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Christmas time is here. Happiness and cheer. Fun for all — well, nearly all. Some introverts might consider these next few weeks their least favorite time of year. That’s because, for an introvert like me, lots of energetic social time can lead to sensory overload, turning up the TV-like static in my brain.
Our culture typically values extroversion over introversion, and that’s especially prevalent during the holiday season. During the holidays, there’s “such a focus on the social aspect of getting together,” said Vivian Zayas, professor and director of undergraduate studies in the department of psychology at Cornell University in New York state.
It’s not that introverts hate people. People like me just tend to be happier with our own company and feel our best after some alone time, as defined by Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung in 1921. Introverts can gravitate toward activities that are more thoughtful and solitary and are often considered to be reserved or reflective. Plenty of introverts like to socialize, but they will need to recharge after attending bigger events.
Extroverts, on the other hand, are talkative, enthusiastic and more social. They’re energized by interactions with others. Most people fall somewhere on the spectrum between the two personality types, but one trait does tend to be more dominant than the other.
During this season, people might focus more on “obligations,” Zayas said — what you feel you should do, and how you feel you should act.
Having many events to attend can feel stressful, but considering whether or not you should skip them can give rise to feelings of guilt, she added. But know that even during this season of cookie parties and cheer, your time is still yours to spend as you see fit. You might disappoint some people, but that’s OK.
Here’s how to find time for yourself and set boundaries without people thinking you hate them.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stayed in the bathroom longer than I needed to or isolated myself in a vacant room for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour and counting until I started getting “What are you doing?” texts from my family.
If you want to attend every gathering your loved ones are hosting but want to cope better, try taking a moment for yourself during an event. Don’t hog spaces others might need — yes, the bathroom! — but take advantage of them when you can.
Make yourself useful
Washing the dishes or running errands can seem like tedious chores during an average week, but these activities can be a delightful respite during holiday gatherings.
Did your mother forget the gravy for the turkey dinner? Offer to run to the store for her. Is the party bustling? Ask the host if there’s anything they need help with. When everyone’s chatting or playing games after dinner, get a head start on washing the dishes or taking the trash out. (Just don’t spend too long staring into space outside trying to feel normal again.)
Another plus? The host will be grateful for your help, and everyone will think you’re so altruistic when, really, you just need a break from them.
Making everyone happy by attending every event you’re invited to can be great, but sometimes you just can’t do it all — so be choosy about your social calendar. You could visit family you don’t get to see often, for example, but skip your coworker’s potluck.
“It’s important to do a cost-benefit analysis for each event to say, ‘Is this how I want to spend my time, especially given all the other social events that happen?’” Zayas said.
You can also schedule alone time between events so you can recharge and enjoy them more.
Drive to events separately
For some people, making the most of holiday family time means spending even the mundane moments together, such as carpooling to the Christmas tree farm.
Getting to events your own way is a small change that could make a big difference for your social battery. Tell your family you’ll meet them there. You don’t have to give a reason, but if they ask why, you can tell them nothing’s wrong — you need a moment to yourself, but are looking forward to seeing everyone.
Bring a dish
Introverts’ preference for activities that are more thoughtful applies to conversations, too — meaning small talk can feel draining or hard to navigate.
If the host allows, bringing a dish you bought or made can serve as a natural conversation starter — a type of focused small talk you’d be prepared to have.
Another conversation tip: Focus more on deeper, one-on-one connections than group chats, where jumping in can be hard. If you don’t know anyone at the party, seek out someone who looks interesting. Don’t think too much about what to say — just being curious and asking questions can produce meaningful conversation.
Holiday gatherings often have a start time but no end in sight. You don’t have to stay until the party dies down in the wee hours of the morning, though. Show up, connect with the host and a few other people, help with some of the cleanup, then leave!
If you’re worried about how people could feel about your early exit, letting the host know ahead of time can lessen the awkwardness and pressure you might feel if you told them at the party, Zayas said. They also won’t be surprised when you do leave. When you get the invite, saying, “I can only stay for an hour, but it’d be great to see you” both validates the person and manages their expectations, she added.
If they want more time with you — and you like them — you could schedule future plans to meet one on one.
If you’re the one hosting and you’re ready for people to leave, you can be direct without coming off as rude. Some people don’t pick up on passive social cues, such as putting your pajamas on or putting the food away, so try telling guests you’re winding down. (Then hide the drinks.)
Change how you shop
I don’t know about you, fellow introverts, but shopping for gifts or food amid the holiday hustle and bustle often makes my brain feel like atoms are chaotically ping-ponging in there. After a while, the overstimulation makes me feel irritated at a time I’m supposed to be feeling holiday cheer.
To preserve your energy, shop online if you can. Or go out during times when fewer people might be out, such as weekend mornings or weekday afternoons.
Taking care of your needs can help you enjoy the holidays in ways that feel good and be more present and joyful at the events you do choose to attend.
“When you’re on a plane … and the oxygen masks drop, you’re told, ‘Put your mask on first before you help other people,’” Zayas said. That means it’s not only OK to put yourself first during the party season, but also that not doing so can have consequences.
When you overcommit, Zayas added, you’re not doing any favors for yourself or anyone else.