The introvert’s guide to social engagement

By | November 15, 2018

Given the choice of interacting with people or watching the new episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot on PBS, well, let’s just say I think David Suchet is better company. If you are an introvert like me, you relish your time alone. But we should also understand the dilemma we face when it comes to long-term health. Research continues to show that regular interactions can lower your risk for heart disease, depression, and early death.

But what if being social is not who you are?

An introvert is someone who enjoys solitude and focuses more on internal thoughts and feelings. Unlike extroverts, who gain energy from social interaction, introverts often expend energy in social situations. After being with a large group, people who are introverted often feel a need to recharge by spending time alone.

While people who by nature are more introverted are not necessarily at a higher risk for problems related to isolation, they should make efforts to stay engaged with others on some level, according to Dr. Steven Schlozman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “You don’t always have to be more social if you don’t miss it, but humans are social beasts by nature. We really do well when we connect with others, even for brief periods.”

Find social opportunities that work with your personality

Don’t feel you have to change your nature in order to socialize more. In fact, it’s almost impossible to do. Many studies have shown that a person’s core traits tend to remain constant throughout life. “If you were an introvert when you were younger, odds are you will be later in life,” says Dr. Schlozman. He suggests that instead of fighting your personality, work with it, and focus on the type and level of interactions you can do and enjoy. “Was it one-on-one time to discuss last night’s game, or was it being part of a group where the attention wasn’t focused on you? Once you can identify those types of engagement, you can create strategies to achieve them. Being stressed defeats the purpose of socializing, so you should make sure you are comfortable with the level of engagement and have the chance to back off or do something else if it doesn’t feel right,” says Dr. Schlozman. Here are some suggestions:

  • Know your boundaries. You may be more comfortable with social settings that have a defined beginning, middle, and end. Introverts are often not comfortable with uncertainty about when something will end, and these boundaries help them engage in conversation.
  • Control the setting. If going out is not easy, have people come to you. For instance, invite someone to your home for dinner, or have a small group over to watch the game. This puts you in control of the environment as well as the amount of socializing.
  • Focus on activities. Signing up for class at a local college or community center can help you place your energy and attention on the activity rather than conversing with others. “Sometimes just being around people is enough,” says Dr. Schlozman.
  • Join a club. Find an organization based on your personal interests or hobbies, like a golf league, civic club, or volunteer group. “It is often easier to interact with people who share your passions,” says Dr. Schlozman.
  • Socialize from afar. Social media is another way for introverts to stay connected. For example, Facebook has groups devoted to specific activities or interests that people can join and participate in at whatever level they wish. You can watch from afar and choose when to interact, and come and go as you please, without the worry of commitment. For the record, I’m told Facebook has several fan pages devoted to Poirot.

Harvard Health Blog

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