As a large and diverse group, we introverts love our families and the holidays no more or less than anyone else. So the fear and loathing with which we sometimes face this season is not an intro-aversion to the whole concept of family or holidays. It’s more the specifics of the experience that exhaust us; many of us are right now anticipating Thanksgiving with equal parts of delight and anxiety. Yes, pie. But also forced togetherness, lots of chitchat, and old family scripts replaying again and again. It’s a tradeoff.
So, before the holidays flatten you like a runaway truck, perhaps take a minute to sort through their delights and the stresses to sketch out some strategies for Thanksgiving so you can enjoy more of the former and less of the latter.
Delightful: Over the river and through the woods…
Stressful: A weekend in someone else’s space.
Make it easier: If the holidays mean spending a weekend in somebody else’s home, perhaps you can renegotiate that. Would the world end if you stayed in a hotel? Especially if staying with Mom and Dad means sleeping on the pull-out sofa in the living room (i.e., little-to-no privacy), float the idea of a hotel for the long weekend. Present it to your family as a little treat for yourself. I don’t promise your mom won’t sigh deeply and give you sad-puppy eyes, (oh wait, that was my mom), but think of how much more loving you’ll feel—and therefore behave!—if you can return to a quiet room at the end of each day.
Delightful: Extended time with loved ones.
Stressful: So little alone time.
Make it easier: If staying elsewhere is not an option, make yourself oh-so-very useful over the weekend by volunteering to run any and all errands. Do airport pickups, make supermarket runs for the inevitable forgotten Cool Whip or crescent rolls, be the designated dog walker—anything that gets you out of the house and buys you some solitude.
Does your family shop on Black Friday? The crowds might be hard to take, but it also could be a good opportunity to peel off from the gang for some solo shopping/alone-in-a-crowd time. A movie is another good together-but-not-together outing.
Bring running or walking shoes, and take yourself out for exercise. Nobody can criticize you for looking after your health on this high-calorie weekend. If you belong to a health club at home, you might have reciprocal access to other clubs.
Delightful: A long weekend.
Stressful: A l-o-o-o-o-n-g weekend.
Make it easier: If you possibly can, head home Saturday night or early Sunday to give yourself as much downtime as possible before returning to work.
Delightful: The gang is coming to your house!
Stressful: A house full of people?! Yikes!
Make it easier: Have jobs or projects prepared for guests who like staying busy. Have pumpkin pie fixings ready for this person; designate that person as the fireplace monitor; give the kiddos an arts and crafts project—perhaps making a centerpiece for the table. Then you can set people up to do their thing—which your introverted guests might particularly appreciate—and get back to your own stuff. Having a selection of movies available can also work for a while, but eventually people will probably get antsy. Is it a bright and crisp fall day? Maybe someone would enjoy burning off some energy in the sunshine raking leaves. Maybe you would?
Stock up on breakfast foods that family can prepare themselves so you can have a little extra time in the solitude of your bedroom each morning. If you’re a coffee drinker, fortify yourself by having your first cup or two in your room. If you’re an introvert-introvert couple, perhaps take turns making the first foray out.
Set up a jigsaw-puzzle in a corner of the family room. It’s a great way for people to hang out without necessarily talking.
If you’re in an introvert-introvert couple, take turns taking the gang on fun outings to spell each other. If you’re in an introvert-extrovert couple, this is a great time for the extrovert to do a little extra heavy lifting.
Delightful: Thanksgiving day with loved ones.
Stressful: This ain’t no Norman Rockwell painting.
Make it easier: A little time with family goes a long way. Is it really necessary for you to show up hours before the meal? Come up with an excuse to arrive close to dinnertime. Family togetherness after dinner can be less exhausting because people tend to mellow out (or settle into a tryptophan stupor), random guests waddle off home, and the whole scene is more intimate and low key.
Practice canned responses to questions that make you want to stick a fork in your eye. For example:
Q: Anyone special in your life?
A: Just you. Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.
Q: When are you two getting married?
A: When I get tired of free milk. Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.
Q: When are you having babies?
A: We’re still practicing. Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom.
Similarly, find ways to avoid engaging when old scripts start playing out. Slip away into your happy place in your head, divert the conversation to pleasant family memories, or practice mild deflections: “I prefer avoiding political discussions” or “That [family feud] started so long ago, I can’t even remember what happened.”
If you did arrive before dinner and have had enough togetherness by the time the last pie plate is licked clean, offer to take on kitchen cleanup. No, no, you wouldn’t dream of letting anyone else help…this will be your contribution to a perfect holiday meal…
Of course, your mileage may vary on these. With all due respect to Leo Tolstoy, even happy families are happy in their own way, and we all connect and cope—and get on each other’s nerves—differently. What are your very special delights and stresses? What are your strategies for coping?