Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Let me preface by saying introversion is not a sad "affliction." It is who we are and it introduces wonderful talents and warm approaches.
Yet, we all get sad sometimes. It is a normal emotion for everyone. Given our introspective nature, anticipatory thoughts of future events or replay thoughts of past activities can be expected and sometimes overwhelming.
The events we sometimes fixate on can make us sad, which can spiral downward with some of these thoughts filling our brain:
Why do I worry so much about something?
Why do I rerun meetings or social gatherings in my head?
Why can't I be more laid back like others (aka, extroverts)?
Can't I just be happy with who I am?
These revolving thoughts can be overwhelming.
As mentioned in past posts, studies indicate introverts are three times more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the average person.
What can we do when just wishing them away doesn't work?
Here are 11 approaches that can be most successful for an introvert in distress:
DO IT NOW
1. STOP what you are doing. The endless cycle in your head is not helping. Once you stop, you can start to take the emotion out of the equation. You can calm your mind by reminding yourselves "I am not alone!" These are normal thoughts. Then, you can start to ask why - "Why do I feel this way? What is truly bothering me?" It's much easier to evaluate our thoughts and find solutions once we set the emotions aside.
2. CONTROL CHART: make a "T" bar on a piece of paper and title the left side "Things I Can Control" and the right side "Things Out of My Control." Next, take the item(s) from the first step above that may be weighing heavily and consider if it's something you can do something about or not. For instance:
I can prepare for a work meeting but I can't ensure success
I can consider 'List of Four' topics to share at a social event or at the water cooler but I can't make others participate or like me
I can monitor my energy level and re-energize with breaks but I can't help it when certain situations deplete my energy rapidly
I can get to the airport early but I can't ensure my flight leaves on time
You can use this exercise to analyze perhaps the one thing on your mind now or make an ongoing list of areas you are anxious about in general. You can only control your own actions, so prepare, practice, and act. However, you can't control others' actions or responses. We spend far too much time and energy worrying about things we can't control. When we recognize that, it can free us up to focus on what we can control.
3. HAPPY PLACE: Everyone has a happy place that is serene and peaceful and helps us relax and re-energize. Know those places for you and when you feel down or out of control, take even 5 minutes and go there. For many introverts, the list can actually be quite long.
Walk in nature is great but even around the office floor or on campus will work.
Listen to music
Create art or writing
Even just a few minutes can help ground us so we can better consider what is dragging us down.
4. TALK IT OUT: Share your thoughts or concerns with your best friend, spouse, or even just yourself. Find a quiet place and verbalize what is on your mind. It does work by yourself, but can be even more powerful with a confidante who can ground you in reality, comfort you, and assure you that your thoughts are normal.
5. JOURNAL: Journaling is one of the most powerful tools in the introvert toolkit. It can be quick, easy, and private. If you are ruminating about a past event, rather than spin and contemplate what a mess that meeting was or why you didn't enjoy a social event, jot down your emotions so you can park them. Then write down your learnings - ideas to implement to improve next time and feel more comfortable. No one is perfect. Life is a journey. By jotting down lessons, we can continue to make strides to improve and be more confident.
If you are worried about an upcoming meeting, date, debate, networking event, or social gathering, write it down. What specifically is concerning you? What can you control? How might you prepare for the event by applying your authentic strengths? Close your eyes and envision what success looks like. This can help calm the nerves and build confidence as you practice your speech, list questions or comments to raise at an upcoming meeting, or use the 'List of Four' to come armed with topics to discuss at socials. Preparation is typically one of an introvert's greatest strengths, so use it to your advantage.
6. CHALLENGE: Too often we take events as carved in stone. But what if we challenge future obligations? In my past corporate life, I used to have a calendar full of social events. It often petrified me. I dislike the task of inserting myself into a cocktail hour conversation as much as the awkwardness of removing myself. And I certainly didn't enjoy the chitchat. Over time, I began to use the above tactics to calm down a bit and be better prepared. But the frequency of such gatherings was just overwhelming. Finally, my therapist asked a simple yet life-changing question - "Do you really need to attend all these events?" Hmmm, "no." I felt I should because this seemed to be required, but was it really? I didn't want to "give in" to my weakness either. But honestly, I did not have to attend them all. It wasn't a job requirement. I could evaluate them and decide which may be required, which I might enjoy more than others, and which I could replace with a small group lunch or with a co-worker buddy coming along! Ahh, such a relief from a simple question.
Each of these remedies can work to relieve your sadness, some through distraction and others by rationally evaluating your circumstances to find solutions.
7. LEARN: Take the opportunity to truly learn about introversion. It is not the downtrodden diagnosis people may think. About half the world, half your social group, and half your workplace are introverts. You are not alone. Furthermore, introverts have tremendous strengths like preparation, observation, thoughtfulness, and creativity which help balance the room and bring forth optimal solutions and relationships. If you haven't taken some time for yourself on the topic, join over 1800 other introverts and take our Strengths Quiz. Read some blogs or books. As you learn more about introversion, you will begin to embrace it and apply your own authentic style to the obstacles of the past.
8. THERAPY: I'm a big proponent of professional therapy, but I wasn't always that way. At first, I was overcome by the stigma. My mom suffered from agoraphobia (fear of crowds, the unknown, and open spaces) most of her life and, as a small kid, that really made me scared of mental illness. In my 40s I finally engaged with a therapist to address specific issues (social work requirements and recovery from traumatic shoulder injury). Finally, in my 50s I've engaged with a wonderful therapist not for specific issues but for ongoing mental health. My appointments are a gift to myself. I raise issues, concerns, and successes. We find solutions and adapt any thoughts to be more mindful, purposeful, and positive. It has changed my life and introduced a life of confident authenticity. See a doctor and dentist for routine checkups...and see a therapist too!
9. SUPPORT: Consider a support group. This could be arranged through a therapist but can be as simple as finding community through an introvert Facebook Group, local Meetup, or online site, each of which can remind you that you are not alone and that camaraderie can help.
10. ESAs: Emotional Support Animals are becoming more common - you see them in airports, on the streets, and even at school and work. They can provide companionship and the comfort to calm raging thoughts so you can then apply some of the tactics described above.
11. MEDS: If you find these approaches aren't practical, perhaps because you just can't shed the emotions, consider a psychiatrist who may prescribe some meds to calm the mind. These can certainly help and in my opinion, go hand-in-hand with therapy and other approaches in finding long-term solutions to place in your personal toolkit.
Adding some of these 11 tactics to your toolkit can help you balance yourself and bring the confidence to use your introspective thoughts as a positive tool for a happier and more fulfilling life.
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