The first Christmas I spent with my now-husband, he took me to a family event at his aunt’s house. He mentioned during the drive that this was a family reunion of sorts, with people having flown in from all over the country. Needless to say, this made me a little apprehensive. Upon arrival, I was introduced to what felt like hundreds of new people, one after another in quick succession. I struggled to keep my smile in place as the night wore on and the general volume level and excitability of the crowd around me increased.
After a few hours, I couldn’t take it any more. I slipped away like a thief, skulking about the house, searching for a place where it was quiet. I came across a half-lit room and saw my future brother-in-law sitting in there, staring out the window. Knowing him to be an introvert himself, I decided this was my best option for escape and sat down across the room, wrapping my arms around my knees. I remember hoping he wouldn’t think I was intruding upon his own solitude before I allowed myself to zone out, letting my thoughts drown out the raucous laughter from downstairs, breathing deeply and feeling the tension drain away. I don’t know how long it was before my now-husband came looking for me, but I remember him laughing at finding the two introverts seeking refuge together.
The funniest part about that night was that I never said a word to my future brother-in-law, nor he to me, and we’ve never spoken of it since. There was no need; we both understood what the other was experiencing, a phenomenon often referred to as the “introvert” hangover.
What Is the Introvert Hangover?
If you’re an introvert, you already know what I’m talking about because you have likely experienced it more than once. But if you aren’t, or you need help explaining the idea to extroverted friends, here’s an attempt at a description. Introverts have a more limited ration of energy available for socializing, compared to our more extroverted counterparts. When we push past those reserves, we hit a tipping point where we go from being “fine” to “definitely not okay.” An introvert hangover is, simply put, a withdrawal into oneself brought on by overstimulation.
For example, if you tell me we’re going to an event for two hours and we end up staying four, I’m likely to experience an introvert hangover. I had only planned to spend two hours’ worth of energy socializing, and you doubled that time, so by the end, I’m working with a deficit. Likewise, if you say you’re bringing a friend to the party, and you arrive with six people I don’t know, I’m likely to experience an introvert hangover; I wasn’t mentally prepared to meet new people and make small talk. If I pack my social calendar too full, I’m likely to experience an introvert hangover, because I didn’t leave time for myself to be alone and recharge my mental batteries.
An introvert hangover is a pretty terrible thing to experience. It starts with an actual physical reaction to overstimulation. Your ears might ring, your eyes start to blur, and you feel like you’re going to hyperventilate. Maybe your palms sweat. And then your mind feels like it kind of shuts down, building barriers around itself as if you had been driving on a wide open road, and now you’re suddenly driving in a narrow tunnel. All you want is to be at home, alone, where it’s quiet.
And if you can’t get solitude when you need it, that’s when your inner voice starts. It can tell you terrible things about yourself. That you’re no fun. That you’re terrible at socializing. That everyone thinks you’re a bore or a snob. You look at the people around you who are laughing and having fun, and you wonder why you aren’t. Why can’t you just smile and join in? Why can’t you just be “normal”?
These feelings are only compounded when other people notice that you’ve stopped communicating and want to find out why. “Why so quiet?” they ask, meaning well. “Are you upset? Are you feeling okay?”
One part of you wants to answer them, another part of you is shouting to just snap out if it, but those parts most often lose out against the part of you that wants to retreat and be left alone. So you end up glowering at people or snapping at them or walking away, the whole time listening to your inner voice telling you what an awful person everyone thinks you are. The way you feel seems irrational, and you know it. But that doesn’t mean that you can suddenly stop feeling that way.
The Only Way to Cure an Introvert Hangover
The only real cure for an introvert hangover is solitude. And this is what we as introverts would most like for our extroverted friends to understand.
It’s not that we don’t want to be around you. It’s not that we’re upset. It’s not that anything is particularly wrong. It’s just that we need to be alone. We need some time up in our heads with our thoughts. We need time to just breathe and just be.
We might not need much time. Sometimes just a half hour or an hour can do wonders. In fact, we might not even need to be technically alone, as my story above illustrates. If we can put on our headphones and sit away from the crowd undisturbed for a bit, that can be just as helpful as being alone.
In the years we’ve been together, my husband has continued to take me to holiday events with his gregarious, if slightly overwhelming, family. Obviously, I knew that was part of the deal by the time I married him. But that’s also why I make my own clear demands for personal time and space. Because as introverts, if we want to avoid a hangover, moderation is key.
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Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman
Image credit: Shutterstock/NinaMalyna