An Introvert's Guide to the Holidays

By Olivia Pennelle 12/21/17

As much as I love small meaningful gatherings, I cannot spend every day and night in the company of others. I need alone time to recharge, process, and reflect.

A woman in a white coat, in front of holiday lights.
Some tips for introverts on how to maintain your sanity and sobriety through the holiday season.

I’m an outgoing introvert, which makes the holidays a challenging time of year. As the party invites increase and family commitments demand more of my time, it makes me want to curl into a ball and stay home. If you’re anything like me, the holidays can feel overwhelming. And anything stressful can pose a risk to our recovery—but it doesn’t have to. You can get through the holidays as an introvert and still enjoy it.

The terms introvert and extrovert were first coined by psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung. He used these terms to define the direction in which a person’s energy flows. In the case of an extrovert, it flows outward toward an object and they feel energized by social interaction. An introvert’s energy flows inward towards the subject and they feel energized by reflection and contemplation in their inner world.

I didn’t realize I was an introvert until I found recovery. I just thought I was a bit socially awkward, got easily annoyed by people, and found social situations tiring. I thought the problem was me—that there was something wrong with me—because everyone else was having a great time and I just wanted to go home because I felt drained by shallow chit-chat. I always spent family gatherings craving alone time and would sneak off after dinner to spend time in my room. My family members have often commented that I’m isolating. What they didn’t realize is that it is essential for me to have down time and that tension within the family dynamic really affected me.

However, just because I’m an introvert does not mean that I don’t like people, or that I’m shy and a recluse. I am just as outgoing and confident as an extrovert. The difference is that as much as I need meaningful connection, I also need my alone time.

As an outgoing introvert, this means: I avoid loud and angry and obnoxious people, choosing instead to spend time in small intimate gatherings with close friends. I am highly sensitive to my environment and can easily feel overwhelmed in noisy and bright atmospheres, but I love candlelit dinners in cozy restaurants. I’m naturally inclined to express myself writing as opposed to speaking, although I do both. I feel most energized by contemplating my subject matter and having meaningful discussions.

As far as the holidays go, as much as I love small meaningful gatherings, I cannot spend every day and night in the company of others. I need alone time to recharge, process, and reflect. Knowing myself goes a long way toward helping formulate a coping strategy for the holidays.

I recall that in early recovery I had no idea who I was as a newly sober person—never mind whether I was an introvert or extrovert. I was so keen to make amends for my behavior, that I’d kill myself trying to show up for every event and commitment—like it somehow proved my worthiness. But I did that at the expense of myself; I felt drained all the time and was constantly getting sick. I didn’t give myself any time to recharge and I felt guilty for taking any time for myself because I should be at a meeting or doing some kind of service. I felt resentful all the time because I struggled to identify what I needed and lacked the understanding that it was okay to take time for me.

Being exhausted, sick, and resentful all the time posed a risk to my recovery because I was running on empty. I had no energy reserves and felt depressed. Taking our body and mind to extremes is never a great idea in recovery. There’s a reason they use the phrase HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) to indicate warning signs to be aware of. Recovery is tiring enough without running ourselves down through overcommitting to others.

Throughout my recovery, I have learned who I am by my experiences. Wearing myself down actually helped me to understand who I am—as an introvert—and what my needs are. I was able to accept that I needed alone time and that it was absolutely okay to take it.

From a place of acceptance and understanding, I have created a coping strategy for the holidays. These are my top tips:

  1. Knowing this will be a tiring time of year, I block out more time for restorative activities: yoga, meditation, walking outdoors, reading a book, taking a bath.

  2. I limit interaction to 2-3 hours per event. But I tell myself that I can leave at any time. I try not to book back-to-back events.

  3. I always have an exit strategy: parking a car close to the event, or having my phone to get an Uber/Lyft.

  4. I take my ear plugs and eye mask everywhere. I often get sensory overload, so these help to filter out loud noise and bright lights and ensure a solid night's sleep.

  5. I explain to family and friends that it is important for me to have downtime. I make time to help out—but not at the expense of time to myself.

  6. I don’t feel compelled to go to anything. First I ask myself if it feels right. And even if I do commit, I know that it is okay to cancel if I don’t feel up to it.

  7. I know that I don’t have to take part in anything I don’t want to. I find the whole gift giving thing a hopeless waste of money, time, and energy. I would much rather give to a worthy cause and spend quality time with loved ones. During some holidays I’ve actually told my family that I’m not taking part in gift giving that year and to not buy me any presents. That is hugely liberating, frees up an awful lot of time, and saves hours in line at busy stores—something hugely draining for an introvert.

  8. I am confident in who I am. I don’t need to change or explain myself to please others.

Remember that this time of year can be challenging, which makes it all the more important to have clear boundaries and seek to meet your needs. Wearing yourself out to please your family and loved ones risks your health, peace of mind, and recovery.

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Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including, Workit Health, Ravishly, Recovery Campus, and The Recovery Village. Liv was recently featured in VICE. Find Liv on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Liv also co-hosts a podcast — Breaking Free: Your Recovery. Your Way. Listen here.