The Introvert's Holiday Survival Guide

As we approach the holidays, many of us are packing up and heading out to visit family or having family come to us.

And while Thanksgiving may have felt like a trial run, the December holidays can often stretch into days.

Are you ready, fellow introverts?

The holidays can be full of joy, but they can also present some particular challenges for some of us. Post election, this year is particularly fraught. If you have have a different value system - or even family that you fundamentally disagree with - going home can have a lot of layers to it. Going home can also remind us that while we have changed and grown, our families still see us as we once were: often young, sometimes stupid, or, as Gotye sang, “somebody that I used to know”. That’s not your fault.

For introverts, this can be particularly challenging. In addition to uncomfortable conversations, the holidays can disrupt all the routines you’ve set up in your life to take care of yourself, leaving you with feelings of being trapped or unable to get the alone time necessary to recharge your introvert batteries. This can take a real toll for days/ weeks to come. 

In my own introvert experience, here are the top sticky moments:

1)  Staying in someone else's house and looking for a place to recharge when your schedule is not your own.

Possible solutions:

  • Schedule a time to take a walk by yourself. Choose a podcast or something that reminds you of who you are NOW. (Make sure the phone is charged...sounds obvious, but when routines get disrupted, the most basic things can go out the window).
  • If you are going somewhere new, do some research. You can schedule yourself a solo date to go check something out that you are curious about but isn't of interest to the family.
  • Create a safe space for yourself in your room - this can go as far as a makeshift closet fort that has your iPod and a book in it, or even just a door that shuts.
  • Helping with cooking - especially mindless tasks - can provide time to center, and gather.

2)  Recognize/anticipate what things will probably go wrong, and strategize accordingly.

For example: in my house, I recognize that Christmas eve will ALWAYS end up being a struggle between my two sets of parents in a last minute competition to see who can win the most time for the day, and we will always be two hours late to the Christmas Eve celebration. (I'll save the details to protect the innocent.) Accepting a certain amount of madness in advance helps maintain sanity when it does, in fact, descend. Your sense of humor is also an invaluable tool.

3) Difficult conversations:

When you’re feeling overwhelmed in the midst of an intense conversation, recognize that. Just because it's the holidays doesn't mean that you can't set boundaries around your subjects or take your time to answer a difficult question. This includes choosing not to answer.

In those tough moments, the biggest advice we have is to remember to breathe.   The short, panicky breaths that happen when we get nervous can cue our brains into fight, flight or freeze mode - which can cause total shut down. Practice taking a full breath (ie, breathing into your back so that you can at least stay present until you can escape to gather your thoughts.)

Safe topics:  Yes, many of us are itching to change hearts and minds this holiday. It's a necessary and worthy goal; however, I think it’s important for introverts to have some other talking points in their back pockets for when things get heated. With my mother, I've learned I can diffuse intense energy by talking about Welsh Corgis. 

Intense topics:  Sometimes you do want to “go there”. You can take care of yourself by being prepared for intense conversations by taking a full breath while you speak, and staying present to really listen. There are two choices in this realm: A) Say everything you want to say (which has its benefits if you need to get something of your chest) and B) communicating so someone can hear. Choice “B” requires you to stay present, breathe and really listen.  Both can be of value, but knowing which one you are utilizing will help you keep your expectations reasonable.   There is nothing worse spilling your heart about something you passionately believe in only to be met with arguments, or sometimes worse, silence and a request to pass the potatoes.   There are some great articles out there (like this, this, and this) right now about effectively creating talking points.

The graceful exit:  The graceful exit is there for you when the "burn it all down" exit feels like too much, but you've got to get out of there. There is the universal "excuse me, but I've got to use the ladies room". Or "may I refresh anyone's drink?" If you have your little safe place, you can go there, but breathing and or crying in the bathroom also has its merits. On that note, frequent bathroom visits can allow for a moment of silence in your head to gather your thoughts. Bring a small journal if you need to process thoughts outside your head.

Bonus:  Have a good friend on speed dial that knows you may be calling.

Here are some things that I have found less helpful:

Don’t stay on your phone at the table.  It’s a fake escape that keeps you disconnected but still present in a situation that you may actually just want to walk away from (at least temporarily). At best, it comes across as disengaged - at worst, you look just plain rude.  (Side note:  Same goes for the Chardonnay Escape, which can actually leave you more drained the next day.)

Don’t stay in a conversation you know is going to cost you more emotional energy than you have available.

Don’t stay somewhere that truly feels toxic to your soul. If you feel like you’re walking into a lion’s den, make sure you have a hotel, a friends house or some other way of escaping.  Knowing you have it if you need it can allow you to relax just a little more;  you aren’t really trapped.

One Final Tip

Schedule a giant day of recharge: “netflix and chill”, an activity that you love, cooking (pie making: added bonus of getting to hit something with a rolling pin!), curling up with a good book . . . whatever you choose, give yourself some solid recharge time to look forward to when you make it through this stressful time.  

Happy Holidays!

Julie Fogh