Meditating just 5-15 minutes a day can help calm your overthinking introvert mind.
Here’s a play-by-play of my first few times trying meditation: Inhale. Exhale. Am I doing this right? Open eyes, glance around the room. Is everyone else sitting comfortably with their eyes closed, not overthinking like I am? Am I supposed to think? Oh right, close my eyes. Inhale, exhale … am I doing this right? Inhale, exhale, hmm, I wonder what’s for dinner? Alright, well, I’ve been here a while, so it must be time to stop … (I open my eyes and glance at my phone). Wait — it’s only been 28 seconds?! What?!
I didn’t get it. It seemed like everyone I knew was hyping up meditation and how good it was for you; research shows that it does everything from reducing stress to increasing creativity. I couldn’t figure out why I just couldn’t get into it. Given that I’d spent most of my life being the quietest person in the room — literally to the point that people had forgotten I was even present — I’d figured I’d be naturally inclined toward meditation when I tried it. I mean, you don’t even need to open your eyes, let alone talk to anyone. Perfect for an introvert like me, right?
Wrong — at least, initially. The same meditation that initially seemed intimidating and overwhelming ended up as something I would really enjoy: both practicing and incorporating it into the yoga classes I teach.
Using Meditation to Try to Quiet All My ‘Loud’ Thoughts
Like many fellow introverts, my head is louder than I can even begin to explain. Yes, the more I practice meditation, the calmer my mind becomes, and the more content I feel.
I love guided meditations at the end of yoga classes, but breathing meditations are what I do when I practice on my own. I’ll set each inhale and exhale to a word, such as “In, out,” or “This, breath.” It’s all about noticing what’s happening: Whenever I realize I’ve started thinking about what’s for dinner or that itch on my nose, I return my focus back to my breathing in this present moment.
And even though spending 5-15 minutes each morning focusing on mindfulness and on my breathing won’t change any of the external factors in my life, it does act like an armor that makes me better prepared to deal with whatever may be happening: be that the stress of a global pandemic or just to feel more content in my own skin and with my life exactly as it is.
Here are the main ways meditation has helped me thrive as an introvert.
8 Ways Meditation Helps Me Thrive as an Introvert
1. It’s helped me create a routine of self-care — and in just 5-15 minutes a day.
I work when inspiration hits — I am most certainly not a creature of habit. Yet having a daily practice of checking out what’s going on in my head (and giving it permission to happen) helps the rest of the day run smoothly.
When I spend those 5-15 minutes in the morning noticing how I’m breathing and watching the thoughts that run through my head at a million miles an hour — like my never-ending to-do list for work (but without impulsively acting on them) — I end up prepped to keep doing this all day. I’ve also not only realized the importance of having a routine, but also of meditation as self-care. And whether you have just five minutes or 15, you can do what works best for you.
2. It has me focus on my thoughts instead of pushing them aside.
Real-time footage from my meditation practice this morning: “Inhale. Exhale. Inhale … Did I remember to buy zucchini? I should check — oh, right: inhale, exhale. Inhale … ” It’s pretty similar to the first time I tried it — with the added advantage that it gets easier to focus on my thoughts the more I practice. And, hopefully, the same will happen with you.
Meditation isn’t about not thinking at all: that’s nearly impossible to ask yourself to do (especially for us introverts). But noticing when you are straying into a daydream (or anxious thoughts, or distracting thoughts, or a checklist of all the million projects you wanted to catch up on) — and then gently bringing your attention back to your breathing — makes this easier to do when you have to focus on something in real time, like a school or work project.
3. I can finally fall asleep and sleep the whole night through.
Many introverts can have a hard time winding down and letting go of overstimulation, making it hard to sleep, research shows. For me, nighttime is when I have space away from other people to finally focus on reading or writing or just planning out the next day. And as exciting as it is to get to exist in my brain, there’s also times I wish I could just flick a switch to turn it off and get some sleep.
While meditation works more like a dimmer than a switch (I do still want my brain to work, after all!), the practice of focusing on my breathing — rather than getting caught up in my head — has taught me useful skills for calming down and actually falling asleep (goodbye, restless 3 a.m. thoughts)! Techniques like making my exhales double the amount of time as my inhales (for example, if each inhale is 6 seconds, the exhale is 12), and doing full body scans (from the top of my head down to my toes), help me send signals to my body that it’s time to relax and find some sleep. This is by far my favorite benefit of meditation.
4. It’s a major way to lessen stress and feel more relaxed.
For many “quiet ones,” we feel like we have to carry our stress alone. Talking to someone — let alone telling them what’s stressing me out or causing anxiety? Um, no thank you.
One of my favorite lessons and mantras from my meditation practice is, “I can breathe through this.” It’s easier to remind myself of that when I’ve already practiced breathing through all of the distractions in my own mind — even if it only took five minutes in the morning.
Practicing meditation enables us to understand how our minds work, allowing us to better help ourselves. Of course, meditation isn’t meant to replace therapy — the two actually work really well in tandem with one another — but it gives you another skill to help yourself deal with whatever life happens to throw at you. (And when you’re an introvert, it turns out life can throw quite a lot at you at once.) Plus, research shows that mindfulness meditation can lessen anxiety and stress.
5. I’ve become more organized. I find it easier to clean up my desk and stick with projects.
I’m way more organized when I meditate regularly. And for an introvert with a very messy desk and plans to clean it up floating around in the hazy distant someday, this is huge.
Noticing what I’m thinking, whether it’s anxious mind chatter or a peaceful daydream, and then drawing my mind back to the task at hand (instead of getting distracted by 100 other projects, starting them, and abandoning them), is big for me.
After a week or two of meditating every day, I notice I have an increased ability to stick with projects like I never could before, and without feeling utterly overwhelmed by them. For example, I find it far easier to respond punctually to emails, or to clean up my desk at the end of a day.
6. It’s socially acceptable quiet “me” time.
Why do introverts love yoga? Because we can just be. We can be actively engaged in our own minds — even in a roomful of people — and not have to talk to anyone. Quiet activities, like meditation, yoga, or book clubs, can be a refuge for introverts who crave community but need their silent time.
When I practice meditation, whether by myself or with others, I know I am practicing self-care: I don’t have to be “on” around anyone else to do this. When I say I want to stay in all night, I might get funny looks, but if I say I need some peace and quiet to practice meditation, people know what I mean — and it’s a highly valid reason for needing quiet time to myself.
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7. I understand my brain better, and that helps me think and be more creative.
I’m thinking, I’m writing, I’m — oops, I’m scrolling through social media. I already practiced bringing my focus back to my breath this morning, so it gets easier to bring the same focus back to whatever project I’m working on. Whether I’m writing, lesson planning for work, or baking a new recipe, I can give my full focus to what I’m doing in this moment — I no longer feel like I need to be doing a million things at once.
Meditation has taught me that I need to be able to (and I can!) give my full attention to whatever it is I’m presently doing, rather than trying to (inefficiently) multitask. I’m able to let go of distractions easier — and that frees up my brain to be a better and more creative writer, teacher, yogi, and human.
8. I’m better able to fight off social anxiety.
It took me a couple of weeks to really develop a consistent, daily meditation practice — but I quickly noticed the benefits of meditating every day. When I think back to that first meditation session three years ago, I realize how anxiety-filled it was: I was so concerned that I would end up being the only one with my eyes closed, or that I would somehow breathe too loud and bug someone.
For me, lots of social anxiety stems from feeling like I never fit in, I don’t have oodles and oodles of close friends, and my needs for things like space and quiet time just don’t align with what other people think of as “normal.” Now, a meditation practice of noticing, understanding, and accepting both my breathing and any thoughts that might pop up is immensely helpful: “I am inhaling, I am exhaling, I am worrying about not fitting in or being too quiet, I am noticing it, it’s OK, I am inhaling again … ”
Will I still be a wonderfully quirky, quiet person, keeping her nose in a book and not leaving the corner of the room? Yep. Does this need to bother me? Nope. I am exactly how I need to be — and an affirming meditation practice helps me with that, and can help you, too.