Feeling overwhelmed these days, fellow introvert? It could be that things are just coming at you way too fast for your happiness and well-being.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or overcooked or over____-ed as an introvert, you’re often reacting to a sense of too much or too many: You’re trying to absorb too much information; you’re trying to deal with too much noise; you’re trying to interact with too many people at once without losing your mind, or what’s left of it.
“Overstimulation means that a situation deprives you of energy because the impressions are so diverse,” writes coach and speaker Sylvia Löhken, in her thorough and superbly researched book Quiet Impact: How to Be a Successful Introvert.
“This can happen when too many impressions pour down on you at the same time,” stresses Löhken, an introvert herself who worked in academic management for 10 years in Germany and Japan.
But often, Löhken says—perhaps more often than many of us introverts realize—our overwhelm isn’t a reaction to the amount of what we’re trying to process but, rather, the speed with which it is coming at us.
Sometimes, in other words, we’re not battling with too much or too many.
We’re battling with too fast.
As Löhken emphasizes:
“Excessive haste can also cause overstimulation—for example, if someone is insisting on quick decisions, speaking more quickly than usual, or signaling impatience via body language (tapping fingers or feet, looking at the clock impatiently).”
How Speed Triggers Overwhelm
In a typical day, Löhken writes, you face all kinds of “quick changes” that can easily wipe you out as an introvert.
Think about it. It’s easy to come up with common scenarios that illustrate Löhken’s point:
Exhibit A: You’re sitting down to write an important report at work when, in five minutes’ time, three different people pop their heads in to interrupt you with brief questions. One of them half whispers, half sings, presumably to himself, “bup bup BAH, bup bup BAH” as he waits for you to respond.
Exhibit B: Same situation as Exhibit A, but instead of being interrupted by in-person visits three times in five minutes, you’re faced with three phone calls … or three emails … or three texts.
Exhibit C: You come home from a long day at work—or you’re working from home—and your young kids visit you three times in five minutes, talking a million miles an hour, either to show you the pictures they’re drawing or to detail the wholly unprovoked crimes of their older/younger sibling(s).
Yes, the amount of overstimulation is draining you in these situations, and in others like them.
But it is exacerbated by the rapid pace at which it is showing up. You start to feel like you’re playing pinball—and you’re the ball.
So as you seek out and implement ways to take care of yourself each day as the introvert you are, work not only on reducing how much you’re dealing with at one time; work also on slowing things down when and where you can.
Feeling Overwhelmed? Slow Down
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed as an introvert and you start implementing tried-and-true self-care activities, think about how you can tweak them so they reduce the amount of what you’re trying to process and slow down the rhythm at which you are experiencing it.
Taking some quiet time for yourself, for instance, is a classic introvert strategy—perhaps the No. 1 tactic, really—for managing your overwhelm and recharging your mental and emotional batteries.
What could you do to make your alone time feel slower?
Maybe you could put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones and listen to an Enya album or, my personal favorite, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album.
Maybe you could find a website that offers guided meditations you can follow—in particular, meditations that help you slow down your movements, your breathing, your heartbeat, your thoughts.
Or perhaps you could give yoga a try, or reincorporate it into your daily routine after a long hiatus.
You can also take concrete steps to reduce the speed (and the amount) of the interruptions you face, both at work and at home.
Pull the plug on potential electronic distractions. Every time I’m writing something that matters, for example, my phone is in another room. I close my email program and web browser too. I even disconnect the wireless Internet connection.
These simple measures—which I take not because I’m disciplined but because I am not!—help me slow down my thinking and write more calmly and methodically.
You can also block off, and then strictly enforce, times when you’re working, so that the other people in your life can’t interrupt you unless blood is involved.
Remember: Too fast can be just as overwhelming as too much or too many.
And it’s far sneakier.
Don’t let it sneak up on you.