Sometimes when I look back, I cringe at all the pressure I used to put on myself to be “differently social” than I actually am, especially during holiday times. I am an introvert (and no, by that I do not mean that I am “shy”, but that I need plenty of alone time to recharge).
I am an introvert who loves people, deeply. But I also cannot be around people for more than a few hours without needing to withdraw and spend time alone.
Like many introverts, I really struggled with this in childhood, when my natural introversion was viewed as shyness that needed to be “cured”, or a “fear of people” that needed to be conquered.
Thankfully, I am now an adult (in some senses, anyway!) and I have a lot more control over my life and the ways I choose to socialize than I did when I was nine.
The holidays, nevertheless, can prove to be a challenge for my introvert self.
But I’ve learned to give myself lots of permission over the years.
Back when it was harder to give myself permission, I needed to get it from other people.
Sometimes people give us permission by their example and they don’t even know it. This is a beautiful thing. Like:
* The Christmas party I was at one year where, after three hours, I felt completely depleted but was sure if I left before the gifts were opened, my host would be offended. So I suffered through, feeling overstimulated and disconnected. At hour number four of the party, a couple breezed in, said hello to the host, and then added, “We’ll only be able to stay for fifteen minutes. We’re dropping by another party tonight.”
Doh! From that point on, I realized it was perfectly fine for me to stay at a party for the amount of time it felt comfortable for me to stay. I don’t really give parties (unless three people coming over is a party), but I know for sure that I would not want anyone I cared about hanging around my party if they were really ready to leave. So now I apply that logic to myself.
* The friend, way back in college, who said “no” to the spur of the moment concert invite I’d given her. After a thoughtful moment, she said, “It sounds great, but I really want to have some time to myself tonight and enjoy my own company.”
Not only was I not hurt by her honest “no”, but she’d unwittingly given me permission to freely tell others that I wanted to spend time by myself — not the easiest thing to do at any age, but especially not back when I was twenty or twenty-one and staying home on a Friday night was not exactly the “socially condoned” thing. Thanks to this friend for being who she was and owning it.
* My grandpa, who took his after-lunch nap no matter what, no matter who was around, whether it was Christmas Day or a regular old Monday. His naps were a part of his daily routine and I don’t think it ever occurred to him to not take them just because guests were staying over for the holidays. They were something he needed; part of his self-care regimen. When he was done with his nap, he woke up and started talking. But during his nap, he was “unavailable.”
Here are four kinds of “breaks” I employ nowadays to rebalance and recharge when I’m around people during the holidays.
* Walk breaks. I tell people I need to stretch my legs for a bit and I’m going out for a walk. This works especially well if it’s really cold, because if it’s cold enough, no one will offer to join me.
* Journaling breaks. I shut myself into a bedroom or even the bathroom and write a couple of paragraphs in my journal. Sometimes just writing what I see around me is helpful because it reconnects me to the present moment. Sometimes I write more of a vent or a rant or whatever it is I’m feeling.
* Pet breaks. If there’s a dog, cat, or other animal in the household, I go and hang out with it for a while. Animals always somehow reconnect me with myself and have that nonjudgmental energy that can be truly helpful during certain, er, moments of the holidays. And if there’s a cat around, you have the plus of the purr. It’s soothing and research says a cat’s purr can even heal broken bones.
* Go-and-get-something breaks. If something is needed — more 7-Up, more paper napkins — I offer to go to the store and get it.
These are just a few things I do — I’m always inventing others. Because here’s the truth of it: the better I can take care of myself during the holidays, or any time, the more present I am to connect with the people I love. Just a ten-minute walk outside can work wonders for my ability to remain present.
And, here’s an article I wrote last year at holiday time on what to do when don’t get your downtime.
How do you take care of yourself AND connect with those you love during the holidays? I’d love to hear, in the comments. And to readers in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving!