Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Introvert’s Guide To Socialising

Are you secretly relieved that the Covid lockdowns have given you a really good excuse to avoid social obligations? If so, you’re not alone.

Usually, we talk about introverts being drained and/or overwhelmed by social interaction and extraverts being fueled by social interaction. And typically, we think that people are one or the other.

However, it’s not quite that black and white.  

Stress, Emotion and Sociability
During holidays, do you sometimes overbook your schedule and find yourself groaning at the thought of another dinner or party – even if it’s with people you love?

I see introversion-extraversion as a continuum, and I think our position changes according to various elements including our general stress levels and our emotions about the type of event.

For example, I might rate myself as a 7 when it comes to going out for lunch, dinner and hanging out with colleagues and friends. However, a horrible month at work might push me to a 4 or even a 3 for a few weeks.

Or, I may be a 5 about socialising with strangers, but rate myself at a 9 when it comes to meeting friends.

Of course, there are people who say that no matter what, they are more towards one end of the scale than the other.

Tip: Schedule for Stress
If you're a typically on the introvert side of the scale, then you may face some challenges as work and study often include networking and other social components.

From sessions with introverts, the most practical bit of information is that it can be helpful to see whether you are best off scheduling all your social interactions on one day or whether you are better pacing yourself throughout the week or month.

This is very personal, and likely linked to your overall energy levels, so do what suits you best and know that what you like now may change from time to time.  

Tip: Reward Yourself
This is controversial, however, studies into anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suggest that reward can help rewire your emotions somewhat. (Source, and another source, and another source)

This is a blog post and we’d need a book to discuss it but I think it can be useful to say to yourself: I have to attend a conference and make nice with strangers for work. So my goal is to attend three presentations where I can sit silently and smile a lot, and then to talk for two minutes to three people and six minutes to two more people. After that, I consider it job done and I get a reward.  

For this, the important thing is to: pinpoint the issue, pinpoint your goal in clear terms, and then after you’ve completed it to pat yourself on the back and reward yourself.

Note: the patting yourself on the back is part of a mindful strategy. Again, mindfulness is controversial because studies are usually small and tend to overreach with their claims. However, practically speaking, clients tell me that they feel a bit daft sometimes at the mindful self back-patting but they also note that it helps.

Types of Introverts
Even more interesting, Jonathan Cheek, a psychology professor at Wellesley College, suggests there are different kinds of introverts.

Social Introverts 
Prefer small groups to large ones. Or prefer solitude over any kind of socialising. 

Reserved/Restrained Introverts
Take a while to warm up and are then okay 

Anxious Introverts
Worry they may 'do the wrong thing' while socialising and ruminate afterwards, often falsely convinced they've somehow messed up

Thinking Introverts
Usually creative, live in their own mind world and have trouble connecting outside of it

Socialising For Introverts - Organised by Type
Figuring out how much you want or can socialise is personal. But if you're looking to get out and about a bit more, here are some suggestions for activities.

Note: these come from me, not from Creek's work. This list is the result of working with introverts in sessions. So they're tested but there's nothing 'scientifically proven' about them. They're a suggestion.

Activities for Social Introverts 
As your top preference is for personal time, do things by yourself.  

If you have to socialise, try to keep groups very small and opt for engagements that are time limited. For example, avoid dinner parties that include hours of lingering over coffee and go for weekday lunches where people need to get back to work. 

Activities for Reserved/Restrained Introverts
Try sticking to socialising with a small group of people whom you already know and like. Think dinner or lunch parties with individuals or with small groups of good friends or perhaps mall walking or a private hike with a good friend.

The main point is to avoid activities where strangers will be invited or present. For example, you may enjoy playing squash, badminton or some other sport where you play in pairs with friends. But you might find it too stressful to join leagues where you are paired up at random.

Activities for Anxious Introverts
Go for a one-on-one with gentle and empowering people and think about structured activities so that you have a game plan to follow. (also, read up on how stress provokes your anxiety to push up your hidden fears.)

For example: two of you going on a bicycle ride, two of you baking cookies, two of you going to the cinema or theatre (lots of quiet sitting about!). Or taking a flower arranging class (very structured, so you have very structured conversations)

Activities for Thinking Introverts
For you, consider taking the same approach as the social introverts but include the caveat that when you do socialise, pick small groups of like-minded people who share your passions and only attend events that are based on your passions. 

For example, one on one chats with a close friend over a lunch are great, and you may want to attend a class, tour or lecture based on your topic of interest. However, think twice about going out with good friends to do something new as it will likely stress you. 

Tip from Sessions About Comfort Zones
If you feel you need to expand your comfort zone, plan to dip in a toe and have a plan to exit quickly if you become too stressed. Also, take it slowly. As you are sensitive to stress and possibly quite resistant to change, consider trying it a few times before you truly know if it's for you or not. 

Finally, my introvert clients tell me that they find good exercise and sports include yoga classes and swimming because people don't talk during those. One person sports like running, plogging, and cycling are good too. But don't go for diving or dancing, because people tend to chat a lot during those activities. 

Hope you found this interesting.  If you ever want to talk to a mental health professional about this or some other matter, email me.