Do you experience ‘introvert hangovers?’

It’s okay to want to wander off and find a quiet corner if that’s what you need

My version of getting away used to be walking through the fields of our farm for ages

My version of getting away used to be walking through the fields of our farm for ages

 

As someone who was born an introvert and has remained one – as you do – ever since, I was intrigued recently to come across the concept of the “introvert hangover”.

This has nothing to do with alcohol. It’s about getting too much stimulation from too close and intense an involvement with other people and then needing to get away and be on your own while the others party on.

Some people, in comments on an article on the “Introvert, Dear” blog (introvertdear.com) by Shawna Courter, talk about getting headachey and nauseous just like with a real hangover until they get enough time alone.

I’ve never experienced that and I expect it’s found at an extreme end of the scale. What is probably more common is Courter’s description of attending a crowded Christmas family gathering and badly needing to find some solitude in the midst of it all. So she “slipped away like a thief, skulking about the house, searching for a place where it was quiet”. Eventually, she found an empty room containing one other introvert and they both sat there silently.

Jessie Singal, who writes for the Science of US blog published by New York Magazine, (nymag.com/scienceofus) talks about attending a five-day wedding in California and needing to get away for a whole day driving along the coast in his car, listening to music and stopping and going for short walks his own.

My version used to be walking through the fields of our farm for ages. Now and then I would see a fox but we didn’t bother each other. Today it’s walking down the South Circular Road and through St James’s Hospital where I sometimes exchange silent stares with the hospital fox before we each go on our way.

I think it’s fair to say that introverts sometimes feel like they’re letting the side, or themselves, down through their “failure” to play a full role in the social arena. But extroversion and introversion have nothing to do with failure or success as a person.

Some psychological theories have long suggested that differences in introversion and extraversion may be down to genetic variations in a structure in the brain. This is the reticular activating system and it could be thought of, for our purposes, as a gateway between the outside world and the rest of your brain. It’s located in the oldest part of the brain.

Suppose you’re at a party full of enthusiastic and unabashed party animals (actually, some are faking it but you don’t know that). An awful lot of party information and stimulation is coming into your brain through that reticular activating system.

If that gateway lets “too much” information through too quickly, then your brain becomes overstimulated and you withdraw to get away from it. To me, and maybe to you if you’re also an introvert, getting away might mean retreating to the kitchen, strolling in the garden or sitting in a group with nothing to say.

But what if, due to your genetic variation, the gateway lets “too little” information through? In that case, you might be uncomfortably deprived of stimulation. So to boost things up you might need to be the one who is telling the jokes, making them laugh, making loud speeches and so on. In an extreme case, you might drive too fast or take other risks such as climbing a mountain to get the level of stimulation you want.

I mention the reticular activating system to make the point that you don’t have to go looking for a “cure” for introversion or extroversion. You can work around how you are without having to fundamentally change who you are. For instance, an introvert could learn to ask other people questions about themselves and then listen to them while they talk. An extrovert could learn to seek excitement in ways that are safe but still exciting.

And whether or not you experience “introversion hangovers”, it’s okay to want to wander off and find a quiet corner if that’s what you need.

Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@yahoo.com) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.

@PadraigOMorain

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