The Cheerful Caregiver

Ho! Ho! Whoa!

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December 19, 2011
decorating_the_tree

"Recharging is absolutely crucial for introverts." -- Carl King

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a link that changed my life. Maybe it will change yours, too.

The link went to a blog post titled "10 Myths about Introverts" by writer and artist Carl King. Now, I've always known I was an introvert. Heaven knows I've been forced through the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory over half-a-dozen times during my two decades in office management. But King's essay pointed out several things I didn't know about introverts (and, hence, didn't realize about myself), namely that introverts are a rare breed, making up just 25% percent of the population, and more importantly, that it's OK to be an introvert. I honestly didn't realize that.

If you're also one of the 25%, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. The pressure exerted on introverts to "become" extroverted is enormous and begins in childhood. We introverts frequently are made to feel weird and different "“ because we are. But we're different in good ways. There's nothing wrong with how we are; we're just different from the other 75% of people.

I mention this because, as an introvert caregiver, I have particular difficulties with The Holidays. I put that in capitals because I'm talking about the year-end holiday season, the Big Holidays, not the other, run-of-the-mill holidays that occur during the year, such as Memorial Day. Those little holidays don't involve the extreme pressure to socialize in large groups (or, worse, host large groups in your home) or shop amidst throngs of people that the Big Holidays do. Caregiving is stimulating enough without all the added bells and whistles of The Holidays to send me over the edge.

So here are a few tips for my fellow introverted caregivers about how to survive the holiday season. I invite you to submit your own tried-and-true coping mechanisms in the comments section.

  1. Shop online. One year, I did all of my holiday shopping via Amazon.com. Some people may view that as isolating. For me, avoiding holiday shopping crowds saved my coping reserves for more important events, such as the family dinner.

  2. Don't host any large parties. Like many introverts, I enjoy socializing with my friends "“ in small groups or one-on-one. So, if you really feel you want to host a party, make it an intimate one with just a few close friends. And set a time limit in the invitation: "You're invited to a cocktail reception from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m." When the ending time arrives, stand up, thank your guests for coming, and start cleaning up while you continue to chat. Your friends will get the hint.

  3. Pick your parties carefully. If you're inundated with invitations to holiday gatherings, attend only the most meaningful one or two. And when you do attend, it's perfectly OK to be among the last to arrive and the first to leave.

  4. Put yourself in timeout. If you start feeling overstimulated during an event "“ whether at home or not "“ find a quiet corner or go into your bedroom and close the door. Allow yourself to, as Carl King puts it, "process and recharge." It's not rude. It's a coping mechanism. You don't even need to announce what you're doing; just go away for a few minutes and then come back to the festivities. Chances are no one will even have noticed you were gone.

  5. Encourage your caree to nap. The Holidays are stressful on our elderly loved ones, too. Whether they're introverts or not, their coping mechanisms and reserves dwindle as they age. By offering them timeouts, too, you can both get some peace and quiet to recharge and then plunge back into the hubbub. It'll be healthier for all of you.

  6. Enlist the extroverts in your life to help. Assign specific tasks to family members: one can put up and decorate the tree (children love to do this); another can shop for that specific gift that can only be found at the mall; another can take half a day out of her vacation week to stop by and watch Dad so that you can nap, go to the bookstore to browse, or work on a craft project: whatever helps you unwind.

Being introverted isn't an illness. It's who we are. You have permission to need additional downtime, to think deeply instead of quickly, to live life on your own terms. Don't feel guilty. Since reading King's essay, I know I don't. What a liberating way to begin the new year!