Acknowledging that you’re an introvert can be liberating (Ah, now it all makes sense!), but sometimes it triggers and anxiety and stress (Agh! How am I going to survive working in an open-plan office? How do I deal with colleagues who want me to be more extroverted?) Here are some tips for surviving work as an introvert without overcomplicating things and stressing you out even further.

1. Avoid performing at being a Good Worker.

Many people override their boundaries because they try to fit the persona of being ‘good’ (read: compliant, well-behaved, thought of well by others). As an introvert, this can mean forcing you to do things in what you think is an extrovert way. So next thing, for example, you’re forcing yourself to partake in long-winded, draining conversations instead of working, which can place a great deal of unnecessary stress on you. That, and extroverts want to work too and aren’t just fannying away their time! Be mindful of people pleasing so that you don’t drain or exploit yourself. Often things that we blame on introversion or that we claim are signs that we ‘should’ more extroverted are work boundary issues, including self-criticism and self-rejection.

2. Build short breaks into your day.

Rather than sitting and suffering in silence while chastising yourself for not being better equipped to handle being around people all the time, accept that you need breathers and build time throughout the day to reboot. Five minutes here and there, even, could make a profound difference. It also helps you to avoid intense days. Bear in mind that people have cigarette breaks, coffee runs and all sorts, take breaks where you can get them.

3. Change your lunch break, if possible.

This could mean not only having the workspace to yourself for a while but also getting to go on an undisturbed lunch.

4. Keep the long work days to a minimum.

Occasionally, fine, but not habitually. Remember, if you feel overwhelmed and anxious at or about work, it might not be anything to do with introversion and everything to do with being over your bandwidth and not having enough time to meet your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs!

5. Speak to HR (or your manager)

Some companies are more aware of different styles of communication and working, as well as mental health, general wellbeing and neurodivergence. If the company you work for claims to be supportive, it’s worth having a confidential chat with HR about what their suggestions and practices are for introverts. If this is the company you work for, they may be open to making adjustments that help you to feel more at ease. Obviously, if they’re shady, don’t divulge this information as it can be like giving them the blueprints to mess with you. And if you’re your own boss, then you need to have a word with yourself! Get a sense of your expectations and whether you’re demanding too much of yourself.

6. Utilise the status update or autoresponder functions on your messaging/email system.

It can be incredibly distracting and stressful when it feels like people are tugging at your bandwidth all day long, so you have to communicate your boundaries rather than hope that people will take the hint. The big-ass pauses between replies followed by a passive-aggressive response, or you looking strained on video calls, isn’t going to cut it. For example, put something in your email signature or in an autoresponder that communicates your availability or when you reply to messages. 

7. RIng-fence your time.

“Right, I’m going to get my head down and focus on X project, so I’ll catch up with anyone who needs me for anything at 2 pm?” If you’re working from home, for instance, it’s more than OK to say that you need some time to yourself or to close your door. You can also block off time in your calendar so that you have space to get in flow or focus. And if you use a cloud-based scheduling system, make sure that you change the settings so that there’s a certain amount of time between meetings. Back-t0-back meetings or client sessions can be super draining!

8. Use the meeting rooms

Back in the day, and this was before it even occurred to me that I was an introvert, I’d book the meeting room to get some quiet time. If you’re someone who’s had to go back to your work environment after being at home during the pandemic, it can be quite a jolt to be around people. Book the meeting room if you need to get some focused work done. Or if you’re not in an office environment, see if you can find a spot you can sneak off to. A friend of mine does a lot of non-stock-related work in the stock room.

9. Notice where you’re projecting.

When we carry shame and anxiety about our introversion, sometimes we project this onto the people around us. Next thing we say that they think we’re “grumpy”, “difficult”, “too quiet”, “no fun”. Where is this really coming from? What’s the baggage behind these judgements?

Ultimately, it’s about creating healthier work boundaries.

In the medium- to long-term, you will need to make mindful choices that honour your need for personal space, to reboot etc., while balancing these with the needs of any organisation you work with or for. It starts, though, with accepting and respecting your nature so you can make sure you’re doing a job that supports you or that you’re working in a way that supports you.

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