8 Ways Introverts Can Have A Good Social Life (That Isn't Mentally Exhausting)
Long before I knew I was an introvert, I’d beat myself up for not having enough energy to socialize like most other people I knew. To compound that, I had acute social anxiety, which exhausted me even further.
I’ve come a long way since. These days, talking to strangers is as easy as doing mental arithmetic. And here’s what I impart to all my introvert clients for an optimum social and professional life and optimum energy levels.
1. Learn to honor your introverted wiring.
A major shift came about when I discovered what introvert really means—that I’m not alone, and that there’s nothing wrong with me even if I prefer to stay at home and read a book. Crowds can deplete introverts' energy levels, so crowded parties might not be the best fit unless we really want to be there.
“The space between our expectations and reality is where we cause ourselves a lot of suffering,” my friend and leadership professor Jonathan Marshall tells me. “If we can accept who we are rather than try to become something we are not, we know our preferences and cause ourselves less distress.”
A simple way to honor your introverted wiring is to seek out fellow introverted friends: not only is the intimacy of hanging out one-on-one aligned with your wiring, but it’ll also be a kind of unintentional support group where you go “Me too!” when it comes to how you’d rather have good coffee with a friend than go to a party. Understanding that introversion is a form of neurodiversity that has its strengths can help you accept something you were needlessly angry with yourself about.
2. Have a quota.
Introvert is not synonymous with hermit. Sure, there are times we revel in our introvert hangovers, but we also love the buzz from meaningful interactions. A helpful way to balance this is to set a quota to know that you’ve managed to have both me time and social time. And be discerning about who you wish to give your energy to, so that social time doesn’t feel tinged with distaste or discomfort. A simple way is to examine your relationships objectively—are they healthy, toxic, or ambivalent?
As an entrepreneur, networking is part of my life; therefore I consider that in my energy quota. In fact, it is something I enjoy these days, because I’ve learned to be selective of the events I go to and to network like an introvert. This means that instead of aiming to speak to everyone in the room, my goal is to have deeper conversations with one or two people. With such selectiveness, professional networking has also cultivated a few deep friendships I’m grateful for.
3. Digital socializing is still socializing.
No matter how trendy the digital detox is or the evidence demonstrating the consequences of overusing technology, it is undoubtedly a part of our lives. As an expatriate with a global network and an entrepreneur who serves an international clientele, technology is inevitable and in fact something I embrace when used with discernment. The truth is, it is often the only way I get to socialize with my loved ones. And a two-hour video call or series of WhatsApp chats with my closest friends counts as social time—I’ve been interacting meaningfully, and it’s been uplifting.
4. Have someone curate your network.
“Come to this event,” my surrogate little sister tells me. As an extrovert, she attends many an event, and in the meantime she selects the people I should meet and places I should go—for her, it’s something she enjoys. This way, instead of attending 50 potential events, I only have to go to five that I’m more likely to enjoy. She also introduces me to these people way before I meet them, making my life easier. In exchange, she seeks my counsel and has a place she recharges her metaphorical batteries in, while we laugh and muse about life over excellent food. It is a win-win for the two of us. So if you have an extroverted friend who’d gladly curate your network, it might be worth considering this.
5. Your phone is where it all begins.
We all know the feeling of waking up to 200 unread WhatsApp messages and 50 Facebook notifications. It’s exhausting. I am excessively ruthless about ensuring I never get to those levels of exhaustion again.
On my phone, only people I’m close to or my VIP clients go into my address book. Everybody else who messages me is automatically muted and archived, so I know just how much energy I require to dedicate rather than an automatic onslaught of notifications that overwhelms me straight away. My notifications on Instagram are also turned off, and I have a colleague who tells me when I should reply to certain comments. This way, once again, only the important notifications reach my eyes, and I can have a life on social media without feeling overwhelmed.
6. Learn to honor your energy levels.
It isn’t simply our personality type. What’s going on in our lives, the season, and other background factors mean our energy levels vary. Just because you don’t have as much energy as someone else doesn’t make you less of a person. Dr. Marshall says trying to compete with someone else’s energy will burn you to a cinder. It will deplete your resources very quickly, not simply in the form of exhaustion but also medical health.
Still, he understands that we don’t honor our energy levels because we want to become what we see as superior, fearing that if we didn’t want that, we may never improve. However, clinging to some idealized notion that doesn’t align with who you are right now may only injure you.
I always recommend that my clients break their energy goals into baby steps, so they can celebrate their accomplishments along the way. This way, they journey toward being the best version of themselves, rather than tethering themselves to the doomed ball-and-chain of being someone else—a surefire road to stress.
7. Your physical boundaries may extend to your geographical locations.
As someone reveling in the newly found freedom of no longer being socially anxious, I would invite people to my city or neighborhood in the U.K. and Singapore to socialize over meals. It started getting exhausting when some would repeatedly invite themselves to my neighborhood or home, even though I never offered them a further invite. That’s when I realized that my boundaries also extend to my geographical location, and that just because you’ve visited a second time doesn’t automatically mean you can assume you’re welcome another time. These days, only those in my inner circles have the privilege of spending time with me in my city or house.
8. Create your own mental nirvana.
There’s something to be said about feeling at home in ourselves, when we can access that slice of innermost calm at will. Dr. Marshall advocates for what he calls “self-hypnosis.”
“Hypnosis is such a fancy word, but really, it’s that space in your own head, even if it’s just for a few seconds,” he explains. This might be a place you had a wonderful vacation in or your grandmother’s living room, as long as it’s a pre-furnished place in your mind you can dip in and out of.
Knowing you have this inner nirvana means that even if you are going to a crowded party or hostile meeting, you can always take a step back, go inward, and energize yourself in a comfortable, familiar inner space that brings you peace.
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach currently living in Singapore. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from University College London and her master's in philosophy from University of Cambridge. Her first book This Is What Matters was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2022, which guides you to transform crisis to strength, or design an #EverydayAmazing life.
She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, and Business Insider and has previously worked with Olympians, business professionals, and individuals seeking to master their psychological capital. She works globally in English and Mandarin-Chinese via Skype and Facetime, blending cutting-edge neuroscience, psychology, and ancient wisdom.