One of the most common issues that comes up for my clients, approximately 90% of whom identify as introverts (and most are also highly sensitive), is what I call Downtime Chasing.
It looks something like this: You were planning to stop working for the day at 5:30 p.m., eat some dinner, and have the evening to just hang out and experience some quiet and revamp your resources in preparation for tomorrow. Or, if you’re like me, maybe you wanted to get in a good solid hour of journaling before going to bed.
But: At 6 p.m., the phone rings. And even though you know you really need tonight’s downtime in order to reconnect with yourself and feel energized for tomorrow, it’s a family member and you wonder if something might be wrong. Or, it’s a work-related thing. Or, it’s a friend in a crisis and you want to be there for him.
So you pick up the phone, and before you know it, it’s time to go to bed and your much-needed downtime hasn’t happened.
Now you’re kind of irritated, maybe even angry, because you wanted downtime the night before, and last Thursday, and the same thing happened. And now you haven’t had any real time to yourself in over a week and you’re starting to feel like you’re running on empty.
Introverts need downtime alone to recharge. This is not optional; it is a necessity. We simply can’t renew our resources by being around other people the way extroverts can.
The tricky thing is, because introverts are usually very good at adapting to more “extroverted” ways, we may easily toss our need for downtime out the window. It might even be habitual for us.
If we’re highly sensitive as well, we’re often so attuned to what others need that it feels sometimes like their needs are just as pressing, if not moreso, than ours. So we jump into “helping” mode before we realize what we’re doing.
And then there’s this sneaky thought: “Well, so-and-so is an introvert, and she doesn’t seem to need the amount of downtime that I do. Maybe I need too much. Maybe I can go without it.”
I often see introverts going to two extremes with this issue:
The first is the introvert who gets angry and frustrated and locked into the “Desperately Seeking Downtime” cycle, which means that trying to get enough downtime becomes the main purpose in her life. Because she feels so deprived of time to herself, everything on her “to-do list” starts to feel like the enemy of downtime. This constant seeking doesn’t actually get her much downtime, but she thinks if she stays angry about not having it, somehow it will magically appear, someday.
The other extreme is the introvert who decides to just forget about downtime altogether and pretend she doesn’t need it. After all, she’s so good at adapting, maybe she doesn’t really need it! Maybe the problem is she’s trying to meet a need that simply can’t be met, and she’d be better off getting rid of that need, letting go of it.
Except … she actually does need downtime. It keeps her sane, keeps her connected to herself, keeps her energized and keeps her life in perspective.
Okay. So what’s the answer?
Well, I wish I could tell you the precise end-all-and-be-all solution to this issue for you. I can’t. Only you can do that. But here are some things I’ve found helpful for me, and my clients.
1) Know yourself.
How much downtime do you truly need to feel sane, to feel like you’re thriving and not just surviving? Be really honest here.
The answer for me is: a significant amount. Definitely more than fifteen minutes grabbed here or there.
But, I often don’t need as much as I think I do.
When I deprive myself of downtime, I start to feel like I need it all the time. I don’t. Even though I’m pretty up there on the introversion scale, it’s not often that I actually need days of downtime. In fact, if I fully and freely give myself an entire day where my intention is mostly downtime, I usually find a couple of hours of true downtime will do just fine.
2) Notice where you’re getting into comparisons.
You need as much time to yourself as you need.
It doesn’t matter if Jane is also an introvert and doesn’t need as much downtime as you do. She’s not you; her constellation of needs, choices, and wiring is different.
When you can own how much downtime you actually need, without feeling like you “shouldn’t” need it, you are about a hundred times more likely to make that downtime happen.
We live in a world that believes “busy” is good. So we can feel pressure around owning our need to shift into “being mode,” whether we’re introverts or not. Sometimes, it takes real courage to own this need. Take that into account.
3) Notice where you are rigid around only getting your downtime in a certain way.
Be open to fluidity and flexibility around your downtime — without giving it up.
I once heard someone (I think it was Eckhart Tolle? — feel free to correct me!) use this analogy about money: We think money has to come in through the front door, when in fact it might also come in through the windows.
The same is true for downtime. It can come to us in myriad ways if we’re open to that idea.
If we think it must look like sitting in total quiet on the couch in our living room, we might miss out on the opportunity to have absolutely blissful, rejuvenating time to ourselves while walking home from our dentist appointment or cleaning up the kitchen (yes, it’s possible!).
4) There’s a discipline to downtime.
And I’m not a big fan of the word “discipline,” but, for introverts, it’s a commitment.
Notice the ways you’re too willing to break this commitment. Notice why you’re willing to give it up. Are there two tempting social opportunities this weekend, and deep down you know you can only handle one? What makes you want to schedule in both? What do you think you’ll be getting by doing the extra activity and cutting out your downtime?
It’s okay to drop the downtime to do something you want to do — as long as it’s a choice and you have a strategy for how you’re going to replenish yourself (it might mean you need next weekend totally to yourself, with absolutely nothing scheduled, so you can bounce back).
With the holidays right around the corner, it’s a great time to think about your needs for downtime. How do you make sure you get enough? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.