There’s no denying that as an introvert, I need my alone time for the sake of my mental health. Engaging with others for work or leisure is important, but I recharge when I’m on my own. I end every day alone in my dimly lit bedroom, my phone on “do not disturb,” as I watch a comforting TV show and then read a book in bed. This is my favorite time of day and what I need to refresh before the start of the next.
If I don’t have my alone time, I quickly tire and my mental health suffers. The opposite is true of extroverts. Extroverts feel their best when they have adequate social interaction and exciting events in their lives. Without proper socialization, extroverts become drained and their mental health declines.
One disposition isn’t better than the other, they are just two ways we as humans interact with the world around us. Introversion and extroversion occur on a sliding scale. And many people identify as ambiverts, or somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, understanding your needs is important to maintaining positive mental health. Each has strengths, weaknesses, and different self-care needs. All can live whole, meaningful lives; this just looks different for each type of person.
What are Introverts and Extroverts?
Contrary to popular belief, an introvert isn’t someone necessarily shy or quiet, rather it’s someone who prefers calm environments and needs solitude to recharge. Introverts need alone time to feel their best because social interaction uses up energy. Introverts are estimated to make up 30-50% of the population.
On the other hand, extroverts thrive on social interaction and feel energized by engaging with others. Extroverts prefer being around others to being alone, and it’s best for their mental health to do so. Extroverts are estimated to be half to three-quarters of the population.
Some people identify as ambiverts, possessing a combination of traits, falling somewhere in the middle of the two. Ambiverts may need some alone time to recharge but then also feel energized when around others.
Levels of introversion or extroversion are not only personality but are actually rooted in brain science. Each has distinct brain chemistry, with dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel good, released in different situations. Research shows extroverts have more active dopamine reward systems, making it easier for them to engage in stimulating social environments. This is also why extroverts need more social interaction because they need a loud and busy situation to feel the effects of dopamine.
Introverts are more sensitive to dopamine than extroverts, which is why they need less social interaction to feel good. Too much interaction and their brain becomes overstimulated.
So what does this look like in daily life? Introverts prefer to have a few close relationships, they enjoy solitary activities, and tend to be thoughtful individuals. Here are some common traits of introverts:
- Do their best work alone
- Feel most relaxed in calm environments with minimal stimulation
- Enjoy quiet activities like writing, reading, drawing, going for walks, gardening, and other solitary activities
- Prefer a few close friendships over a large group of friends
- Often feel best in the comfort of home
- Spend a lot of time exploring their inner world
- Tend to think deeply about their life and the world around them
- Seek out meaning in their life choices
- Can be overwhelmed by settings with a lot of interaction, like work or school
While extroverts can also enjoy their alone time now and again, they generally feel their best when engaging with others. Extroverts thrive on novel experiences and a busy social schedule to keep life interesting. Common traits of extroverts include:
- Feel energized when around others and in large groups
- Tend to be outgoing and high energy
- Do their best work when collaborating with others
- Seek out new experiences
- Prefer a full schedule
- Like to be out and about
- Make social connections easily and like lots of social interaction
- Feel bored or sad when spending a lot of time alone
- Think through problems by talking them out with others
- Usually adaptable and flexible to different situations
These traits can vary from person to person but are the general differences between introverts and extroverts. Understanding how each type functions informs how we approach their mental health.
What Impacts Mental Health for Introverts vs Extroverts?
Because of the major differences in disposition between extroverts and introverts, each has different basic mental health needs. An introvert cannot thrive without alone time just as an extrovert needs to be around people to feel their best.
Talkspace Peer Consultation Team Lead Dr. Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC, describes how “I think of introverts and extroverts in terms of their different needs for the recharge experience. In a lot of ways, our mental wellness depends on the frequency and intensity of the recharge experience, so I think it is important to be mindful of those needs on either side.” Each type has different needs for recharging and what situations impact their mental health the most.
How Introverts Handle Mental Health
Introverts must have alone time to recharge or their energy is easily drained and their mental health suffers. Because of this, introverts need to prioritize time alone in their schedule and routinely practice self-care.
“For introverts, the recharge effect happens while they are completely alone, removed from any outside social setting,” says Dr. Rice. “I think about activities like reading, writing, expressing themselves through creative arts and crafts while introverts are deep in the trenches of recharging their batteries.”
Ways situations affect introverts differently
Many situations can impact introverts deeply. Work, school, and other social situations use up an introvert’s energy. These interactions are an important part of daily life, even for introverts, but an introvert needs alone time to balance these out. With a proper balance, introverts can excel in work and social life while also having time to themselves to reset.
Mental health issues are more common among introverts because it is hard to find completely isolated environments, according to Dr. Rice. Introverts often feel things deeply, and without proper settings for self-care, this can lead to mental health issues. Introverts also tend to have a more linear cognitive processing, and in busy situations, it can become overstimulating for an introvert as they attempt to keep track of everything going on around them.
Having a so-called “introvert hangover” is real, which is when an introvert feels drained after a lot of interaction with others without enough time to recharge. When this happens, an introvert becomes easily irritable, has difficulty focusing, and feels exhausted.
How introverts can foster positive mental health
Introverts need to carve out alone time to recharge every day so they don’t deplete their energy and harm their mental wellbeing. Incorporating daily self-care practices can significantly help introverts. Dr. Rice recommends introverts cope with mental health issues through calming, solitary activities such as yoga, deep muscle relaxation, and mindfulness.
Introverts need some level of social interaction too, of course. Social support is crucial for us as human beings. The key is for introverts to find the right type of interactions for them. Fostering meaningful connections helps introverts engage with others in an uplifting way. Doing activities that are around others but require minimal socializing is another great option, such as taking a walk in your neighborhood, people-watching at a park, or reading at a coffee shop.
But introverts also need to make sure they have a place that removes them from all other people at the end (or beginning or middle) of the day for the sake of their mental health. In this time and space, introverts can engage in the positive self-care practices that work best for them.
How Extroverts Handle Mental Health
Extroverts tend to have a different approach to maintaining good mental health than introverts. “Extroverts have very different needs [from introverts],” says Dr. Rice. “They experience the recharge while amidst a social setting and the sky’s the limit in terms of activities.” Activities in a group, group fitness, creative arts classes, dinners, and dancing are all great ways for extroverts to engage with others and feel their best.
Lots of social interaction is necessary for extroverts to cultivate good mental health. Extroverts have a more multilinear cognitive process style, so they “really struggle with the mind chatter that goes on when they are removed from others,” says Dr. Rice. It helps extroverts to have the “checks and balance system” that being with other people offers.
Ways situations affect extroverts differently
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges for extroverts because of how much social isolation became a part of daily life. While introverts can get used to being at home for extended periods of time, extroverts feel deprived and have had an increase in mental health issues, according to Dr. Rice.
“Removing an extrovert from socialization and putting them within an isolated environment often leads to a darker outcome,” says Dr. Rice. “It is harder for them to find their identity, self-worth, self-esteem, the gap between their current behaviors and where they envision themselves becomes too great to manage.”
Any situation where the level of social interaction an extrovert needs is not feasible can harm their mental health. Extroverts must find alternative ways of getting the social stimulation they need in a time where this proves challenging.
How extroverts can foster positive mental health
It is more common for extroverts to resort to reckless behavior when coping with problems because peer pressure or impulsivity overrides their good judgment. Partying, substance use, and uninhibited sex can become unhealthy coping mechanisms for extroverts if they are around negative peers, says Dr. Rice.
Instead of resorting to more extravagant endeavors as maladaptive coping mechanisms, extroverts can foster good mental health by surrounding themselves with positive peers. Because social interaction is so crucial for extroverts, the people they befriend make a significant impact. Extroverts should prioritize positive relationships that cultivate healthy activities and social interaction, ultimately fostering positive mental health.
During COVID-19, extroverts can take care of their mental health by continuing to find ways to socialize, even if it’s not the same as in-person interaction. Talking virtually with friends or family, doing online workout classes, and playing group video games are all great options.
How Introversion vs Extroversion Impacts Therapy
Therapists take different approaches when treating introverts as compared to extroverts. Therapists understand introverts and extroverts have different needs, which informs how they treat each individual they see, according to Dr. Rice.
It’s important to find a therapist that understands you and your mental health, including how you recharge as an introvert or extrovert. It can take time to find the right therapist for you, but luckily Talkspace is here to help. Talkspace offers affordable, online therapy at your fingertips, matching you with therapists who understand and support you.