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Month: December 2016

How Introverts Can Stay Sane in an Extroverted World

How Introverts Can Stay Sane in an Extroverted World

We live in a culture that privileges extroverted traits. (Think: assertiveness, talkativeness and sociability, to name a few.) And this can make it pretty darn challenging to be an introvert in the United States.

“There’s an extrovert expectation that’s imposed on children from the time they can walk and talk,” says Beth Buelow, author of The Introvert Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success on Your Own Terms. “Among the first things we look for are social skills… When certain benchmarks aren’t met, parents and teachers start to worry that something is wrong… But there’s also the possibility that the child is more introverted and simply needs space to develop his or her social skills in a different way.”

This tendency to define extroverted traits as “normal” and introverted characteristics as “abnormal” doesn’t end in childhood. “These extrovert expectations extend to adolescence and adulthood, with a near constant pressure to be social, participate in endless extracurricular activities (often involving teams and lots of people), and popularity being valued over work ethic,” Buelow continues.

The pressure to demonstrate one’s worth through being assertively vocal extends throughout the workplace, political and social landscapes. “Culturally, we put extroverts front and center on television and online,” says Buelow.

But the privileging of extroversion over introverted traits comes at a cost, for both introverts and everyone else. Here’s how to reclaim your introversion and take care — even in our extroverted world.

There’s a neurological basis for these differences, says Laurie Helgoe, a clinical psychologist and author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength. “Introverts experience more cortisol arousal [in the presence of] external stimuli,” she says. Introverts’ brains are also aroused by more subtle stimuli, while extroverts are more attuned to obvious stimuli. What this means is that “introverts have a lower threshold for stimulation,” says Helgoe.

Additional differences between introverts and extroverts crop up in the way they communicate, says Buelow. “[Introverts] listen more than we speak, so we’re typically less vocal than extroverts,” she says. “[Introverts’] communication style — at work and home — is more introspective, and we do best if we have time and space to think things through, rather than being put on the spot.” Meanwhile, says Chung, “extroverts are known for carrying fast-paced conversations with fewer pauses.”

Of course, none of this is to say that introverts are always reclusive and extroverts never have thoughtful conversations. “We all exist on a spectrum and have both types of energies within us. Introverts need people, and extroverts need solitude,” says Buelow. “What’s worth noticing is your default and where you do your best work.”

“Introverts have many innate strengths, such as intuition, creativity, focus and observation,” says Chung. “They are deep thinkers who bring a wealth of imagination and insight to the table. An introvert’s ability to spend time alone, and actually enjoy it, is also a gift.”

Buelow adds, “Introverts may exhibit several of these positive traits, all of which can be extremely important in the workplace and a relationship:

  • Ability to focus and develop a depth of understanding
  • Comfort with independent thought and action
  • Capacity to listen and connect with people on an intimate level
  • Calm, steady presence during turbulent times
  • Willingness to put other people and their vision in the spotlight”

Helgoe points out that all of these traits are seriously needed in a capitalistic society that thrives on competition, speed, superficial soundbites, hyperbole and so on. “This is a world in need of more introversion,” she says. “And it’s here.” We just have to start affirming it.

Self-Care Practices for Introverts

One of the best ways to affirm the value of introversion and its related traits is to encourage introverts to practice self-care. If you’re an introvert who feels easily overwhelmed in extrovert-oriented situations, you’re not doomed to a life of anxiety. It just means you’ll need to adopt some strategies that can help you cope. Here are six great options.

Seek out alone time. “Start by weaving pockets of solitude into your day,” says Chung. “Add a few moments of silence to your morning. Sneak outside for a breather during social events. Have an electronics-free evening. Doing any of the above will fortify you against overstimulation.”

Similarly, Helgoe suggests cultivating daily practices that allow you to retreat, such as journaling, looking out the window, taking an evening walk, or simply focusing on your breathing. She also recommends that introverts go on solo retreats every once in a while to further replenish.

Assign yourself a role at social events. “Having a sense of purpose often makes introverts feel more comfortable in social situations,” says Buelow. “Volunteer to do something to help with the gathering, such as take pictures, prepare or serve food, monitor the music, greet newcomers at the door, take care of people’s coats… something that gives you an easy way to connect with people without the pressure of starting from zero. Don’t work the whole time, though! Think of using the role as an icebreaker to warm you up to the room and the people in it.”

Find outlets for expression. “One of the challenges for an introvert is to continue to be thoughtful and expressive,” says Helgoe. Since many social situations may not include space for introverted expression, it’s important for introverts to seek out avenues for expressing themselves on their terms and timetable, whether that’s art, creative writing, yoga, athletics, or something else entirely.

Diversify the way you work. “Workplaces that put an over-emphasis on everything being done in teams might not be leaving space for introverts to contribute,” says Buelow. “It’s best if there’s a communication culture that uses [a] combination of teams, small group, solitary work, and time for reflection and written processing.” If you’re the manager, implement changes that will allow introverts to bring their strengths to the table. If you’re an employee, talk to your manager about changing up the structure of work at your office.

Don’t assume the grass is greener. “Introverts sometimes assume life would be better or easier, or that we’d be more successful, if we were extroverts,” says Buelow. “In my experience, extroverts have their own stereotypes to overcome, such as being perceived as too talkative, hogging the spotlight, too loud or abrasive, not being good listeners, or always needing attention or validation. In fact, I’ve heard some extroverts say they wish they were introverts!”

So try not to obsess over how much greater your life would be if you were a born extrovert. You’ve got plenty going for you as an introvert. And even if some things come less naturally, know that you can learn how to navigate any situation in a way that suits your personality and energy levels, says Buelow. It may just take some practice.

When you honestly and unapologetically affirm your own introverted traits and needs, you pave the way for other introverts to do the same — and for extroverts to treat you with the respect you deserve.

“We teach others how to treat us, so there’s responsibility on both sides to speak up around needs and to listen and respect those needs,” says Buelow.

“Introversion is not an affliction, but rather an advantage,” Chung says. “The sooner you recognize this, the more quickly others will follow suit.” Don’t be surprised if, once you start honoring your introversion, you realize you’ve been surrounded by like-minded introverts all along.

6 Signs That You’re Exhausted (Not Just Tired)

6 Signs That You’re Exhausted (Not Just Tired)

If you stifle yawns in 2 p.m. meetings and find yourself passed out cold during the previews on movie nights, you probably already know you’re run down. But there’s a big difference between being pooped out and being exhausted — and the signs aren’t as obvious as just feeling tired. It’s important to know the difference, because exhaustion can be downright dangerous.

“Sleep is one of the most under-appreciated facets of health,” says Dr. Wayne Scott Andersen, MD, medical director of Take Shape for Life. “The consequences of sacrificing it can ripple throughout various areas of your life. Exhaustion has been linked to issues with appetite regulation, heart disease, increased inflammation, and a 50 percent increase in your risk of viral infection.” So if you’re tired and you’re experiencing any of the symptoms below, it might mean you’re exhausted — and it’s time to devote some serious time to sleep, ASAP

6 Clues That You’re Totally Exhausted

1. Your lips are dry.

If your lips are cracked, your skin is scaly, and you’re suffering from frequent headaches, dehydration may be to blame. Yes, this is a common woe in cold-weather climates. But, if you’re feeling rundown, you should know it goes hand-in-hand with exhaustion. “You feel more fatigued the more dehydrated you are,” says Michael J. Breus, PhD, a board-certified expert in clinical sleep disorders. “If you’re constantly craving something to drink or experience dry skin and lips, you might be dealing with a level of hydration that can lead to exhaustion.”

Water affects so many systems within your body that it’s impossible to maintain your energy levels if you’re not drinking sufficient amounts of H20, he explains. “People often forget to hydrate because it just isn’t on their minds. Everyone’s different, but I always tell people you should drink water to the point where your urine is clear,” says Breus.

2. Your mind is all fuzzy.

Your brain needs sleep like a car needs gas; neither runs very well on empty. “Among other things, your body uses sleep to stabilize chemical imbalances, to refresh areas of the brain that control mood and behavior, and to process the memories and knowledge that you gathered throughout the day,” says Dr. Andersen.

This is especially important during the 90-minute period known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. When it’s disturbed, your mind might be sluggish the next day. “You won’t retain knowledge very well, as your brain depends on sleep to re-process what you experienced during the day,” says Dr. Andersen. Exhaustion can leave you vulnerable to forgetting important things, like a big meeting at work, or feeling especially irritable, says Dr. Andersen.

3. Your workouts have sucked. 

Not crushing it at the gym like you usually do? Being exhausted causes every aspect of your life to suffer — including exercise, according to Dr. Andersen. “Exercising requires mental focus as well as physical activity,” Andersen says. “If your brain is falling behind because you are not well-rested, your ability to properly challenge your body will be limited — and that’s in addition to the many performance consequences that come with poor sleep.”

Another big sign: You can’t even bring yourself to make it to the gym. “Our bodies are programmed to find the easy way out, which was useful 10,000 years ago when survival was difficult. Today that means one night of lost sleep can lead to weeks of missed workouts and unhealthy meals,” says Dr. Andersen. (If it’s just a hit of motivation that you’re lacking, though, check out these nine mantras for instant gym-spiration.)

4. You’re super stressed (and trying to ignore it). 

It’s no surprise that stress can keep you up at night, but the way you deal with it is what might cause exhaustion-inducing insomnia, according to research in the journal Sleep. For the study, researchers asked nearly 2,900 men and women about the stress in their lives, including how long it affected them, how severe it was, and how they handled the pressure. A year later, the researchers found that people who coped with stress by distracting themselves, dwelling on the issues, or trying to completely ignore it had higher instances of chronic insomnia, which they characterized as three sleepless nights a week for a month or more. This can turn into a vicious cycle of stress and exhaustion fueling one other. The researchers suggest using mindfulness techniques to ease stress might be a better way to cope.

5. You’re eating more junk than usual. 

Find yourself hitting up the office vending machine on the regular? “The more exhausted you are, the more you crave high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods,” says Breus. Exhaustion often corresponds with high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. To decrease cortisol, your brain will often seek out a hit of the neurotransmitter serotonin. “[Serotonin] is a calming hormone. An easy way to access it is by ingesting comfort food full of carbs and fat,” says Breus.

Even worse, all that junk food can just wind up making you more exhausted. “With highly processed, highly glycemic foods like soft drinks, candy bars, or bagels, blood sugar and insulin levels will rise dramatically,” says Dr. Anderson. “The elevated insulin levels actually cause blood sugar to plummet, so your brain triggers [more] cravings for something full of sugar, fat, and calories.” Then, it starts all over again. Instead of reaching for comforting junk, Dr. Andersen recommends fueling your body with healthy low-glycemic foods like fruits and whole grains that can help stabilize your blood sugar and keep your insulin levels from swinging wildly in either direction.

6. You sleep poorly even once a week. 

You probably know that chronic insomnia can trigger exhaustion. But did you know that even a single night of interrupted sleep could screw you up the next day? In a study in the journal Sleep Medicine, 61 study participants slept for eight hours for one night. The next night, their rest was interrupted by four phone calls that instructed them to finish a short computer challenge before they could continue sleeping. Researchers found that after a night of fragmented sleep, people experienced worse moods along with weaker attention spans, suggesting that interrupted sleep might be as detrimental as the exhaustion that comes with full-on sleep restriction.

Or, maybe instead of dealing with interrupted sleep, you just go to bed way later than you should. “Bedtime procrastination” is the latest buzzy term in sleep medicine. In a study in Frontiers in Medicine, researchers discovered that on nights when the 177 participants reported procrastinating their zzz’s, they slept less and with worse quality. Plus, they experienced more intense fatigue the next day. “Set your bedtime and stick to it, counting back seven hours from when you need to wake up to determine the ideal start to your sleep latency period, or falling asleep time,” advises Dr. Andersen. “Decrease stimulation 30 minutes before you plan to sleep by shutting off cell phones, televisions and other devices.” You might even want to try these snazzy orange glasses, too.

7 Daily Habits That Are Sabotaging Your Mental Health

7 Daily Habits That Are Sabotaging Your Mental Health

“[Phones] take these more stressful environments and put them into our homes and our bedrooms,” says John Torous, MD, co-director of the digital psychiatry program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School. “I think being cognizant of the stressors tied to your phone and how you’re letting them into your life is very important.”

Turns out, checking your phone first thing in the morning isn’t the only habit that could be doing a number on your psyche. We spoke with a few experts, who gave us insight into other seemingly harmless practices that could be disrupting your peace of mind.

7 Sneaky Things Making You Stressed Out

1. Grabbing a donut on the way to work in the morning.
Most people don’t give much thought about what to eat for breakfast, says Shanna Levine, MD, instructor of internal medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. But you should. “If your main fuels are simple carbohydrates…that’s not an efficient energy source,” she says. “You’ll find that you become hungry very quickly and feel tired much more quickly. If you don’t have enough energy to get through the day, it makes it difficult to keep a healthy mindset.” On the other hand, if you eat a nutritious breakfast, you’ll avoid the physical and mental crash that can come with a greasy sandwich or sugary waffle.

The fix: Choose something high in protein and healthy fats, recommends Levine. A smoothie with fruits, veggies and nut butter or an egg sandwich with avocado will do the trick. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water.

2. Keeping your to-do list in your head.
Trying to remember everything you have to do for the day can leave you stressed out, whether you realize it or not. “That’s certainly taking up brain space, which takes up more energy,” says Torous. “You can really offload it onto paper and it can be a kind of extension of your brain.” Writing things down seems to give most people temporary relief.

The fix: If you don’t want to buy yourself a notebook that serves as your to-do list (which definitely works), an app like Evernote can give you an electronic place to keep track of all your tasks.

3. Snapchatting and texting 24/7.
Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook make it seem easier to keep in touch with friends. But a phone or computer is no substitute for human interaction. “You can feel very engaged in online or computer-based social networks, but having real human contact with people is even more important,” says Torous. “Sometimes you’ll get tricked into thinking, ‘I have this network of Facebook friends and Twitter friends,’ but it’s crucial to cultivate relationships offline, as well.”

The fix: Schedule a few phone-free activities you can look forward to each week. That way, you’ll have regular opportunities to disconnect and engage with friends or family. Even better, the incentives will help break up the tedium that can often come with the workweek, says Levine.

4. Going straight from your car to the couch.
There’s a reason that people talk about a “runner’s high.” Exercise releases endorphins that can energize you and improve your mood, says Levine. “Evidence shows that exercise can be one of the most effective treatments for anything in healthcare, be it mental or physical,” adds Torous. (A 2016 study suggests it could help treat depression, specifically.)

The fix: You shouldn’t jump right into an intense exercise routine if you’re in firm couch potato mode right now. Levine recommends starting with a goal of 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity about five times per week. The key, says Torous, is to find an exercise schedule and form of physical activity that feels sustainable to you. “If it fits in your lifestyle, that’s better than saying you must go for 20 minutes a day at an intense heart rate,” he says.

5. Going to bed at a different time each night.
An irregular sleep schedule goes beyond depleted energy levels and the inability to concentrate. It also increases your production of cortisol, which is tied to stress. What’s more, Torous points out that many mental illnesses are associated with unhealthy sleep patterns. (Conversely, treating sleep issues can sometimes alleviate symptoms of the mental illnesses.) “Sleep is really when the brain is growing,” he says. “It’s also when you consolidate memories and the brain reviews or plans for the next day. It’s also in part when the brain is relaxing.”

The fix: “I recommend getting at least eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep,” says Levine. “That means avoiding stimuli at night — whether that’s from phones or the TV — within an hour of intended bedtime. Avoiding caffeine and not exercising too late are also helpful.” Just make sure you have time to wind down before bed.

6. Ignoring what’s stressing you out.
It’s an easy trap to fall into: being so busy that you never take a moment to meditate on any anxious or negative feelings you might have. “I think we all have a difficult time with the act of mindfulness,” says Levine. “We all have things in our life we can’t control that make us tense. But taking a few minutes every day to reflect on what’s bothering us, calmly acknowledging it and letting it go — a sort of a mini-meditation — makes the day feel and seem a lot less stressful.”

The fix: When you’re feeling stressed out, take a few moments to acknowledge and accept those feelings rather than just continuing along, business as usual. Just pushing negativity aside can lead to even more stress.

7. Quitting habits that got you to a good place.
“A lot of times, when people are feeling well and good, they stop doing the things that keep them both physically and mentally healthy,” says Torous. “They’re so happy that they kind of forget those little things they did over time. That’s one of the main reasons for relapse.”

The fix: If a certain medication, morning ritual or exercise routine helped you feel your best, then it’s important not to neglect that habit, says Torous. Even if you think you don’t “need” it anymore, don’t ditch a habit that makes you feel happier and healthier.