Introverts and the holidays

First of all, happy New Year. Perhaps 2013 was a down-and-out scrape to get through or an idyllic gallop on the pig’s back. Whatever the case, it’s ended and a new window aglow with resolutions awaits. But since New Years resolution posts have already flooded the internet, I wanted to write about another timely topic: being an introvert during the holidays.

I don’t handle holidays well. The noise, social obligations, tedious traditions, ostentatious meals, and blitzkrieg shoppers exhaust and overwhelm me. Each year as Christmas crawls around, my stomach knots up with dread. And the past few years I’ve reached saturation points, where at the end of a long string of busy days, I crash like stretched out spring ripping back into place. I cannot put on the act any longer.

With the holiday season on the wane, I can say that I survived this year. It took an effort, but in the end, this was the best holiday season I’ve had in a while. Perhaps some of you weren’t so lucky. In that case, here are a few ideas that helped me.

1. Stake out time for yourself. This year, I was particularly mindful of this. Getting caught up in the business of the holidays can feel like one of those coin rolling whirlpools at some museums: as it goes on, it only gets more intense.

As with any inertia, stopping is the only solution. Perhaps you need time in the morning. Or at night. Or in the middle of the day. No one will give it to you, so you must structure your day or a series of days with pitstops to recharge with solitary, fulfilling activities. On Christmas, for example, I retreated t my room to read for a bit.

2. If you don’t like shopping crowds, get it done early or online. Venturing into the store is an adventure. Self-entitled shoppers, rabid sale-seekers, and general sensory bombardment from all angles–it’s a tough environment for introverts. Sometimes going online is the lesser of two evils.

3. Budget your energy. I have a tendency to say yes to a lot of things, including social obligations. This year, however, I made sure to say no. When I felt the strain, I didn’t push it. I knew that I wouldn’t be myself, which wasn’t fair for my friends.

4. At parties themselves, seek out fellow introverts, find meaningful activities, and leave early if necessary. I never go to a social gathering unless I know at least one fellow introvert is there. Otherwise, I feel like a lone castaway in a sea of social enigmas.

To escape, I sometimes help clean. It lets me escape the prying gaze of the other guests, and if I can’t clean I find a quiet corner and people watch. Both prove better than forced conversations. And if I find myself waning, I leave, trying to say goodbye and thanks as I go.

5. In general, assert your needs. Sometimes being an introvert may seem selfish. We hide away sometimes, push away other people, turn down invitations with (often) lame excuses, cheer when parties get canceled, and read when others want to talk. But it’s not being selfish. It’s being safe. An exhausted introvert is no help to anyone.

Still, every introvert needs to a find the line between being a recluse like Boo Radley and having a healthy space of “me time.” I often come back to the Franciscan model. St. Francis took large swaths of the year retreating to hermitages. This gave him the energy he needed to rejoin the streets and work with people.

Not that holiday survival is Franciscan service, but the idea is the same: just as you need to eat and sleep to be an effective person, you may also need to separate yourself and recharge in solitude. Nobody wants a Scrooge. And for the rest of the year, the same rules apply.

2 thoughts on “Introverts and the holidays

  1. I hoped you survived the holiday season 🙂

    One sure fire cure, is take one holiday season to do a little traveling if possible. Being out of the country, there were a few times I did not return home, and instead found serenity in both laying low in a new country/culture while reminiscing on all the great things of home & the holidays. A perfect place & time for ‘me’ time.

    Of course, having an understanding family helps as well.

    1. Thanks, Dalo, I hope that yours went well, too. I’ve had a similar experience, being abroad three times for Independence Day. Each time, it really gave me a deeper appreciation for the holiday.

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