The holidays are a whirlwind of activity. Stores are more crowded. Out-of town-guests take over the guest bedroom (and the bathroom, and the kitchen, and the sofa). And then there are the parties -- work parties, friends' parties, parties you're hosting. Even for extroverts, the month of December can be stressful. But for introverts who struggle with honoring their own temperament and who have friends and family who don't understand introversion, the holidays can be an overwhelming time.
Here are six steps my fellow introverts can take before the holiday frenzy starts:
1. Learn your energy limits.
The best way to learn about your energy limits is to track it. Create a spreadsheet. In separate columns note the current time, the activity you just completed, and your mental energy level (on a scale of 1 to 10). Set a timer to go off once an hour to remind you to make note of your activities and energy. After a week, take a look at your tracker. Do you see any patterns? For instance, maybe you'll notice that you can do two meetings in one day without any changes to your energy level, but on days with three meetings your mental energy level typically tanks and stays down for the next two days. Or perhaps you'll find a meeting with a certain person will deplete all of your energy.
For those of you who don't have the time or inclination to track your energy, you could keep an energy journal. At the end of each day, note how tired you feel and what kind of activities you took part in during that day. Do you remember your energy level changing at a certain point during the day? If so, what were you doing when that energy level changed?
Avoid just trying to keep track of your energy levels in your head. I agree with David Allen that "Your brain is for having ideas, not holding them."
2. Understand how to raise your energy and create a list of energy revivers.
Does eating lunch away from your desk change how you feel for the rest of the day? What about taking two minutes to meditate at 3 pm? Are there certain activities, like channel surfing, that are mind-numbing and do nothing to change your energy levels, while there are other mind-nourishing things, like sketching, that leave you feeling happy and with more energy?
Create a list of energy revivers and put it in a place where you can see it easily. Perhaps the list could be set as a wallpaper for your phone, or written on sticky notes placed on your work computer and home laptop.
3. Understand the nuances of your own temperament.
Are you an introvert, shy, a Highly Sensitive Person, an empath, or a combination of them all? By understanding the nuances of your personality you can better understand (and predict) which circumstances make you feel overwhelmed, and which types of situations make you feel content.
4. Help your family understand your introversion.
The first step in helping your family understand you is to understand yourself first. After you figure out the nuances in your personality, start researching the science behind it. What are the differences in the brains of introverts and extroverts?
When it comes to talking to your family about your temperament, you may want to wait until the subject of personality (or really any) differences organically comes up in conversation -- "Oh really? I hate horror movies, but love period dramas! You know another way I think we're different? I tend to get really tired after about two hours of socializing. Even if I'm having a good time at a party, I can get really grumpy if I stay longer than two hours." I also suggest you bring up the concept of differences while you're speaking one-to-one with a family member, instead of waiting until the whole family is together.
All of this of course is based on the assumption that your family ultimately wants to understand you. If you aren't so lucky and have family who are determined not to believe what you say, learning about your introversion will at least help you talk about it more confidently, even if your words do fall on deaf ears.
5. Plan your response to optional party invitations.
By helping your friends understand your introversion now, they will probably be more understanding if you choose to decline a party invitation during the holidays. And by coming up with ways to politely but confidently decline invitations now, you won't be left struggling to say the right thing while your friend is standing in front of you, waiting for an answer. If you do accept your friend's invitation, it will help you to know your energy limits and which activities make you feel refreshed.
6. Plan your approach to non-optional holiday parties.
Knowing your energy limits and energy revivers (activities that give you more energy) is important when it comes to mandatory holiday parties. If two meetings in one day leaves you feeling like a zombie then see if you can avoid booking two meetings the day of your work's holiday party. If you're at the work holiday party and notice your energy dipping, try stepping outside for two minutes to do one of your energy revivers. For instance, perhaps you can go to your car and meditate for two minutes. People are much less likely to notice that you're missing for a couple minutes, if they notice at all, than to notice that you've been scowling for the past hour, or worse, are having a mini-meltdown because you've burnt out completely.
Following these steps may not lead to a magical winter wonderland season, but they can help you to feel like you're in control of your life instead of the holidays being in control of you. And don't be ashamed to ask for help from friends, family, or from someone like a life coach, while you're making this transition.