How Spending Time Alone Makes You Better To Be Around
Forcing yourself to go out and be social when you really feel like staying home and falling into a Netflix-hole, is not the right thing to do, and yet so many of us feel pressure to reject our hibernating tendencies and interact with the rest of the world. And yet, it turns out that psychologists agree that you’re better off holing-up and closing yourself off from everything once in a while; succumbing to the allure of sweatpants and staying in. While you might feel like your peers are expecting you to push past that inner social resistance, going against your body’s instincts is not always for the greater good of the group—particularly if you're an introvert.
For years, I pressured myself to bypass my feelings and be social when I really felt like being solo. I gave up alone time to be with friends because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I thought I was supposed to be embarrassed by the fact that if I didn’t get eight hours of sleep, I couldn’t hold a conversation by the end of the day. I thought I was supposed to be embarrassed by the fact that when I was feeling run-down, group interactions brought me to a point of exhaustion that felt like the flu.
I didn’t want my friends to be disappointed in me or feel like me not wanting to hang out with them was the same as me needing to be alone. And maybe more than anything, I was scared of being called a homebody. I was scared of becoming someone that people stop inviting out because I never show up. I wanted to stay relevant in my friends’ lives. I wanted to be there for the pictures and the memories and the morning rehashes. And so I’d go out, and I’d be a black cloud. A negative energy in the room. An air suck. I didn’t have the energy to keep up with conversations so I’d withdraw into my head. I couldn't muster the confidence to dance or mingle so I’d always be the one who sat back and played on my phone, convincing myself that I was doing my friends a favor by simply being there. My attitude was always “you’re welcome, I came out for you.” I could never understand why my friends didn’t seem ultimately blessed just to have me in their presence. It wasn't until one of my friends actually pulled me aside and told me that I'm not doing anyone any favors by dragging myself out of bed, that I realized I would be better off just staying at home rather than bringing my mood with me.
Up until recently, I didn’t understand that my introverted nature came with requirements for how to live my life in a healthy way. I reached out to Dr. Jennifer McCarroll, PhD to better understand the social implications that come with being an introvert and for some advice for how to be my best social self. McCarroll told me, “Introverts, unlike extroverts, get their energy from being alone, so alone time is crucial.”
According to McCarroll, psychologically speaking, I'm actually better to be around when I've made time to be alone. But it’s still hard to say no to social invitations. It’s hard to be selfish and take time for yourself. No matter how much we need it, we somehow always find a way to make ourselves feel guilty or like it’s wrong to do what we want when it comes to social or romantic engagements.
McCarroll continued, “The introvert/extrovert profiles are complicated by the fact that most people are not 100 percent introvert or extrovert, they lie somewhere on a spectrum, so at times an extrovert may feel grounded by alone time to process something, and most introverts are susceptible to loneliness and need the right kind of social connection to feel satisfied and balanced.”
This basically means that regardless of whether we identify mainly as an introvert or extrovert, chances are that if we’re feeling like we need alone time, we should listen to our bodies and take it.
Or, as McCarroll said, “When we’re solitary, we have a much better sense of ourselves. We must schedule solo experiences to stay grounded and in-tune with ourselves.”
So next time you feel like you’re doing your friends a favor by going out when you really feel like staying in, tell them you need a night off. Your real friends are going to understand and respect you for taking care of yourself. The more in touch you are with yourself and the more aware you are of your mood barometer, the better you are at being a friend. You do you, first. There’s always going to be another party and another night out. You’re not missing anything when you’re not fully present as your best possible self.