Two introverts and a psychologist weigh-in on the festive hacks that make Christmas less fraught for those of us who prefer our own company.
Hilda Burke, psychotherapist, couples counsellor and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, says whatever our personality type, it’s important to manage everyone’s expectations at Christmas – starting with our own.
“What gets people in trouble whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, whatever you are, feeling that it should be a certain way or we should be a certain way to partake in the ‘perfect’ Christmas,” she says. “It’s about thinking ‘what would be good for me?’ And tuning into that.”
Here, two introverts share the tried-and-tested tricks they’ve learned to make the festivities easier – and Burke reveals the advice she gives her introverted clients as 25 December approaches.
Navigating the office Christmas party as an introvert
“[Parties are] stressful for an introvert because they demand a lot of energy and small talk. It’s like being on social duty and that’s exhausting,” she explains.
Recently, she’s put a plan in place to help alleviate that social anxiety. She says it starts with “avoiding drinking, so I’m not tempted to use alcohol to make small talk easier” and having a strict time in mind when she’ll leave.
Something Burke also believes can make all the difference. After all, who’s going to notice you slipping away when they’ve been busy tucking into the free Prosecco?
Amy has also found having “a task or responsibility” is really helpful. “It gives you a chance to duck out for a bit and recharge,” she explains. “Offer to be in charge of giving out the Secret Santa gifts.”
The office Christmas party might be mandatory, but away from that Amy has no issues with putting herself first by avoiding events she doesn’t want to go to.
“It’s such a busy time of the year, and I use that to my advantage,” she says. “You can avoid that awkward festive get together by saying you’re double booked, or planning your own small drinks with a few friends you actually want to spend quality time with.
“Plenty of home time is my non-negotiable, and I’ll never be sorry for cancelling so I can recharge in my PJs in a cosy, quiet room with candles and a good book.”
Navigating a family Christmas as an introvert
Trish* has always loved spending Christmas with her family but, as someone who purposefully lives alone, she finds the pressure of being sociable difficult after a day or two.
“I’m usually one of the loudest and most animated of the bunch but I get exhausted fairly quickly,” she says. “I can’t always be ‘on’ – it’s exhausting, but I also find that if I don’t spend time to myself I flick to autopilot entertainer mode and can’t actually take in what’s happening.”
Excusing herself for to read a book, or watch a film, though, made her feel like she wasn’t “doing something helpful”. So she rethought her approach.
“I find a good way to get around that feeling is to offer to do the jobs that require me to get outside on my own, like taking the wrapping paper out to the recycling bin and taking a five minute breather,” Trish explains. “Or walking the dog whilst everyone else is recovering from Christmas lunch.
“Spending one-on-one time with someone can make a big difference, too. Helping my mum peel the vegetables is a nice way to cut out the noise, without shunning other people. After all, it’s not my family I’m trying to avoid but the hyper-activity that gets too much.”
A psychotherapist’s Christmas tips for introverts
Hilda Burke, psychotherapist and couples counsellor, shares her top tips for coping with Christmas if you’re an introvert.
1. Put yourself first
“For an introvert, an unhelpful thought might be: ‘I need to be sociable, I need to just say yes to everything that’s happening and be out there’, rather than asking yourself – if it’s Christmas or any time of the year – ‘What do I need? What will be good for me?’ and tuning into that.”
2. Remember everyone needs down time
“Be respectful and mindful of your energy levels. Think about your own capacity for socialising, whether it’s at Christmas or anytime of the year. Most of us need to balance that time socialising with some time to ourselves, even most extroverts need that to some extent. We do need that time to just ground ourselves. Just to be by ourselves.”
3. Question where the pressure is coming from
“There can be pressure to disrespect or over-step our limits, but often it’s our own self-pressure. It’s us going, ‘I should be more this way or that way’, particularly at Christmas. So be mindful of the pressure that we put ourselves under. Listen to that and tune in to what we actually need for ourselves.”
4. Respect your boundaries
“People may want us to do X, Y and Z, to fit in with their plans. To say ‘no’ to certain things, to respect that and to respect our limits and boundaries, is really important. It’s important at any time of the year, but at Christmas there’s probably more demands made of us, more expectations. So, we need to be mindful of what fits in with our energy, and the capacity we have for socialising.”
5. Take time out, no matter what you’re doing
“Whether it’s a family Christmas or whatever, schedule [that time] in. It will help you manage people’s expectations. Take the dog out for a walk, and say ‘I just need some time alone’. Make that OK for yourself; give yourself permission to schedule in those breaks from socialising with others.
“At the end of the day, we are responsible for ourselves, so the only person that can really give that to ourselves is ourselves. Even if there is a backlash, the challenge is to stay true to our own goals or what we need for ourselves. I think Christmas is a good time to practice that – if you can do it at Christmas, then it’ll probably be easier at other times of the year.”
6. Don’t overthink it
“Sometimes we imagine that other people will be thinking about us, wanting us [at events], but actually people won’t notice if they’re drinking, a lot of the time. Sometimes we put undue pressure on ourselves, thinking that other people will think badly of us, or have a certain negative reaction, when they’re probably just getting on with their own life.
“We spend more time thinking about ourselves than other people. So the fraction of head space that we occupy in other people’s minds is probably a lot less than we imagine. Focus on what we need, we may be playing into something that doesn’t even exist.”