One of my best friends recently got married in California. After the wedding, I stuck around with some high-school friends and we did a few days of exploring in a rental car. By the fifth day of the trip or so (pre-wedding events and wedding and stick-around combined), I really needed some alone time: I begged off a visit to a winery, took the rental car after dropping off my friends, and drove up and down a stretch of the Northern California coast, stopping to do a couple short solo hikes.
It was a glorious day. Everything wedding-related had been fun, but it had also been five days of closer quarters and endless chatting and schmoozing and very little alone time. And then I was in a car, windows down, zooming around a beautiful place listening loudly to music that would have driven my friends crazy. I was really, really happy.
Even as I typed that last sentence, I realized that, despite growing public awareness of what introversion is, it’s still hard to describe introverts’ recharging without it sounding like a slight against our friends or family members. That was one of the reasons I really enjoyed this blog post on Introvert, Dear by Shawna Courter, which explains the idea of an “introvert hangover.” It’s a useful way for non-introverts to understand why introverts need to be alone without it coming across as hurtful.
Courter, like many introverts, has fairly limited reserves of social energy. Once those reserves are tapped, she explains, things get uncomfortable: “If I pack my social calendar too full, I’m likely to experience an ‘introvert’ hangover, because I didn’t leave time for myself to be alone and recharge my mental batteries”:
An “introvert” hangover is a pretty terrible thing to experience. It starts with an actual physical reaction to overstimulation. Your ears might ring, your eyes start to blur, and you feel like you’re going to hyperventilate. Maybe your palms sweat. And then your mind feels like it kind of shuts down, building barriers around itself as if you had been driving on a wide open road, and now you’re suddenly driving in a narrow tunnel. All you want is to be at home, alone, where it’s quiet.
I can identify with this, though I’ve luckily never gotten any physical symptoms. My version of an introvert hangover is more about a general sense of anxiety and impatience. I find it harder and harder to make small talk, and more and more driven to be alone. The mind shutdown resonated, too — it gets harder and harder to fake genuine social interaction (though more so at a party with people I don’t know than when in a small group of people I know and like).
For some commenters on the article, it’s even more intense than what Courter describes.
“Oh I think it’s the next day when the actual introvert hangover hits you!” wrote one. “I might need a whole day to myself to recharge after a party, and really feel like I was hung over: headache, nausea, fatigue, the whole shabang.” Another agreed: “I often need the next day to recover which is why I try really hard to never schedule two days of socializing back to back.”
One interesting question here is whether all this can be collapsed (roughly) onto one spectrum, where the more introverted you are, the worse the hangover is, or whether we need at least two different dimensions to explain what’s going on: Maybe there are some people who can only take an hour of social activity, for example — meaning they’re highly introverted — but who never get bad physical symptoms as a result. Maybe the severity has to with what sort of introvert you are, or with whether you have “ambivert” tendencies.
Whatever the details, this idea could be a boon for introvert-extrovert relations, if Courter’s account of life with her husband’s extroverted family is any indication. “In the years we’ve been together, my husband has continued to take me to holiday events with his gregarious, if slightly overwhelming, family,” she writes. “Obviously, I knew that was part of the deal by the time I married him. But that’s also why I make my own clear demands for personal time and space. Because as introverts, if we want to avoid a hangover, moderation is key.”