When we feel frustrated in our love relationship, we can easily find fault with our partner. And some of the time we would be justified in doing so. But even in the cases of obvious grievances such as an affair, it is typically not so one-sided. When romance falls apart, we seek stimulation elsewhere. We can feel bored with the relationship if it starts to feel like the status quo, when there is no longer any excitement there for us.
In those situations, as always, we are faced with several choices: 1) We can bury our heads in the sand, accept that this is as good as it gets, and keep trudging along; 2) We can look for a quick fix, perhaps excitement outside of the relationship, which will enliven us; 3) We can dig deep into the problem and seek out solutions together with our partner.
The first choice is often the easiest. It requires no change. The problem is that if we’re unhappy with what we’ve got, our prospects for improvement are extremely low.
The second choice, as noted, provides a quick solution. It’s a substitute solution. Rather than focusing on the root, we look for a distraction, a new shiny object to invest our time and interest in. What we find often is that it does not quite have the effect we want because now we are in a bind. We are living a double life.
The third option, one that requires quite a bit of courage and determination, is where we can actually change things around for the long-term. Does this option guarantee we will get the results we want? Not entirely. We only have control over ourselves. We cannot be sure how our counterpart will behave.
The same principles apply at work. If we are feeling burned out, it is sometimes solely the environment that’s to blame. It is sometimes solely our fault. But most often than not, there is a combination of factors at play.
That’s why it’s so important to understand what we are contributing to the mix. One of the main factors that we personally bring to the table that can add to our burnout is our personality.
Interestingly, energy is spoken about both in the world of burnout and in the world of personality.
Energy is one of the factors that is most affected by burnout. When we are burning out, we notice a distinct negative effect on our energy levels. We become exhausted.
Similarly, in the context of personality, especially the Myers-Briggs - a popular personality inventory that examines the combination of four factors, we look at how you obtain your energy. Are you someone who goes inwardly to get energized or do you seek energy from the outer world? This is the main difference between extroverts and introverts.
From Stress to Burnout
Burnout is a condition in which we experience symptoms of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. It results from a period of prolonged stress.
A word about stress: Stress is about perception. What might be stressful to one person may not affect someone else at all or can lead to completely different results in a third individual. That being said, the effects of stress are physically, emotionally, and mentally felt and need to be looked at seriously.
So how do introverts and extroverts perceive and react to stress differently? To answer this question, we must first understand the difference between these two personality traits.
An introvert is someone who turns inward to recharge. After a long day at the office where Samantha spends time in meetings, lunches with coworkers, and interacting with customers by phone, she is ready to plop down on the couch with a glass of wine, listen to some relaxing music and decompress from the day. Being around others is energy depleting. She seeks ways to recharge that reverse this equation.
Part of the reason Samantha becomes drained at work may be because she needs time alone to think. When she’s in meetings and needs to make decisions, she has to learn to exist in an extroverted world. If she is in a leadership position, it is because she is introspective but being in that position can be exhausting because she’s the kind of person who would prefer to be in the background rather than be at the forefront. And because she is subject to overstimulation, she is prone to procrastination in an attempt to avoid additional stress.
According to a 2000 study by William S. Marras and colleagues, introverts have a much stronger “biomechanical response to psychosocial stress than extroverts.” What this means is that being around others not only impacts their energy levels, it takes a toll on their body. Marras points to the lower back as a common area that is painfully affected, especially in introverts.
An extrovert is someone who requires contact with others to feel an energetic charge. Just when Samantha wants to turn down the noise, Eric will prefer to reach out to a friend to talk things over. In fact, when Eric sits alone on the train to work or is in his office working on his computer, what he needs most is human interaction.
Extroverts like Eric are outgoing and talkative. They enjoy the fast-paced environments of their jobs which can lead introverts to more easily burnout. During meetings, they do well in brainstorming sessions because they think out loud. It’s just how their brain processes information. And if they find themselves in a leadership position, they relish being center stage.
Customized Recovery Strategies
Back to the question about stress response. Compared to extroverts, research has shown that introverts experience more stress. We already mentioned that they suffer more back pain. In addition, they tend to burn out more because they have fewer coping strategies.
When examining both types of coping strategies and the number of strategies used, what we often see is distinct and significant. Introverts tend to prefer being alone, so as mentioned, they find a solitary activity to de-stress. Extroverts, on the other hand, prefer to involve others in their coping. There is a lot of research that demonstrates the importance of social support as a coping strategy and how effective it can be in a variety of circumstances.
Given the distinct differences between introverts and extroverts, it is important to implement recovery strategies that fit one’s personality.
Typically, introverts benefit from being alone or with one other person. Coping strategies that can help introverts recover their energy include taking a long walk, journaling, or exercise. These are all forms of grounding that anchor frenetic energy and release stress from the mind and body.
In short, introverts need to find ways to reduce stimulation. This can include being proactive both at work and outside of work in how they conduct themselves. At work, they may opt for periods during the day where they limit verbal contact and rather use email and text as their main means of communication. When possible, it can mean working from home to get away from the crowds. During a commute home on public transit, they might consider using noise cancelling headphones. If they live with other people, they may want to retreat to their bedroom and close the door. These ways of isolating are healthy means of recharging for introverts and must be looked at as something a person like Samantha needs to do to prevent burnout. That being said, if we are meant to seek balance in life, introverts may also benefit from social support, albeit in small doses.
Extroverts may not be as affected by stress as introverts in the first place simply because of their personality. This is mainly due to their perception of stress and their ability to function in a stimulating environment without getting overstimulated. In addition, their coping incorporates more social contact which research has shown can positively influence emotional well-being. They can benefit from incorporating self-care, grounding, and relaxation for a more balanced approach.
Our personality can contribute to how we cope with stress. The better we cope, the less prone to burnout we are. That’s why it’s important to have self-awareness: know who you are and what your needs are so you can behave accordingly to maximize your potential without depleting your resources. As the saying goes, “work smarter, not harder.”