Myra started her first “real” job six months ago and the adjustment has been tougher than she expected. She lived at home while she earned her bachelor’s degree. Adjusting to college had been enough without moving too. Now 90 minutes away from her parents, Myra is living on her own for the first time and tackling the start of her career. The move, the job, and the new city create a constant barrage of stimulation and leave Myra’s nervous system overloaded. Myra is an introvert.
The family never thought much about her temperament while Myra was growing up, but they are thinking about it constantly now. All the change has brought on a problem with anxiety, and Myra is coping by calling her parents for marathon support sessions lasting late into the night.
An introvert replenishes energy by spending time alone or in quiet settings. When given the option, her preference will usually be a lower stimulation environment.
As an introvert, Myra may prefer to form new relationships in small groups or one on one. She may want to work alone, uninterrupted. Meeting the need for quiet time has always been built in to Myra’s routine, but starting a new job, and a new life, is a relatively “noisy” course of events.
Being introverted is not the same thing as having anxiety, but anxiety can result when introverts lose their vital opportunities for emotional quiet. So leaving home can be a bumpy adjustment for emerging adults like Myra. The introverted person can temporarily appear to have a serious mental health problem when “fight or flight” reactions interfere with the ability to settle in to a new environment.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cant Stop Talking, advises parents of introverts to accept children for who they are, ease them into new experiences patiently, avoid labels like “shy,” realize your child may be different than you even if you are an introvert, invest in shaping malleable kids, and be alert to their passions. As kids gear up to separate from the family, a foundation of love and acceptance in the family makes a stable launch pad. But it’s important for families to expect that leaving the nest may be uncomfortable for an introverted young adult, especially when the childhood home life has been ideal. Moving out means losing the solid, secure foundation of daily life in the family home.
If you’re an introverted teen or emerging adult, or if you’re the parent of one, prepare ahead for the move-out. Discuss the adjustment well in advance. Build in opportunities after the move for support from the family and quiet time alone. Consider frequent visits by family for the first few months. Think about the need for alone time when deciding where to live, or with whom, since a boisterous roommate in a cramped space may send introverts over the anxiety cliff. Remember, self-care is not selfish. We all need to listen to our bodies for signs of excessive stress and limit activities than drain our energies.
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.