Introversion and Burnout: Why They Tend to Go Together


It took years for me to admit what I am and accept myself.  Entire decades went by where I neglected my own needs, and then made myself sick.  Even now, I can’t say I’m proud of what I am.   But over the last several years, I’ve learned that I have to be committed to taking care of myself.   So, I now feel ready to make a confession that none of my friends or family would find particularly surprising:  yes, I am an introvert.

Not only am I an introvert, but I am VERY introverted.  On the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, I scored a complete 10 in introversion, answering every single question about my social tendencies as an introvert, rather than an extrovert.  For those still unfamiliar with the term, an introvert is someone who is drained by social contact and needs regular time alone in order to recharge.  Extroverts, by contrast, become drained when they spend too much time alone, and their energy is recharged only when they socialize, particularly in large groups.

Susan Cain brought introversion into popular culture five years ago with her book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking.  Since then, introversion has become hip.  People who would never have admitted to being an introvert in the past, are now finding a certain social cachet in doing so.  Thanks to Susan Cain, introverts are no longer known only for their odd quirks and peculiarities, but are being praised for the many advantages they bring to the workplace.  Office managers and teachers are now being urged to pay special attention to the introverts under their supervision, so as to help them cultivate their natural gifts so they can be taken advantage of, rather than neglected.

Due to this unexpected push into the limelight, introversion is now also a hot topic for social research, and recently, a link was made between introverted personalities and burnout.   If you’re wondering what “burnout” means, you clearly haven’t experienced it yourself.  Typical signs of burnout are; chronic exhaustion, a negative attitude towards work, and lack of personal accomplishment.  Workers at risk of burnout typically have highly demanding jobs, with little autonomy, feedback, or social support, leading them to become chronically fatigued, depressed, and highly dissatisfied with their lives.

Unsurprisingly, introverts are much more likely to experience burnout than extroverts, and this tendency has only increased in recent years as jobs have become more fast-paced, collaborative, and social.   Unlike extroverts, who thrive in this kind of environment, introverts are deep thinkers who need time alone to process their thoughts and emotions.  We become exhausted when we spend too much time in stimulating social environments, and function better in one-on-one situations, where we have more time and space to express our thoughts and feelings.

According to recent data, collaborative activities, such as group presentations, team work, and daily meetings have ballooned in the last decade, and now comprise more than 50% of the work done in most workplaces, and in most schools.  Teaching, in particular, has been highlighted as an occupation in danger of losing its introverted members as a result of burnout.  Whereas it may have been a more introvert-friendly occupation in the past, with plenty of alone-time spent marking papers and creating lesson plans, more and more of the job is now spent in community meetings, parent information sessions, and leading students through highly stimulating group projects that leaves very little time for quiet and reflection.

In the fast-paced, globalized world in which we now live, it seems inevitable that introverts will continue to be at a disadvantage.  However, it is encouraging that psychological experts have sounded a warning.  Like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, introverts may be the first members of society to succumb to stress-related illnesses and burnout, but we won’t be the last.  Even extroverts benefit from a certain amount of quiet time.

For other introverts like me, I would encourage you to embrace the quiet parts of your personality and nourish them without guilt.  I know it’s a hard project, as all the extroverts in your life will assume you’re being anti-social or lazy.  However, it’s not an exaggeration to say that your health depends on it.   If you find that you’re frequently overwhelmed at work, or are struggling to complete projects because of excessive social stimulation, you need to carve out some quiet time for yourself somewhere.  It could be a solitary lunch spent listening to music, or a regular trip to the library, where quiet, alone-time is assured.  However you find it, don’t let the needs of your quiet self go neglected.  Now more than ever, the world needs people who listen more than they speak.  If we want to make ourselves heard, we’ll need to preserve and protect our energy as best we can.

About the author: Rebecca Wong has an honours degree in English Literature from the University of Waterloo, and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

One thought on “Introversion and Burnout: Why They Tend to Go Together”

  1. Hi. I wrote about this topic back in 2014 in the 1st edition of my book The Dynamic Introvert: Leading Quietly with Passion and Purpose.
    Thanks for pointing out that the problem has only gotten worse for those introverts who must work in fast-paced, high energy environments.
    Employers can’t afford to lose any of their employees to burnout.

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