There’s no “right way” to be social during the holidays


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!

Image is “Cone Alone” © Bx3t | Dreamstime Stock Photos

13 thoughts on “There’s no “right way” to be social during the holidays

  1. These are all really good Jill! Thank you! I totally do the pet thing- that really helps to soothe my nerves and calm my energy down. I like the offering to go the store- and you get to help out the host/hostess so that’s always a nice plus. (I love going to the store when nobody is there- such a pleasant experience. Makes an errand far nicer to do.) Never thought about journaling- that’s a terrific idea. I may have to give this one a go! For myself, I also offer to help clean up too- nobody is usually in the kitchen & while it’s not ideal for recharging completely, it does give me space alone or maybe one other person helping but not talking much. And I have to think about what I’m doing- which means a break from thinking- and just doing. That definitely helps my monkey mind 🙂


    • Kathryn, your idea to help clean up is a great one! I’ve done that before but had forgotten about it. You’re so right that it allows you to focus on doing instead of thinking and is a break from having to be “on” all the time. (I also agree that it’s nice to go to the store when nobody is there!) Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts on this. Wishing you a joyful (and stress-free!) holiday! 🙂


  2. Great post, Jill! I use the “taking a quick walk” trick several times a week, generally on the grounds of the hospital where I work. This technique is a very helpful tool in allowing me to briefly re-charge my batteries– so that I can continue to face the demands of my stressful, high-paced job that is full of people wanting things from me (help, decisions, advice, audience, e-mail replies) many, many, many times a day.

    I am the kind of introvert you describe. I also fully engage in the world (which I don’t mind, I must add). It’s always a trick to find the right balance. Thanks for reminding us. Happy Thanksgiving to you!


    • Danielle, you are a great example of the fact that being an introvert and fully engaging in the world are not in opposition! Like you say, the key is in replenishing our reserves regularly. I love how all those quick walks allow you to recharge at work. It’s great to hear from you — thanks for reading and I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! 🙂


  3. I love all these ideas. I take walk breaks all the time, especially when I’m at work and getting a bit overwhelmed with everything. I love how you mentioned giving yourself permission to say no, or to limit your time spent at a busy party, that’s something I’m still learning to do. Thanks for such an insightful post 🙂


    • Ally, I’m so glad the post was helpful! The walk breaks are so balancing, aren’t they? (I just came back from one!) I’m still learning about all this, too — there are times when I realize I could have used a little break of some kind and it would have made a big difference, but I wasn’t tuned in enough to myself to realize it. Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

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  4. Jill, I really appreciated this post – it came at just the right time for me, and I’ll be referring back to it in the weeks ahead. Thank you for sharing from your experience!!

    To answer your question, I take care of myself and connect with others during the holidays by being very selective about travel/social plans. When my husband and I go north to visit friends and family, I’ve learned that I cannot and should not see everyone I want to see! Instead, we see family and a small handful of friends.

    This decision arose from experience: the first year, I made plans to see ALL THE PEOPLE I missed (I had 6 coffee dates scheduled for one day!), and of course I was totally burnt out after that. The next year, we limited ourselves to one big social activity per day, and added a bit more downtime … and we still got sick and really tired. This year, we opted out of an entire leg of the trip, and visited with fewer people. I still got sick, but my husband didn’t, so I guess that’s progress. 😉


    • Caroline, I’m so glad the post was helpful! I really relate to the exhaustion that can come from overscheduling during the holidays. Thanks for sharing your strategies for dealing with that! I agree, “less is more” has become my holiday mantra, in many ways. I’m looking into how I can make that work for me over Christmas. Good for you for cutting down on the visiting and taking care of yourself. Sorry to hear you still got sick, though — hope you feel better soon! 🙂


  5. This was almost too close to the bone for me. I find this issue such a huge challenge because, like you, I love and engage deeply…and then I desperately need to recharge. It’s an almost physical, primal need to be alone again for a while. I’ve been reflecting recently and realise this wasn’t always true for me, but it certainly is true now. There are certain in my circle who I know I have to accept will never understand this need, but that’s not to say that means I have to relinquish it. The ‘going for a walk’ one is my most frequent friend, and offering to go out and buy what’s necessary is also a trick I’ve used. It is a great comfort though, knowing I’m not alone in this. I think my main mistake is having put too much emphasis on wanting people to understand rather than learning to accept and voice my need without feeling any guilt or embarrassment. Thanks very much for this post Jill, and blessings of the season to you! Huge hugs, Harula xxx


    • Harula, thanks so much for sharing that! I think it’s a tricky issue for those of us who are energy-sensitive and heart-centered. I really hear you about wanting others to understand; it’s such a deeply human need for those we love to understand us. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it’s more about accepting and voicing your own needs than about explaining yourself to others. I notice the more self-acceptance I’m feeling in a given moment, the more okay I am with others’ perceptions of me. Big hugs to you, too, and thanks for your insight, as always! xo


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  7. I have heard introvert defined in so many ways, and with so much negativity associated with it, that I began to push it out of my consciousness. You have opened my eyes back up to accepting that term with a sense of pride and comfort. You have hit the proverbial nail on the head for me –

    “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.”

    I was like, holy cow, that’s me!!! I’ve always had this inner conflict. Why do I love having a meaningful conversation with another, but only for so long? How can I want to spend time with others engaging in an activity I love, but only for a limited amount of time? I know that this information has been out there forever, but for whatever reason, the way you have portrayed it Jill has opened my eyes to a new perspective, so thank you 🙂


    • Dave, it makes me happy to hear that the way I framed it hit home for you! Yep, I’m right there with you — it is quite a conflict to have. But I agree that it’s so important to embrace introversion — there are so many gifts associated with it! (There is sometimes an overlap with introversion and high sensitivity, if you’re familiar with that term. Highly sensitive nervous systems can tolerate less stimulation than less sensitive ones, which increases that people time vs. alone time conflict.) Thanks so much for reading and sharing your experience! 🙂


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