FOMO

I’ve talked before about being a social introvert. I know it seems to counter everything I’ve disclosed about myself, but I enjoy going out and doing things and seeing friends. It’s just that sometimes, the very thought of it drains me. This is why I have a serious problem with FOMO (fear of missing out).

The eternal struggle

Forget Hamlet’s existential crisis; ”to go out or to stay in?” is the real question. There are some times when I just can’t. It’s been a long week, I’ve had plans accounting for most of my time and I just can’t bear any more, so my weekend plans consist of doing nothing. But, even when that while I’m soaking up every moment of alone time, I can’t help but channel Mindy Kaling (“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”). What am I missing out on? Shouldn’t I be having adventures and Instagramming brunches and getting my party on, like everyone else?

Make it count

Sometimes it’s not worth it to push yourself. It’s easy to be persuaded to “just come” even though you really and truly don’t want to. Every introvert knows that feeling– you’re sitting amongst your friends, thinking, “I’m tired. Can I go home now?” while they’re having the time of their lives. And it makes you feel miserable, and your friends say you look miserable and all you can think is, “I told you so.”Sometimes, though, giving into the FOMO is good. You just need to be in the right headspace.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to make plans for a Friday evening. It had been a while since I’d gone out, though, and I thought “why not?” What I didn’t consider at the time, however, was that it happened to be St. Patrick’s Day. A few friends were going to a hockey game and suggested we meet up afterwards. The idea of going out later than I had planned, alone, and meeting at a crowded bar on the busiest pub night of the year was just too much. So, I politely passed and opted for a night to myself instead. I had a solo jaunt around the mall and had just come home, exhausted from the crowds and lights and loud, trendy music and settled down to a late dinner before a bath with a good book. And that’s when I got the text: “We’re going to the bar. You should meet us there.”

Here’s where my FOMO kicked in hard. It was going to be late, I was going to have to go alone, the streetcar ride would be long, it would be too crowded and we wouldn’t get a table or have space to move around. But…my friends were going to go out without me. The internal debate took a while, but I decided it was something I wanted to go and, more importantly, I had enough time to prepare. I used the hour and a half before I was to meet them to plug in my charger to get just enough energy to make it through the rest of the night. I ate my dinner, I watched a bit of tv, took my time getting ready and took an Uber instead of a long, noisy, crowded streetcar. And you know what? I had a great time!

Tips for the office introvert

It can be tough out there for the office introvert. The office is, by nature, a social place where people constantly stream in and out and talking. Whether you’ve got a private office, a semi-enclosed cubicle, or—gasp—the dreaded open concept set up, chances are if you’re in an office, you’re getting a lot of stimulation all day every day.

These environments certainly work for lots people and, in fact, are necessary for many jobs to be done effectively.  But they’re also incredibly taxing on people who need some peace and quiet to get their work done.

I, shock of all shocks, am the typical office introvert. Here are some things that help me get through it.

Own your introversion

You’re an introvert, and that’s ok! Letting the people you work with know that can go a long way. One of the most common pieces of feedback I received early in my career was, “You don’t speak up in meetings.” As any professional introvert has likely heard, I needed to prove not only that I was listening, but also that I had something to contribute. At the time, I was on a team full of talkers. I mean the type that doesn’t filter a single thought, whether it’s fully formed yet or not. When my manager asked me to speak up more, I told him that I was always fully mentally present, but couldn’t get a word in edgewise when I had a thought. From then on, he committed to making sure I had an opportunity to share when I wanted. He made space for my voice.

Invest in a pair of headphones

I work in cubicle in an office. It’s placed at the most crucial intersection of the whole floor—the point where the front door, two meeting rooms and the printer area converge. And I. Hear. Everything. When there’s a knock on the door when someone forgot their pass, when a meeting lets out and then continues directly in front of my desk, when someone has problems with the printer and dashes back and forth between it and their desk repeatedly. I hear it all. And it drives me crazy. That is, until I bust out the trusty headphones I keep at my desk and play something calm and mellow. Using them as earplugs, without any music is also encouraged.

Work from home

If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home, even once in a while, take advantage of the opportunity! Of course, not all jobs can be done from the home office (or couch), but for the ones that can, the opportunity for silence is golden. While my job requires me to be in the office most days, I’m able to work from home when I need to. When I do work remotely, I find it refreshes me. Working in my pajamas is a plus, but having no noises, no people, no interruptions to contend with– that’s enough to push the reset button on my stimulation limits.

Find someone who gets it

If you suspect a coworker is an introvert, they probably are. And let me tell you—having someone to commiserate with when it all gets to be too much can help a lot. In my previous office, our set up went beyond open concept. The four members of our team each occupied a corner of one giant cubicle. I spent all day every day facing three other people, including some serious talkers. When the third colleague and I first discussed our mutual introversion, it made me feel so much better knowing someone else understood. We swapped knowing glances when the extroverts were doing their thing and basked in the silence when they weren’t there. These things are so small but they made me feel, well, less crazy! It helps to know you’re not the only one cringing at the loud conversations or feeling drained by the noise.

Chances are, you’re not a lone introvert in a sea of extroverts—so make your presence known and things should get a little easier to deal with.

A giant Scrabble board spells out "you've got a friend in me"

Resting introvert face

At first (or second…or third…) glance, introverts might look, well, rude. When we’re out in public, chances are that the looks on our faces are less than inviting. We seem to be scowling, appear cold or even come off as rude. But please know this: just because we don’t have the friendly countenance of someone who wants to engage with the world doesn’t make us angry monsters (not all the time, anyway). Behind the resting introvert face is usually a pretty friendly person and a very good friend.

The cold shoulder

I understand completely. You see someone reading on the bus and politely smile as you sit down next to them, only to be met by a cold glare. Or, someone comes into your shop and as you ask if they need help, they brush you off. How rude, right? We’re not trying to be.

Being inside our own heads all day means we’re, well, inside our own heads all day. If we’re in deep thought, we’re not paying attention to what’s happening around us. I’m not going to smile at you on the subway not because I’m being rude, but because I’m working on actively shutting the world out. I’ve got my head down, looking at my phone. Or I’m deep into a book. Or I’m focusing on the music I’m playing and thinking deep thoughts (like, “what’s the answer to this problem I have?” or “what should I cook for dinner tonight?”).

Friending

We’re not the best at making friends, but I’d hazard a guess that we are the best at keeping them. Once you get to know an introvert and that introvert lets you in, you’re in. The initial stages of any relationship with an introvert can be tough. For one thing, we hate small talk. We have precious few words and a limited amount of social energy to give throughout a day, we just hate to see it wasted on discussions about the weather. We’d much rather get straight to the good stuff and discuss a shared interest or trade funny stories.

Once you’ve drawn that introvert out of their turtle shell, you’ll probably find that they’re quick to establish a deep and lasting connection. My favourite way to enjoy time with my friends is one-on-one or in very small groups; my social energy lasts a lot longer when it’s divided by fewer people. This, coupled with my affinity for listening, leads to a more intimate friendship and a closer connection.

My social circle isn’t vast, but it’s held together by a solid bond. I’m just thankful for the friends who introduced themselves to the quiet girl.

 

A teacup next to a water drop in the shape of a heart

Finding that someone (when you don’t want to talk to anyone)

I have a date tomorrow and I’m already dreading it. Don’t get me wrong, I am indeed looking for love. But the idea of going out after a long day at work, meeting a stranger and engaging in small talk—lots and lots of small talk— is less than my ideal evening (leftovers and Netflix, if you must know). Maybe I won’t like him, and this whole exercise will be for naught. Or worse—what if I like him and suddenly have a lot more socializing in my future?

Online dating: The good

It could be Tinder, Match, OKCupid or Farmersonly.com, but if you’re single and looking, you’re probably looking online. If you’re an introvert and looking, this probably makes it easier on you.

For one thing, you don’t have to go out to meet someone. You don’t have to endure a loud club full of loud people all shouting at each other to be heard. You don’t have to mingle at an event or party. You can simply log on from wherever you want whenever you want. You can search for your soul mate in your pajamas and that’s pretty great.

You also don’t have to talk to anyone and that’s even greater. Swiping left and right is a quiet experience, where I can learn about people without having to expend any social energy. It’s up to me if I want to send a message or read one that comes in. As an introvert, I like to think about what I’m going to say and find that especially important when talking to potential suitors. Sure, it’s technically hiding behind the internet, but it gives me some space to read, reflect and respond. There’s no pressure to go from zero to “on” immediately.

Online dating: The Bad

“You have to put yourself out there. It’s a numbers game. Just get out and meet people.” Thanks, well-meaning extrovert, but what you think is a pep talk is really our worst nightmare.

For many of us, meeting people while we’re out socializing can be pretty rare. Which is why it’s been so easy to say “I just haven’t met anyone.” Now, with 338934 dating apps in our pockets, there’s no excuse. And you have to consciously put yourself out there (well, on there); you don’t just bump into the person of your dreams on an app.

Choosing a date based on some photos, a brief profile and possibly a couple of messages also means you’re less likely to get a feel for the person right off the bat. It’s hard to get a vibe from your phone screen. This means you’ll likely end up going on more first dates than you normally would. First dates that are a minefield of small talk, awkward silences, loud environments and other such natural threats to the introvert.

Online dating: The “Whatever”

I think we’ve already established that dating is not an introvert’s favourite pastime. But let’s embrace technology for at least allowing us to socialize on our terms.

I won’t lie and say I haven’t been figuring out ways to postpone tomorrow or worrying about how drained I’ll be. But as long as I don’t open with, “Hi, nice to meet you. I’ve been dreading this all day. Shall we order?” I think it’ll be ok.

Quote: In terms of, like, instant relief, cancelling plans is like heroin

A social introvert?!

My mom calls me a social butterfly. I call me an introvert. Who’s right? Well, believe it or not, both of us. My calendar is usually pretty full and I’m always planning some activity with one friend or another. That’s right, I’m a social introvert.

Yes, like the M&M guys, we do exist. Just because we’re introverts doesn’t mean we hate people. I mean, sure, some of us genuinely prefer a good book and solitude to socializing 100% of the time. But some of us still like to get together with friends, go to crowded events or *gasp* go to a party.

Running an energy tab

As I’ve mentioned before, the biggest difference between extroverts and introverts is how we recharge our batteries. For the most part, I enjoy socializing. One might even accuse me of having FOMO. However, as much fun as I’m having, socializing is work for me and every interaction has an energy cost.

Small talk with acquaintances, for instance, can be fairly pricey, but doesn’t tend to last long. Hanging out with my best friend is very low-cost, but over an extended period, the tab can really rack up. Add a few more close friends and the cost increases. Put us somewhere crowded, like a restaurant or somewhere loud, like a bar or concert, and the bill starts to go through the roof. I might be having the time of my life, but I’ll be running on fumes and likely need a full day to recharge.

Hitting the wall

At a certain point each day, I’m just done. It might come earlier some days than others, depending on how much recharging time I’ve been getting. If I’ve had plans every day after work, which is sometimes the case, and haven’t had some good quality quiet time a night, I’m no use to the world by Friday.

For this reason, it’s not uncommon for the social introvert to bail. The social part of me is excited to make lots of fun plans and see the people I care about. The introvert part of me, however, may have other things in mind. It can come across as flakey, inconsiderate or downright rude, but please know that I really did intend to do the thing I committed to doing. It’s just that I spent all of my social energy and simply can’t afford to use up any more. Just like you wouldn’t have a shopping trip when your bank account is in overdraft.

Trust me when I say that at that point, it’s better for all involved if I don’t try. Trust me when I also say that I’ve likely wrestled with the decision of whether or not to cancel for an absurd amount of time. I’ve pictured myself going through the process of getting to my destination and having interactions and the thought alone exhausts me. I do feel bad about bailing on you. It’s just that the guilt is soon replaced by a glorious sense of relief that I don’t have to be “on.”

Reading a book in the bathtub

Recharging my battery

The biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is that extroverts gain energy from social interaction, whereas we gain energy from alone time. I like to compare myself to a cell phone. Throughout the day, I lose my charge and the more interaction I have, the quicker my battery drains. You know when you’ve been using your phone a lot and suddenly the “battery critically low” message pops up? That’s me on days where a lot is going on or I go out after work without a break in between. Although, my “battery critically low” warning usually appears in the form of me being irritable, feeling drained or finding myself cowering in a corner with my hands over my ears, muttering, “shut up, shut up, shut up!” to myself.

Plugging in the charger

Getting into a quiet environment and being by myself is the only way to my battery so I don’t lose power completely. Most days are calm enough, and I’m still at about 30% when I get home, so any alone time is enough. But here are some of best ways I’ve found to calm my nerves and rest my brain.

  1. Sinking into a hot bath 
    Does anything beat a hot bath? I make a ritual of it by adding bubble bath, epsom salts to rejuvenate my body, a scented bath bomb (Lush can be an introvert’s best friend) to rejuvenate my senses and a good book to rejuvenate my mind.
  2. Colouring
    The 2015 fad of adult colouring books turned out to be a great one for me. I can put all of my focus onto something monotonous, quiet and completely mindless. I let my mind wander while I fill in the white space.
  3. Tuning in
    A tried and true method, tuning in to a good show or settling down for a movie is the quick and dirty way to instant relaxation. Netflix has been a godsend for the socially disinclined.

The ultimate recharge

A few years ago, I decided to try something when I was living in the UK, because there was a Groupon for it: an isolation float tank. Since that day, I’ve had a secret weapon in my pocket for a complete and total recharge.

Initially, the idea of climbing into a pod that looked like something out of a sci fi movie, shutting the lid and lying in the dark seemed a bit…creepy. But these tanks, filled with water and enough salt to make you float completely weightless, are big containers of bliss.

I’m not claustrophobic at all. In fact, I find small spaces cozy and comforting. But I’ll admit had a hard time closing the pod’s lid at first. And it wasn’t until halfway through my first one hour session that I was able to turn off the light inside the tank. Once I got over the initial weirdness of it all, I relaxed and enjoyed the solitude. By my second session, I was hooked.

A few years later, back in Toronto, I was delighted to find out that H2O Float Spa was opening just up the road from my home.

Shutting the whole world off

At H2O, you have the option of choosing an open concept float, which is like a giant saltwater bath, or a float pod. For an introvert like me, choosing the sensory deprivation of the pod is a no brainer. That’s exactly why I opt not to have music played and turn off the light inside the pod as soon as I get in.

The water in the tank is heated to the temperature of the average body and it doesn’t take long before I find myself completely unsure what parts of my body are under water and what parts aren’t. But what if you fall asleep? Won’t you drown? The salt content of the water is comparable to that of the Dead Sea. It’s pretty tough to move without bouncing back to the surface and darn near impossible to drown.

Once I settle and the the water becomes still, I simply let my mind go. I can’t see or hear or smell or feel anything– it’s almost like floating in space. At first, it was difficult to shut off the constant flow of thoughts, but as with any meditation, I learned to let the thoughts come and go without focusing on any one of them. I completely disconnect for an hour and when I emerge, it’s like I’ve got a shiny new battery.

A dog holding its paws over its face

I’m not just shy

I’m an introvert. Oh, so you’re shy? No. I’m an introvert.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been labelled “shy.” I never really liked speaking to people and have an especially hard time with new people. To some extent, I guess I am shy. However, that’s not the full story. It rarely is for us introverts.

So what is an introvert?

The average introvert is someone who turns inward mentally. That is to say: someone who tends to spend more time thinking to themselves than speaking out loud. We’re the types to sit silently in a meeting, taking in all of the facts and ideas, rather than reacting to each item.

Introverts generally prefer solitary activities, since socializing drains our energy. If you can get us to a party, we’ll be the ones sitting somewhere along a wall, out of the way. We’re watching the shenanigans, not causing them. It doesn’t mean we’re not enjoying ourselves; it’s just that engaging with others is work to us. Hard work. Where our counterparts, the extroverts, are energized by social activity, we are utterly exhausted by it.

Shhh…

One of the major telltale signs of introversion is the critical need for alone time in order to recover from socializing. We are also more likely to need recovery time from sensory overload in general. For me, leaving the quiet tranquility of my apartment (where I live alone, naturally) and venturing into the loud, bright, constantly buzzing world can be pretty jarring. By the time I’ve taken a crowded subway, where I’ve spent the whole time silently willing people to get out of my “bubble,” and sat down under bright fluorescent lights in my cubicle, I’m already feeling weary.

I have the good fortune of sitting right beside the front door to my office. Throughout my day, I hear the door slam, footsteps rushing to and from various meetings, every conversation on the floor, even the beep of someone’s security badge for the office next door. Concentrating can be, for lack of a more descriptive word, tough.

By the end of some days, my head feels heavy, like I’ve soaked up all of the noise and stimuli from my surroundings, and the only way I can make it home in one piece is by the grace of soft and soothing music in my headphones until I can get back to my quiet cave—I mean home—and just…not for a while.

Being quiet is OK

It took me a while to realize not only what I am, but also that it’s totally fine. Now that I know how my mind works, I can cater to it. I know what’s going to drain me and how to refuel. I know how I think and work and interact with people. I know that I’m not shy or anti-social– I’m an introvert.