I didn't realize it until just recently, but I am a huge introvert. When I tell people that I am, they usually give me a funny look of disbelief. As an outward-looking "social butterfly" who works as a corporate trainer and professional speaker, it's hard for people to believe that the person they see behind the microphone actually falls in the introvert category; but I do.
In looking at the definition of an introvert, the characteristic that stuck out most to me was the need to recharge and unplug, particularly after I've been out with others for a long time.
At the end of a speaking engagement or training, I would find myself feeling completely wiped out; I was exhausted. The phone would ring, or my email would ping and I'd feel dread, panic, and even annoyance that someone was trying to reach me. It's hard to be "on" for a long time and once I'm done my commitment, I find the need to retreat to the comfort and security of my home.
I love my friends and family; I enjoy working with my clients and supporting them; and I love teaching and training others to help them be at their best, but I find that more and more, I need that alone time afterward to recharge my batteries.
I'm not a hermit, I'm not anti-social, and I certainly don't hate people, I just need alone time to recharge and regroup.
Alone time is easy for me; I live alone, so it's just me and the cat. When I need time for myself I can easily retreat to the comforts of home and disconnect. The time that I spend reading, watching TV, or napping, gives me a boost of energy that makes it possible to go back out in the world; but I realize that not everyone has that kind of ready-made alone time.
Many of my health coaching clients are busy professionals who work full-time and are raising families. Some of them are lucky if they can use the bathroom alone without a toddler screaming for entry from the other side of the door.
If you find yourself in the same boat, don't despair, here are three ways that I have helped people find alone time even in the midst of the chaos.
1. If your home is big enough, designate an area just for yourself if you're able. A man cave, a she shed, or just a room that you can claim as your own. Take time to decorate that space to make it comfortable and inviting and make sure others in your household know that the space is off limits to them. Make sure others also know that when you are in your space, you are not to be disturbed.
2. Perhaps space is not the issue, but time is. If that's the case, you may have to get creative. Some of my clients get up a half hour earlier than the rest of their household, or stay up a half hour later to carve out some time just for them. The key to this is to schedule it in and then to use the time wisely. If you are staying up later to do the dishes or getting up earlier to get a jump on the laundry, you aren't really taking time for yourself. Use that "found" time to read, exercise, journal, take a bath, take a walk, or just sit quietly and spend some time with your own thoughts.
3. Don't let guilt keep you from taking care of yourself. I recently gave a talk titled, "You cannot serve from an empty vessel." The talk was given to a group of social service workers who spend their days caring for others. Many, in addition to caring for their clients, also care for their children, and some are in what we call "the sandwich generation," those taking care of both their children and their parents. You cannot take care of others when you haven't taken care of yourself, so stop seeing alone time as a selfish act and start seeing it as an investment in yourself. An investment that will pay dividends to your family by giving them a healthy, happy, well-adjusted family member.
Alone time is not just a luxury for some, but a necessity; I know it is for me. While humans are certainly social creatures, having time to ourselves can truly make us better people by allowing us to recharge our batteries and rediscover things that we enjoy.
When you feel the need to retreat, do it! Don't fight the urge to steal away some time for yourself. Honor that feeling and honor yourself by taking the time to be alone. Who knows? You may just end up enjoying your own company.