderation, like for temporary situations, such as giving a presentation or going to a party. When it’s over? Our idea of an after-party is takeout and a movie at home — alone (or maybe with one other person).

Even though I take issue with the word “should,” it still creeps into my vocabulary, prompted by more extrovert-friendly realities. I “should” go out somewhere with friends, “should” be more assertive and jump on that opportunity, and “should” take on x, y, or z project. 

Well, here’s the thing. I “should” just… chill. Like I mentioned above, so many relaxing activities are introvert-friendly. You’d think it would be easier.

How to Overcome the Struggle to Relax

So how do I actually get myself to relax? Taking a good look at the struggles listed above helps me be more intentional about my relaxation time, and it’s allowed me to come up with some solutions to take better care of myself

  • I’ll sometimes decide in advance when (and how) I’ll take the time to relax, whether it’s walking, reading, or journaling. Even though introverts do tend to like planning, I’m not talking about planning all of my relaxation activities days in advance here — usually minutes or hours ahead of time, tops! After all, ritual is important for introverts when it comes to self-care.
  • I’ll vary my relaxation activities. This way, it keeps things interesting. 
  • If I have a bunch of tasks hanging over my head, I’ll set a timer for a few minutes. This allows me to get whatever it is done so that it’s no longer an issue while I’m relaxing. 
  • Lastly, I’ll take a moment to stop and catch myself if I find my mind drifting in any of the directions I listed in the “confessions” above. Trying to get back to the present moment is essential for overthinking introverts.

Even though my introversion tends to work against me relaxing sometimes, remembering (and appreciating) the things I need as an introvert helps me overcome that tendency. Quiet rest is necessary for me to function as a human — specifically, as an introverted human. It’s okay to not be “on” or going all the time. The things I need to get done will get done… and all the better if I’m well-rested while doing them.

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

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