Life can feel noisy, exhausting, and overwhelming. Your upstairs neighbour moving furniture at 1am, dealing with the most extroverted extrovert at work, soaking up your partner’s low mood. Knowing how to self care as an introvert helps us replenish our energy.
Most advice for self care falls into one of two categories:
- Pamper yourself. Take a bubble bath, put on some relaxing music, have a glass of wine.
- Remove toxic people from your life. It doesn’t matter if they’re family, they must go.
Neither of these methods are hugely effective.
Yes, it’s good to look after yourself. Eat the healthy food. Encourage yourself to workout. Take the evening off to relax.
Yes, it’s good to surround yourself with people who support and love you. It gets a little tricky to distance yourself when the relationship with someone is complex. It’s hard to just cut your mum out of your life, for example.
Practising self care as an introvert is especially important. We lose energy throughout the day. If we’re not careful, we can end up exhausted by the evening.
I love this quote by Simon Sinek:
An introvert wakes up in the morning with five coins. Every social interaction they spend a coin. At the end, they are depleted. An extrovert wakes up with no coins. Every social interaction, they gain a coin. At the end, they feel rich.Simon Sinek
(Discover more introvert quotes here).
Keeping an eye on your energy levels and general wellbeing is a good habit. Knowing how to look after yourself is a great habit. Knowing how to recharge your energy on the go is an excellent habit.
Here are 3 ways to inspire you to practise self care as an introvert:
When was the last time you felt shamed, embarrassed, or humiliated?
When you experienced those emotions, what was your reaction?
We drive ourselves to exhaustion and burnout in the belief that being hard on ourselves is the key to success.
For many of us, we tend to automatically self-criticise:
- “What is wrong with me? Why can I not just fit in.”
- “Why am I so stupid?”
- “I always say the wrong thing.”
We tend to be our own worst critic.
And no wonder. When we feel threatened, the body’s threat-defense system (also known as our reptilian brain) starts going into overdrive, which means self-criticism is often our first reaction when things go wrong. This system is the quickest and most easily triggered, so we tend to use it a lot.
It’s evolved to such an extent that when we perceive a threat (loud noises, the phone ringing, confrontation or an argument), we get ready to fight, flee, or freeze.
This was EXCELLENT for tribal humans. It kept us alive.
In present day life, it’s actually quite inconvenient. There are a significant lack of mammoths or saber-tooth tigers skulking in the shadows. We are, on the whole, much safer than we used to be.
So instead, our threat-defense system is like injuring your foot then kicking it over and over again against a wall.
No wonder we beat ourselves up so much when we run out of conversation topics. Or when we find ourselves having a meltdown about attending an event. Or even when the thought of speaking up at a meeting makes our heartbeat race.
Mindful self-compassion can help us become aware of the negative self-talk and to be kind to ourselves, even when we are suffering.
It can also help stop us from obsessing or ruminating over an embarrassing event.
There are 3 simple steps to working through self-criticism (inspired by Kristin Neff & Christopher Germer):
Bring a sense of balance to the painful emotions that came up. Write or say out loud about how you felt, as objectively as you can. Try to be accepting and non-judgemental, without reducing the experience. For example, “I was upset because my boss made comments about me that I disagreed with. I became angry, embarrassed, and felt sad afterwards.”
2. Common humanity
Write or say out loud the ways in which your experience was part of being a human being. We are imperfect beings who frequently mess up, say the wrong thing, and cause offence. Sometimes there are external stressors that make everything worse. For example, “Lots of people get upset when someone says something negative about them—it’s only human. I reacted perhaps more strongly than usual because I didn’t sleep well last night.”
Imagine the situation happened to a loved one. What would you say to them? Write or say out loud some kind and understanding words. Let yourself know that you care. For example, “It’s okay. You’re okay. I understand how upset you were so you didn’t react the way you wanted to. Maybe you can go to bed early tonight to catch-up on sleep.” Showing yourself the same kindness as you would others is a great form of self care as an introvert.
(2) Accepting reality for what it is: reality
Have you experienced the “overthinking merry-go-round” before?
- It starts with… Hesitation
- You then are triggered into… Overthinking
- And… Self-editing
- Then, of course, you… Repeat
This is how it looks in real life:
- You walk into an event, do a lap of the room, & walk straight out.
- You talk yourself out of starting conversations.
- You self-edit by thinking you have nothing interesting to say.
Sometimes we do things we regret. We don’t take the action we know would be good for us. You might start beating yourself up, or your mind starts spiralling downwards
The author Byron Katie says this is due to us not accepting reality for what it is. We are telling ourselves stories and twisting ourselves into knots.
She developed 4 simple questions which can help us discover the truth of a situation.
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to question 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
For example, let’s say you were consumed with the idea that you said something offensive to your manager’s manager. You were convinced you let the team down and thoroughly embarrassed yourself. In fact, you wouldn’t be surprised if you got into work to find out you’d been fired.
“I’m so stupid. What was I thinking to think that I know what to say at work?”
You then start beating yourself up for all the stupid things you’ve done in yourself. You label yourself as “stupid”, and your mind believes you.
Wait… let’s challenge this.
Start with asking yourself:
- Is it true that I’m stupid? Can I think of examples that indicate not? I must be fairly competent to be at the place in my career that I am, I also graduated my degree with a fantastic grade, I also…
- If I close my eyes and think that I’m stupid, what feelings come up? What thoughts come up? Is this how I want to treat myself?
- If I didn’t think that I was stupid, what could I do? If I thought I was incredibly intelligent and competent, what would that mean? If I closed my eyes and thought about the situation again, without judgement and from a 3rd-party perspective, what feelings and thoughts come up?
Encourage yourself to really analyse your thoughts about a situation from a 3rd-person perspective, while being aware of what feelings and thoughts come up when you do.
Then, if you can, take action.
Taking action moves us out of place of being stuck.
We shift. The energy moves. Things feel… better.
It’s a fantastic form of self care as an introvert.
(3) Knowing how to say “no” and set boundaries
It’s one of the most popular questions I get asked: how to set boundaries and be assertive as an introvert?
Indeed, research shows that 40% corporate introvert want to be more assertive and outgoing.
Sometimes it feels difficult even just expressing our thoughts and opinions, let alone stepping into possible confrontation.
Here’s the thing: knowing how to set boundaries is a huge form of self care. Being clear about what is and what isn’t okay for you can be life-changing.
I tend to think of “being assertive” and “setting boundaries” as two sides of the same coin.
Setting boundaries is you communicating your limits about who can come into your space and what you expect of people once they’re there. Being assertive is when your stick up for yourself and your limits in a calm, positive way.
However our brain starts to freak out when we think about doing this.
Years ago, when humans still lived in tribes and caves, if you were rejected from the tribe you would die from lack of food and exposure. We needed to conform and agree, not set boundaries and be assertive.
Fast forward thousands of years and you’re sat here, still with a part of your brain that believes if you disagree, get rejected, and therefore thrown out of the tribe, you will die.
This is partly why disagreeing is so hard for us. Our mind has one job: to keep us alive. It would prefer for us to remain anxious and overwhelmed by people in our space and taking over our lives, compared to the possible pain of death.
So, being assertive is when you collaborate with your brain to be clear to other people about what is and isn’t acceptable. It means saying no to a call if you’re exhausted or leaving an event early. It means being seen and heard.
How to express your feelings assertively
Bring everything back to how you feel. The point here is to not blame the other person, instead to highlight how you feel and what you are requesting as a result of these feelings.
This is a template you can use to express yourself in an assertive way:
- I feel ______________________ [insert how you feel: sad, angry, anxious, happy.]
- When you __________________ [insert one or two (max) specific behaviours. Try to be objective as possible: interrupt me, call me stupid.]
- Because_______________ [a brief explanation of the effect on you]
- Finish with a specific request.
I feel frustrated
When you interrupted me in that meeting
Because I was unable to finish what I was saying and it didn’t make a good impression on the client
Please wait until I have finished my point before starting to make yours.
Many introverts are prone to want to take care of others — especially highly sensitive introverts — due to their highly developed sense of empathy. Introverts, many of whom are compassionate people who like to please and help others, often see boundaries as walls rather than healthy limits. Setting boundaries is one of the best ways to self care as an introvert:
1. Decide what is okay and what is not okay in your life.
Look at your values. Who are you? What do you value? How do you want to spend your time?
Your boundaries are about YOU, so take the time to decide what you really need from others in your life. For example, as an introvert, you probably value alone time — and your boundaries should reflect this.
2. Communicate your boundaries to others.
For introverts, who value the inner journey more than the outer one, this can be a difficult step, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. Use the template above as inspiration to do this, in speaking or writing.
3. Stick to your guns.
When you make your boundaries clear, others may feel hurt, angry, or disappointed. They may lash out at you and try to get you to change your mind — especially if the boundary had been weak or leaky for a long time.
But this is not your problem.
You cannot simultaneously set a limit with someone and also take care of their feelings. Most importantly, if you allow people to ignore your boundaries, you will become angry, resentful, and unhappy. You have a need and a right to love and respect — and to stand up for yourself.
Self care as an introvert looks a lot more than Sunday nights spent in a bathtub. Don’t get me wrong, spend time looking after yourself, and also do the deeper work too:
- Give yourself self-compassion. People with higher self-compassion are happier, have better relationships, and spend less time beating themselves up. Developing this skill is one of the most important actions you can take for yourself.
- Even if it’s awful, accept reality for what it is. Facing up to what’s going on empowers you to put an action plan in place and take steps to make you feel better.
- Learn how to say “no” and set boundaries. It’s the best way for living life on your own terms—no more 11pm runs to get milk because your housemate has run out and asked you to go.
What do you feel after you’ve said “no” to something or someone?
If you feel guilty or bad, I have something that might help.
I’ve created a free cheatsheet of words and phrases that help you live life on your own terms. Imagine being able to say “no” to your coworker who’s chomping at the bit to dump a load of work on you… and say it without feeling guilty afterwards!
You can make this happen.
Download my free guide and let me know how you get on.