Being constantly busy with zero alone time seems perfect for the extrovert—and if you consider yourself one, you probably have a tendency to overpack your schedule, maintain a full social calendar, and attend social gatherings on days that don't start with an F or S. But extroverts need alone time too, for a whole host of reasons. But before we get into all that...
What exactly are extroverts and introverts? And what the heck is an ambivert?
According to famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who coined the term in in his book, Psychological Types, extroverts get their energy from being around people—from being social—while alone time can result in feelings of loneliness. "Some of my extroverted patients have to constantly be doing things," says clinical psychologist Anthony Mullen, Ph.D. "When everything stops, they start to shut down and feel alone."
Conversely, introverts reset and re-energize away from other people; they typically need to recharge alone. The introvert is probably the first person to leave a party; they usually feel more comfortable away from high-energy, loud crowds and avoid big, people-packed events like the plague.
Of course, most people aren't one or the other—they fall somewhere on the spectrum. "A healthy, well-integrated person has aspects of both extroversion and introversion," Mullen says. The majority of us are actually ambiverts, which means we have characteristics of both. If you're curious as to where you fall on the spectrum, your Myers-Briggs can map your personality type.
Being extroverted seems like it's an easier way to live life, right? To start with, when being around people recharges you, you're more likely to have an easier time making friends. One study even found a strong link between extraversion and happiness. But this strength can also be a weakness: Extraverts tend to stay as busy as possible. As Mullen says, "There is an implicit idea that it's bad to be alone."
So what happens when extroverts don't get alone time?
From personal experience, you can end up with messy, unwashed hair; no time for the laundromat; and chipped nail polish. But more importantly, overexerting yourself can leave you exhausted and stressed.
Everyone needs downtime: We all need to sleep and engage in the self-care activities that keep us healthy. If we're constantly with people and leave no time for ourselves, we can become burnt out, emotionally and physically, and even display extremes in behavior. Personally, I was once so overwhelmed and exhausted that I definitely burst into tears when they were out of my favorite dark chocolate marzipan bar at my local bodega. That's kind of extreme.
"You could be overstimulated to the point where you could feel psychotic or manic," Mullen says. "Before that, you might feel exhausted, depressed, and perhaps anxious."
"Time alone—free from technology and goal-oriented activity—is beneficial to extroverts, introverts, and everyone in-between," says New York City-based psychologist Sevan Basil, Ph.D. "The main difference is that solitude doesn't feel vital to the daily emotional survival of an extrovert the way it does to an introvert."
So what are the benefits of alone time for extroverts?
1. Finding time to truly discover ourselves.
It's good for extroverts to learn who they are—away from the crowd. What are our goals? If we typically go along with things just because that's what the rest of the group is doing, alone time can help us understand our wants and needs, likes and dislikes, and properly cultivate our understanding of ourselves.
"Time alone is important because it provides an opportunity to become better acquainted with ourselves," Basil says. "In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be difficult to stay in touch with our inner worlds—our thoughts and feelings—because of the strong pull exerted by the external world: work, family responsibilities, and social commitments. The thing is, the more alienated we are from our inner worlds, the less freedom we have to be intentional and authentic in our choices, large and small."
2. Gaining a newfound appreciation for the quality people in our life.
With time to reflect, we can gain a new perspective about who the really awesome people in our life are—the folks that push us positively and make life a little brighter. "I'd encourage all people to take time to reflect on how different relationships impact them, emotionally and psychologically," Basil says.
"Not all relationships are nourishing. Perhaps introverts are more naturally inclined toward this, though, knowing intuitively that their reserves for socializing are limited. This is something anyone can learn to do, by getting into the habit of paying attention to how they feel during and after their time with friends."
3. Taking time to make positive changes (or tap into our creative sides).
"By slowing down and making space for solitude, we are in a sense making a commitment to not flee from ourselves," Basil says. "Amazing and terrifying things can happen when we are alone with ourselves in this way: We might pick up a book that shifts our worldview, notice the tree outside our bedroom window for the first time and feel inspired to sketch it, or invent a delicious new recipe with the five ingredients left in the fridge."
4. Processing emotions we wouldn't normally explore.
When we're alone, the experience isn't always fun—but it's still important, Basil says.
"We might experience unpleasant feelings that have previously been warded off by our business, sadness connected to a loss, feelings of inadequacy we don't allow ourselves to speak about, or ambivalence about a romantic commitment," she says. "We might be forced to confront unhealed emotional wounds, both recent and longstanding."
While these are difficult aspects of life to consider—even scary, in the moment—it's a worthwhile endeavor. "A problem can only be solved if its presence is first acknowledged," Basil says.
5. Practicing self-care.
Sure, it's a buzzword, but self-care is also really, really important—especially for folks who spend a lot of time taking care of other people and don't focus enough on themselves. "When you're alone, you're not bothered by others' needs—or you don't have to be. So you can take that nap, be energized by doing your yoga at home, or do absolutely nothing," Mullen says.
6. Beating the social media blues.
If you're the kind of extrovert who procrastinates (or just stays awake way too long) by hanging out on social media excessively, then this one's for you. One study found that using written social media platforms is "negatively associated with positive mental health variables and significantly positively with depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms." And social media use can delay your reduction of cortisol levels—which leads to you feeling stressed out, according to another study. So when you're home alone, if you can just hit the power button on that phone of yours and chill out genuinely alone, you'll feel way better.
7. Finding ways to feel less stress overall.
Putting our own needs ahead of others' and not worrying about pleasing other people all the time lowers stress levels immensely. Stress less about demands, others' expectations, and pleasing people. "Some people feel that their social calendars just 'fill up' out of their control and end up feeling sapped by this over-scheduling, but can't seem to change," Basil says.
"Although they might start out thinking of themselves as an extrovert, it's possible that through intentional time alone, they'll discover that solitude feels more energizing and enriching than reflexive socializing for them—and that maybe they were more introverted than extroverted all along!"
Alone time isn't so scary. Maybe it's time to ditch that Saturday night party and put the kettle on.
Kari Langslet is an avid dater, impulsive adventurer, unofficial therapist to friends and family, and animal lover. You'll usually find her at a dive bar playing Jenga with her dog or headbanging into oblivion at a Brooklyn show. Stalk her on Instagram and Twitter @karilangslet.