Extroverts may have more external energy, but introverts have more internal energy.
I’ve had too much. I know better. I got caught up in the fun — the laughter and conversation, lights and music, the unusual feeling of hanging out somewhere “cool” on a Friday night. I wake up with my head throbbing, body aching, and a deep desire to bury myself back under the covers.
No, I’m not recovering from drinking. I’m recovering from peopling (yes, you likely already know that’s a verb in the introvert world). I’m in serious energy debt. Some may call this an “introvert hangover.”
While most of us are aware of debt in financial terms, we often overlook another kind of debt. An even more valuable resource than money? Energy. I did a survey asking thousands of introverts about their biggest struggle. Many of them mentioned not having enough energy. This seems especially true when we’re trying to keep up with extroverts. Are they energy-rich while we’re energy-poor?
Although it seems that way, the answer is no. Extroverts do have more external energy. But introverts have more internal energy. When it comes to energy resources, we’re basically even.
Extroverts and introverts do differ in what’s “energy expensive.” Certain activities (socializing) cost introverts energy, while they’re deposits for extroverts. But others (working on a project alone) cost extroverts energy, while they’re deposits for us. We have a personal energy economy, and if we don’t understand how to balance our account, we end up depleted.
Join the introvert revolution. When you subscribe to our emails, you’ll get weekly tips and relatable stories to help you embrace your introversion or sensitivity — and thrive. Feel empowered and finally see your nature as a good thing. Click here to subscribe.
Where Is Your Energy Really Going?
True or false: You use about 10 percent of your brain.
Despite the prevalence of this myth, it’s false. While we don’t use 100 percent of our brain at one time, we do use all of it, which takes a lot of energy. Dr. Marcus Raichle, a professor of medicine, says, “As an energy-consumer, the brain is the most expensive organ we carry around with us.” Our minds use approximately 20 percent of our energy, the most of any part of our body. Today you’ll burn around 320 calories by thinking.
The more challenging a task, the more energy our brains use. It makes sense that introverts, whose minds are more active, experience a greater brain-related energy drain. In our culture, we can view thinking, analyzing, and daydreaming as “doing nothing.” But this excerpt from Time magazine has a different perspective:
“You spent Sunday on the couch, skimming your social feeds and watching HGTV. Monday at work was a different story; your job involves creative problem-solving and other difficult mental activities. Does the extra brainpower you use at work burn more energy than your Sunday spent watching Fixer Upper reruns?
“The basic answer is yes,” says Ewan McNay, an associate professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Albany. … “You will in fact burn more energy during an intense cognitive task than you would vegging out.”
While McNay clarifies the difference in energy burn is small (sorry, thinking hard isn’t a diet plan), it’s enough for researchers to observe.
Another example: chess grand masters. Mikhail Antipov, a 21-one-year-old Russian grand master, burned 560 calories playing chess for two hours. Stanford University stress researcher Robert Sapolsky found chess players burn up to 6,000 calories a day, have stress responses similar to those of elite athletes, and “sustain blood pressure for hours in the range found in competitive marathon runners.”
Before you toss your tennis shoes, consider that chess grand masters now consider physical fitness essential to their success, even visiting Olympic training centers for guidance on how to optimize their bodies to support their active minds.
The Introvert Brain Works Differently
As introverts, we spend time processing, creating, or thinking, then get frustrated with ourselves. “Why am I tired?” we ask ourselves. “I haven’t done anything.” But that’s as untrue as the idea that we use only 10 percent of our brains. Thinking (and overthinking) is a legitimate activity, especially for introverts. It uses energy just as a social event, playing a game of basketball, or making a call to a prospective client would. We need to expand our perspective of what “busy” means to include our bodies and our brains.
Approximately two-thirds of the energy our brains use goes to electrical impulses that help neurons communicate. Neurotransmitters play a role in that process. The dopamine-based reward network, which causes people to “become more talkative, alert to their surroundings, and motivated to take risks and explore the environment” is more active in extroverts.
As a quick review of the science: Dopamine energizes extroverts but overwhelms introverts. Acetylcholine, another feel-good brain chemical, releases when we turn inward or engage in quieter activities. While introverts can be adventurous and fun-loving, lower-energy activities make us feel best. Extroverts may perceive this as “tired,” but it’s just a different way of enjoying life.
Acetylcholine relates to the parasympathetic nervous system, which introverts favor. When the parasympathetic nervous system activates, our body responds by relaxing our muscles, lowering our heart rate, and dropping our blood pressure to conserve energy. The sympathetic nervous system does the opposite. Alertness increases, blood sugar goes up, and our muscles prepare for action (however, thinking decreases). The sympathetic nervous system creates external energy.
We all use both nervous systems, but introverts and extroverts differ in which one is dominant — with consequences.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
Know Your Energy Deposits and Expenses
As introverts, we don’t have limitless energy (neither do extroverts). We may not have enough energy for everything we think we should do, but we have enough for what really matters.
This means we need to be intentional about how we spend our energy, especially social energy. Think of energy like an amount of money in a bank account. You have enough to cover your needs and many wants. But if you don’t manage that account wisely, you’ll still end up in debt.
Financial gurus often advise people to track their income and expenses. It’s the same with energy. Certain moments are energy expenses and they cost you, even if you enjoy them. Whether you’re spending $300 on a fabulous weekend away or a trip to the dentist, the effect on your account stays the same. To admit something drains you doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable, only costly.
As a starting place, you can think of specific activities and tasks from the last week. Use the points below as a guide and write your responses in a notebook. Highlight or place an X in the appropriate column to indicate whether the activity is an energy deposit or energy expense for you.
Another way to do this exercise is to use your calendar or to-do list. On your calendar or list, put a + or – by each entry to indicate whether it’s a deposit or withdrawal.
|Activity||Energy Deposit||Energy Expense|
|Coffee with best friend||x|
We will always have withdrawals in our lives. We need to spend money to live, and we need to spend energy, too. What matters is being aware that when we consistently have far more expenses than deposits, we start feeling exhausted.
The good news is, we can make small changes in many areas of our lives that will help our energy account become balanced again.
6 Ways to Get Out of ‘Energy Debt’ as an Introvert
1. Food and drinks
Magazine headlines tell us, “Lose Weight, Feel Great!” or “How to Get a Beach Body by Summer.” But for introverts, the real story is using what we put into our bodies to get the most out of our lives.
Any food or drink that’s a central nervous system stimulant costs introverts. When our nervous systems become stimulated, they burn more energy, no matter what we’re doing. When the effects wear off, we experience a corresponding dip in energy and mood.
We don’t need to eliminate these foods and beverages, but it can be wise to limit them. Items in this category include coffee, soda, sugar, white flour, and highly processed foods.
Exercise may feel like a withdrawal from your energy account, but it’s actually an investment that keeps your introvert system running at peak capacity, physically and emotionally.
Exercise increases feel-good neurotransmitters, like endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. It also offers other benefits to introverts, like increased energy, solitude, and stress reduction.
Adequate sleep is a daily deposit every introvert needs. Dr. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, made studying the reasons we snooze his life mission. In his book, he says, “There does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough).”
Figure out how much sleep you require and do whatever you can to get it. Consider snoozing vital to your overall health and success.
4. Smartphones and social media
A starting point for reclaiming our energy from technology — and one that’s worked for me — is turning off some or all notifications.
Think of it like this: Every notification equals external stimulation. This means that, as an introvert, you’re charged an energy fee for every notification you receive. Each one costs a small amount, but dozens a day add up to a lot.
If the idea of turning off all notifications is too overwhelming, start small; perhaps you need to keep email ones on for work, but can turn off social media ones.
5. Home and work environment
Myquillyn Smith, also known as the Nester, says in her book Cozy Minimalist Home, “If an empty room is visually quiet, a full room is visually loud.”
Our home or work space might shout at us when we need a whisper. Clutter, in particular, is noisy. If you find yourself unable to feel calm in a space, then clear out whatever isn’t necessary. Keep taking things away until it feels quiet to you. A clutter-free environment is important for introverts. You’ll see.
6. The word “no”
For a long time, I feared the word no and felt a lot of guilt when I said it. But the reality is, we say no to something with every choice we make whether we use that specific word or not.
When we have a decision to make that will impact our energy, we can pause and ask ourselves these three questions:
If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?
If I say no to this, what am I saying yes to?
Which choice best aligns with my purpose and priorities right now?
Sometimes the best answer is taking on a project and sometimes it’s taking a nap.
The World Needs Your Calm, Quiet Energy
We live in a chaotic, high-speed, stressed-out, worn-down world. It’s the norm to react rather than respond, hustle instead of trust, live in exhaustion instead of enjoyment, and in debt instead of balance.
As introverts, we’re wired to be intentional, to focus on what’s essential. We move slower, think deeper, and process longer. Instead of telling ourselves we can’t keep up, what if we saw ourselves as leading the way to more rest, greater peace, and taking time for what matters most? What if what we see as energy limits are actually opportunities?
No one has endless energy. But when we intentionally take care of our internal energy accounts, we’ll have enough to create an abundant life we love as introverts.
My new devotional book, Introvert by Design: A Guided Journal for Living with New Confidence in Who You’re Created to Be, will help you thrive as an introvert. Find out more and read a free excerpt at holleygerth.com/introverts.
You might like:
- How Introverts Can Conserve Energy While Socializing
- There Is Such a Thing as Being Socially Exhausted
- 7 ‘Rules’ for Introverts and Highly Sensitive People to Protect Their Energy
This article contains affiliate links. We only recommend products we truly believe in.