Are Introverts Low-Energy Folks?
Low-key introverts may actually have plenty of energy - for the pursuits we cherish.
After reading my Introvert FAQ page, someone contacted me with a question: “My friend says all the introverts he knows are low-energy people. Is there some truth in that, or is it a stereotype?” Please keep the questions coming! Either send them to my email or click “reply” in your inbox to this post.
If we’re talking about high-energy/low-energy as a mode of being, a style of self-management and self-presentation, then introverts do tend to have a calmer, less dramatic baseline personality than extroverts. We introverts are less likely to express ourselves by jumping up on a bar and breaking into song or by joking around with strangers right and left while traveling. Researchers relate this to differences in brain chemistry.
In extroverts, the sympathetic nervous system dominates, with the neurotransmitter dopamine delivering feelings of excitement, alertness to the environment and pleasure seeking. Introverts, by contrast, favor the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes muscles, lowers blood pressure and slows the heart rate. Introverts tend to have higher levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which powers the ability to focus inwardly and think deeply.
With that said, let’s make some important distinctions around the fuzzy word “energy.” Some people associate low energy with those who are passive lumps on a couch, loathe to rouse themselves to do things. Introverts aren’t necessarily unenergetic in that sense. We can have as much stamina and spunk as extroverts, tirelessly pursuing the running, gardening, computer programming or music-making that we love until the cows come home.
Thus it’s not a matter of which personality type has more energy but of what people have energy for. Chess grandmasters who sit still for hours thinking hard about strategy and moves actually burn as many calories as top-ranked athletes running a marathon.
Low energy can also signify a temporary state of depletion or exhaustion, where we can’t summon the oomph to do more than what’s strictly needed to stay alive. That type of low energy can afflict both introverts and extroverts who work long hours with little time for rest or relaxation. But such depletion also has a psychological component. When introverts overexert ourselves socially, without the opportunity to retreat and replenish ourselves on our own, we may run out of energy, becoming grouchy and itching to withdraw.
Many commentators on introversion refer to the aftereffect of being with people much longer than is comfortable for them as an “introvert hangover.” They describe it as feeling drained, foggy and overwhelmed. In that state, it’s hard to think clearly, make decisions, experience any positive emotions or be pleasant to others.
Introverts may need to plan ahead and set boundaries to limit or avoid energy-depleting situations. Besides generally long hours of socializing, you might have energy drains that are unique to you, like pointless meetings at work or a certain relative who rubs you the wrong way. It’s really helpful to know what measures to take that normally restore your emotional and physical equilibrium, such as ducking into a distant bathroom, taking a solitary walk or sitting quietly with a cat purring on your lap.
As an introvert, protecting your energy in intensively social environments involves additional steps. You need to be sensitive to the mental and physical signs that you’re overloaded. You need to be able to say “no” when your energy indicator approaches the “Empty” mark. If others pooh-pooh your feelings, you need the language and the nerve to explain. And it’s best if you design routines into your day that replenish you and preserve your energy for the special people in your life and the activities that help you feel vibrantly yourself.