4 introvert tips for surviving family events

Navigating family gatherings can be tricky for any number of reasons, but it’s an especially hard task when you’re an introvert.  You’re expected to be “on” for hours at a time, smiling politely and answering the same three small-talk questions over and over.  School is going fine, thanks.  I’ve got about one year left.  Yes, Little Boy is doing well.  He’s picking up more words.  Yes, my husband likes his new job.  Various groups of people that you only sort of know and only sort of like mill around doing nothing in particular.  It’s exhausting.

So how does one cope?

1.  Take frequent short breaks.

This one is the absolute #1 key to my survival at family get-togethers.  It’s amazing how just a few minutes of silence can be enough to power me through another hour of chatty performance.

Being an introvert means that you require alone time to recharge (versus extroverts, who are recharged by interactions with other people).  So to keep from running out of gas, you need to find some alone time.  At least in my family, disappearing for long periods is frowned upon and earns one the label “antisocial.”  But a 5-minute break slips under the radar.

Depending on where you are, there are different options for where to take these short breaks.  Best-case scenario is when you’re staying at that relative’s house and thus can duck into “your” room for a few moments.  Otherwise you can duck outside, or into the garage, or a quiet room.  When all else fails, the bathroom is your friend.

2.  Do something with your hands.

A few years ago, I discovered that I am much more tolerant of small talk when I’m knitting.  Doing something helps me through the weird party state of having to be on and attentive while nothing in particular is happening.

Knitting, crochet, and other handcrafts are perfect here because they’re portable, and because people don’t perceive them as negatively as, say, reading.  You will have to put up with a constant refrain of, “What are you making?”  But at least then you can talk about something that interests you.

If you’re not a crafter, helping the party host can be another good option to stay occupied.  Chop vegetables, set the table, do the dishes.  (Alas, this scenario assumes that the party host is someone you can stand to be around for any amount of time, which may or may not be a valid assumption in your family.)

3.  Eat regularly.

When it comes to making it through a lot of social interaction as an introvert, food is fuel.  Don’t skip the appetizers, especially if you know grandma won’t be putting the roast on the table until 8 p.m.

There’s a level of balance here—eat too much, and you’ll be sleepy and uncomfortable—but seriously, it’s not the time to go on a diet.  Imagine a multi-hour family party as a marathon: you need to keep your energy levels up over the long term.

4.  Drink.

In moderation, of course, and only at events where others are drinking.  No joke though: alcohol helps.  My ability to keep up pleasant small talk gets infinitely better after a glass or two of wine.

Any other good suggestions for me?

Trimming the social fat

I just finished a thorough purge of my Facebook friends list, leaving me with about 25% fewer “friends.”  It feels marvelous.

In what I imagine has been a fairly common experience this week, the first ones to go were those who, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, revealed themselves to be racist bigoted jerks.  Once upon a time I might have just hidden these people’s feeds, hoping to check back in on their lives after the storm of hate has blown over, but not anymore.

Because why waste my time on such people?

Recent events might’ve been the nudge that finally pushed me over, but this has been a long time coming.  I joined Facebook back in college, at an age when “friending” everybody you met was the thing to do.  To someone whose life has largely been spent on the outskirts of social groups, this felt like a good thing.  I could connect with people!  I could follow the lives of others and imagine myself a part.

But I’m much pickier now, and more cynical.  There are indeed a number of folks whose lives I enjoy keeping up with, even if it’s just baby announcements and graduation pictures.  There are a modest number of people who appear to enjoy doing the same for me.  We “like” each others’ posts, we smile in passing, we feel a little less alone.

Honestly though, most of my college acquaintances?  I really don’t care all that much about them anymore, and there’s no evidence that they have any interest in me.  We networked, we tried… and it turns out we’re just not friends.

It’s been a non-trivial personal journey to get to the point where I’m OK with that.  I’m shy and anxious and introverted—I don’t have that many real, close friends—so I’ve had a tendency to cling to the faux ones in the subconscious hope that the passage of time will bring us closer.  But in doing so, I use more of my my limited social energy; that energy would be better spent deepening the connections to people with whom I actually connect.

Developing my pseudonymous presence on the web has been very informative in this regard.  Outside the weird social pressures of using my real name, and the automatically reciprocal nature of Facebook’s friend button, I’m free to follow those who interest me and ignore those who don’t.  I’m also free to say what I want, without fear of setting off someone to whom I feel I’m supposed to be “nice.”  It’s freeing, it’s empowering, and I love it.

Facebook’s never going to be that kind of venue for me, in no small part because I’ve chosen to use it to connect with family.  But I can definitely make it a more positive experience, and that starts with sticking up for myself and my time.

Readers, what’s your approach to social media?  Do you keep it small or connect with everyone?

Taming social anxiety with the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a principle that all of us, including me, could use to implement more in our lives.  It wouldn’t make human interaction perfect—it can fail when people don’t notice differences of privilege and perspective—but it’s a good start.

Lately, I’ve been trying to apply the Golden Rule in a roundabout sort of way inside my own head.  I struggle with a significant level of social anxiety.  I find talking to other people, both in person and online, to be a scary thing.  I’m afraid that they’ll judge me and I’ll be embarrassed.  It’s not debilitating, but it is mentally exhausting.  The anxious scared part of my brain (Captain Awkward dubs this the Jerkbrain, which I think is a perfect name for it) is always overanalyzing everything I do and say and coming up with reasons why I did it wrong.

That’s where the Golden Rule comes in.  When my Jerkbrain starts freaking me out, I ask myself, “If someone did this to me, would it be OK?  Would I judge them?”  Usually the answers are “Yup, it’d be fine,” and “Nope, they’d be good,” and I can calm down for a bit.

Example 1:  I start getting paranoid about leaving a comment on a stranger’s blog.  My Jerkbrain starts in with an ongoing sequence of “This person is going to think you’re so weird.  A crazy online stalker or something.  Clearly you are not part of this blogger’s community.  And what makes you think you have something to contribute anyway?” etc. etc. etc.

Pause.  Breathe.  Do I like it when new people comment on my blog?

Yes, of course.  I love new readers.  As long as they’re not leaving eight-paragraph screeds about how feminism hurts men or spamming me with links to their “Make $150,000 now!” site, we’re good.

Is my comment rude or totally out of line for the site?

Nope.  [On the occasions that I leave an angry/argument comment someplace, I’ve already decided that I’m not being nice and this whole mental discussion is bypassed.]

Then why do I think it would be a problem?

Huh.  OK.  I guess I can stop freaking out about it.

Example 2:  Thinking about who to invite to a party.  There’s an obvious list of friends, plus a number of acquaintances in the same social group.  It’s a large-ish event; my instinct is to invite the acquaintances too, so they don’t feel left out.  But my Jerkbrain starts in: “These people don’t know you that well, why would they want to come to your event?  They’re going to think you’re extra-strange now.  How could you think they’re your friends?”  If it’s a gift-giving sort of event (e.g., baby shower), add a big dose of “They are just going to think that you’re out for more gifts.”

Pause.  BreatheDo I mind being invited to events by people I know a little but not well?

Nope.  It’s nice to be invited to things.

If someone invited me to something, and I decided that I didn’t feel like going because I didn’t know them that well, would I judge them for it?

Nope.  I’d just politely decline the invitation and then forget about it.

If someone didn’t invite me to something, but did invite a lot of people that I knew, how would I feel?

Bad.  Sad.  Lonely.  I wouldn’t want to err on the side of leaving someone out.

Then it’s OK to invite them.  Proceed.

It’s not 100% foolproof, of course.  There’s no way to guarantee that the person on the other side won’t react in a completely different way than I would.  But it’s a better starting place than “Never talk to anyone because AAAAAAAA!”

Early to bed

I could make a joke about how you know you’re a parent when your idea of a great Friday night is staying in, realizing you’re too tired to finish the movie, and snuggling up in bed for a good night’s sleep.

But who am I kidding?  That’s always been my idea of a great Friday night.

No, the true sign that you’re a parent is when you can recite multiple Sandra Boynton books from memory – and randomly do so throughout the day.

This is your brain on overthinking it

Continuing with the theme of extreme self-consciousness, this is how my mind spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon:

Oh my gosh I just commented on one of my favorite blogs and they commented back I’m so excited but oh no now my original comment seems kind of stupid and they don’t sound very happy maybe they thought it was rude or too matter-of-fact or just lame ugh why did I say anything maybe I shouldn’t comment any more but no I have to keep commenting so they know I’m not really rude I shouldn’t have included a quote that was dumb and it messed up the formatting I must seem like such a n00b …

… and so on.

Do normal people’s brains work like this?  Any suggestions on how to stop completely over-analyzing every little interaction?