Recharging for introverts when "alone time" isn't an option
April 13, 2015 2:36 PM   Subscribe

What are some ideas for recharging one's introverted batteries when being alone for any significant amount of time isn't an option?

Not sure extended explanation is really needed, but basically my plate is full (including two small children, one still breast feeding). When everything is well balanced I can eek out enough "alone" time with a half an hour before bed most nights, and a couple of hours on the weekend once or twice a month.

When things get out of balance (illness, less sleep, work stress, getting behind in home stuff, etc.), that's not enough to recharge my battery and my old childless approach of just-hunker-down-and-comfortably-putter-around-doing-whatever-I-want-to-do-and-don't-talk-to-anyone-much-untill-I-feel-like-it just doesn't work because "mommy up! mommy up! mommy up!" The answer isn't asking my husband to do more, because he's in the same position I am, stretched thin and not getting the recharge time he needs either. I'm hoping to find some ideas that will help both of us.

SOOO, there must be "short cut" methods to put a little more back into the introverts bank, right?
posted by pennypiper to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
A gym with drop-in childcare is great. You can work out, or, like a friend of mine did, drop the kids off, cry in the shower and sit in the steam room.
posted by littlewater at 2:48 PM on April 13, 2015 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Very familiar! Our daughter is now almost 5, and no-one told me that you could be dead tired for several years in a row because of having a child. What we do is: allow the other parent to take full care of our daughter from now and then, so the other parent can sleep late, read a book, etc. We also take turns in spending a weekend with her with our own parents, so the other can have a weekend of doing-the-stuff-that's-badly-behind, or just doing nothing. It gets easier when they grow older, because school, playing with friends, etc. Good luck and be nice to everyone in your family.

+1 for the gym drop-in; we used to go to The Little Gym a lot, where you can have a great hour of rest, talking to parents, have a coffee, etc.
posted by hz37 at 2:49 PM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Do you have a support network you can rely on? Do you have money to put at this? Because it's totally morally acceptable to use a babysitter (whether that's someone you pay or a family member or a friend that maybe also has kids and you can swap nights with sometimes) in order to just do nothing. Your kids don't suffer from an occasional stay with a babysitter, and if it means you and your husband get a chance to recenter yourselves, they greatly, greatly benefit. I know there's always stuff to finish, but don't beat yourself up over taking care of yourself, even if that means watching TV and knitting for a few hours (or whatever).

If babysitter isn't an option, you and your husband may be able to swap off on taking the kids for a full weekend day or an evening or something to give the other one of you a chance to breathe.
posted by brainmouse at 2:50 PM on April 13, 2015

I am home with the kids and faced this same problem. I found having a sitter for 3-4 hours one weekday morning really helped. Also I stay up way too late to have some alone time.
posted by saradarlin at 2:59 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

When my oldest was really little, he figured out by age 2 that if he wanted to stay up late, he needed to not be a pain to deal with. I needed some recharge time in the evening. If he wasn't running a fever or otherwise actively sick, he needed to give me my space for doing a little reading or watching a little TV or the like and not be all noisy and messy. Otherwise, off to bed he went. He could take toys in bed or whatever, but, no, I wasn't going to be at his beck and all 24/7 for everything, though I was at his beck and call 24/7 for real emergencies.

Not hugely long after I had his brother, I tried to train them both to do Saturday morning cartoons on their own without mom and let me get a little more sleep. My oldest has told me that by the time he was about 5 years old, he would corral his younger brother and try to keep him quiet and in front of the TV on Saturday morning if there was no real crisis so I could sleep in. He had already figured out that a less grumpy mom meant his life was better.

When my kids were older and I homeschooled, I had to instill in the kids that it was not reasonable to operate on the premise that if we are all home together, I was at their beck and call. I tried to learn to give them fair warning for things that placed demands on their time and attention and I taught them that if it wasn't an actual emergency, they had to do the same thing for me. If was in my bedroom with the door shut and no one was bleeding and there was no fire or similar, do not come barging in and making all kinds of demands. As a minimum, please knock and then you can ask or let me know you need/want something, but if it isn't urgent, then I will get with you shortly, not RIGHT NOW.

When they were little, I had a policy of not locking the bathroom door so they could come talk to me about anything, any time, even if I was showering or on the toilet. This helped them learn from a pretty early age the difference between "I am just a small child with no patience" and "This thing is a real emergency that can't wait and requires adult attention." (because they came to me constantly and how I responded to different situations educated them a lot about what really required my immediate attention). So when I began saying "Yeah, this needs to wait. I am in the middle of doing something. I will be there in 10 minutes (or 20 or whatever)." they were psychologically prepared to make that distinction.
posted by Michele in California at 3:04 PM on April 13, 2015 [11 favorites]

My husband goes to bed very early and gets early morning alone time, then takes care of kiddo's breakfast. I stay up late to get my alone time, and sleep in a little later while he feeds kiddo.
posted by gatorae at 4:04 PM on April 13, 2015

Response by poster: These are great so far! But a little more about our particulars, b/c I think I may have overemphasized the kids' piece of the puzzle. My work is really more of the problem for me because it includes a lot of interaction. It involves a limited amount of customer relations type stuff, but a LOT of internal discussion/negotiation/teaching/consensus building/project management/personal management/networking stuff. I'm good at it and generally enjoy it but it leaves me feeling depleted in the way that I associate with my introvert batteries being low.

I'm hoping there are ways to replenish the emotional/social/interpersonal (what is this called?) reserves that get depleted, without having big stretches of alone time.

Like playing a magic song, or hopping on one foot while rubbing ones tummy, or eating really good chocolate cake, or a personal time warp bubble where time moves at a different rate and you can sleep and veg and putter without missing anything in the real world, or meditation (please don't say meditation, I hate meditation)....
posted by pennypiper at 4:35 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For me, lying down for five or ten minutes can do wonders. I sneak into an unused stairwell to do it at work.
posted by metasarah at 4:53 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have any purely physical tasks that need doing but don't require much thinking or interaction? Washing dishes, folding laundry, cooking prep, that kind of thing? Block out some time for just that, if you can. It's still chores, but it's chores that let you focus and turn your brain off for a bit, and it sounds like that's part of your issue.
posted by sciatrix at 4:55 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: I take a vacation day every now and then and still send my kids to school/daycare. Then I literally come home, sit on the couch and do whatever I feel like. It might be cleaning the house or it might be a marathon of a show on Netflix or it might be dozing and reading the Internet. I do it about once a quarter and I find it very helpful.

On a day to day basis, like at work, I take a short walk outside. I take a really long time to fill up my water bottle. I have a Fitbit and some days I challenge myself to get a ridiculous number of steps so I'm not sitting all day. I stretch out a coffee run and just sit in the car for 10 minutes, listening to music and sipping my coffee.

Hang in there. This won't last forever. Some day the baby will wean and your kids will be able to play together in another room, allowing you to have a coffee and flip through the newspaper. It WILL happen!
posted by sutel at 5:04 PM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When I worked at a Fortune 500 company, I could not master what everyone else seemed to do of figuring out how and when to buttonhole one of our two bosses to get needed feedback on specific files. This is what everyone else seemed to do, but I just somehow couldn't figure it out. Even though I had an entry level job, it turns out, I didn't need to conform and do it like everyone else did it. It was fine to email them, set the file aside, and work on other things until they got back to me. It was dramatically less social than the process most people went through and it was perfectly acceptable.

So I am wondering how much of this collaboration really, truly needs to be done face-to-face and whether or not you may have more control over when, where and how it happens than you might think. Again, I had an entry level job and I was absolutely required to consult people higher up than me on certain things. But, no, the schmoozing and face-time and squee-ing and socializing that most people did in the process of getting the technical info and formal permissions they needed really wasn't necessary.

Teaching can sometimes be done by putting out good reference materials. Consensus building means you need people on the same page, but that doesn't always mean it has to happen in some kind of group setting or necessarily face-to-face.

So think about what specifically NEEDS to be accomplished and brainstorm some variations on how to accomplish it. See if you can do the job in a less social manner.
posted by Michele in California at 5:06 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Someone asked reddit about this. ymmv
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:44 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

1) book your outlook calendar with 10-15 minutes of time as "busy". Book a conference room. Hide and recharge.
2) Work from home if possible, handling customer facing negotiations, consensus building etc on a scheduled basis by phone. This minimizes drop bys and interruptions and leaves you time for productive work or quiet. Note: kids cannot be home for this. Alternatively work from your local library.
3) make space in your calendar here and there, if it's affordable, by getting a housekeeper or groceries delivered or car cleaned or lawn mowed or whatever. If those tasks take up alone-time, outsource one or two and input alone-time instead.
posted by slateyness at 7:52 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hear ya. I'm extremely introverted but have a very intense customer service job that essentially leaves me an empty dry husk by the end of the day. Plus the rest of life that happens all around it.

For me, music is like my non-meditation meditation. When I want to hide but I can't, I try to integrate music into whatever I'm doing. Some jobs allow you to listen to music via headphones which is great but for me, it's usually singing a song to myself and bobbing my head while I do banal activites. It's not zoning out exactly because I still need to be accessible, it's more like involking a part of my mind that is somewhere else. It helps.
posted by BeeJiddy at 8:57 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Needle felting. Seriously. It requires a tiny needle, a ball of wool, and a foam pad. It's very portable and you can work on it in small intervals. You can sculpt beautiful things by getting all stabbity with the the needle and wool. It's amazingly cathartic. And because it requires a razor sharp needle, it must be done away from children. And you end up with pretty things like this. It's productive and relaxing and stabbity.
posted by Ostara at 9:00 PM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Go for a walk or drive in the middle of work. Just get away for your desk to be alone and take a break. No one will ask where you went. If they do, you went to get coffee, or to make a phone call or something. Sometimes, I'd just go to a single stall bathroom and look and play a game on my phone and relax for 10 minutes. Just getting away from your desk and your co-workers will help.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:21 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The answer isn't asking my husband to do more, because he's in the same position I am, stretched thin and not getting the recharge time he needs either. I'm hoping to find some ideas that will help both of us.

Two stressed-out people doing household/childcare stuff is not actually better than one person doing it while the other gets a break, and then trading. Think of alone time like sleep -- yes, you and your husband could technically get more done if neither of you slept, but it would be immensely draining and not sustainable for very long. Have him take the kids out of the house for half a weekend day (or stay in and you leave, or whatever) and then you do the same for him.
posted by jaguar at 10:33 PM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I take a vacation day every now and then and still send my kids to school/daycare. Then I literally come home, sit on the couch and do whatever I feel like.

At a previous job we called these "mental health days." Not everyone took them, but everyone understood what they were and approved of people taking them. "Day off with no productive plans" is also a thing at my wife's work. I think it's more common than people realize.

Also, Michele in California is so very right. There are lots of different work styles and there's no reason that you have to adopt others' work styles as long as you are effective. Many people who are very busy hard workers are actually scrambling in a disorganized fashion to get things done in an inefficient way. They look good on paper because they're always running around doing things and going to meetings, but when you look at their actual output it's about the same as everyone else. You might decide that running around like a crazed person in order to look good is a career strategy you want to follow, because it increases your chance of promotion - and in some cases, it does because it's very visible. But for me, I decided that I was too introverted and didn't have the energy for that "always busy, never-say-no" style. Instead I focus on only doing the truly important things and doing things efficiently. I get as much or more done than I used to, but it's much better for my mental health and it leaves me with free time an energy to learn new skills. So you might consider doing things in a less-social way when possible, and even letting some things at work go untouched if you're busy with other things. As long as things are moving ahead I don't think people will mind if you did a few things by email instead of in a meeting.
posted by Tehhund at 5:21 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It isn't quite as refreshing as actual alone time, but one of my mini-hacks is that I keep a 70-minute mp3 of tropical wave noises on my mp3 player and my phone. It doesn't have music or flutes, just crashing waves and bird calls and occasional monkey cries. It isn't that I find wave noises particularly soothing, but that this particular track has the power to COMPLETELY block out any noise, even if I am in a crowded room, subway car, or anywhere else. When people talk to me while I'm listening to music, I can hear them. When they talk to me while I listen to this track, nothing. Just a wall of continuous noise.

When I feel totally overwhelmed by human interaction, sometimes this track is the only thing that helps, because I can sort of trick my brain into thinking "see? we're alone. No other voices, no one talking or asking for things or needing my attention." Sometimes just listening to it for fifteen minutes is a huge help, because it can help me get into "I'm all alone" headspace even when I'm in a house full of other people.

I'd be happy to send it to you if it would help! It was a lifesaver when I was working in a shared office where a new officemate who NARRATED HER EVERY ACTION INCLUDING CHECKING FACEBOOK STATUSES moved in. Putting on headphones wasn't enough to escape the constant monologue. One time I tried just putting them in in the hopes that she would stop when she realized no one was listening, and she said, I kid you not, "[random ongoing narration] oh, and you're wearing headphones, so you can't hear me anyway, but that's okay, because I was just wondering if this student was going to..." and on and on. My wave noises mp3 was the only thing that kept me from hearing her voice.

I also sent a copy of it to some friends when they had their first child, and they basically sleep trained her with it. I say this not because your children need sleep training, but because I want to emphasize this recording's magical and versatile powers.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:08 AM on April 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

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