How to survive as an introvert at university

Despite the fact that introverts roughly make up just under half of the population, it is a widely misunderstood personality type

Jessica Brown
Sunday 04 September 2016 14:30
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Can you spot the introvert?
Can you spot the introvert?

Starting university is as much about meeting new people and making friends than anything else, let’s be honest. This is particularly the case during freshers' week, when every first impression counts and friendship groups first begin to blossom.

The socialising never ends, especially during freshers' week. It’s in your lectures, your halls of residence and every team-building, ice-breaking, pub crawl in between.

But the idea of 24-hour socialising can be the stuff of nightmares for introverts, who are easily socially over-stimulated, and can be drained of their energy pretty quickly, especially when around larger groups of people and those they don’t know very well. Small talk, in particular, can be a real effort for introverts, who prefer one-to-one, in-depth conversations.

Despite the fact that introverts roughly make up just under half of the population, it is a widely misunderstood personality type. Introverts’ behaviour can be misinterpreted as rude or anti-social, when actually, we really value social connections. Obviously, this isn’t how you want to come across to others, particularly when you’re starting at university.

In a recent blog post, writer Shawna Courter spoke about the after-effects of an introvert ignoring their need for solitude, which she calls “introvert hangovers”. She said it can cause her to have blurred vision, tinnitus, and symptoms often associated with a panic attack. This makes freshers' flu sound like an absolute breeze.

While the after-effects might not be quite so severe for all of us (experts say we all lie on a spectrum of introversion and extroversion), round-the-clock socialising is more likely to burn you out quicker if you’re an introvert, which won’t be conducive to passing those exams.

Social pressures, like the ones caused by the need to be constantly “on” during freshers' week, often compel introverts to act more extroverted for the fear of coming across as anti-social or unfriendly if they decline invitations to any kind of social gathering to spend time alone.

I spent three years at university trying to navigate the delicate balance between wanting to make friends and appear friendly and approachable, and giving in to the desire to retreat to my room and mentally recharge. Five years after graduating, I’m still learning how to perfect this – but I do have some pearls of wisdom gleaned from experience to share.

When I was a student, I bought a mini-fridge for my room, which also had an en-suite. If I needed something from the kitchen in the flat I shared with six others, I’d press my ear against my bedroom door in an effort to gauge when no-one was around and it was clear to leave.

This is because I knew if I left my room, I ran the risk of small talk turning into a three-hour group conversation that I just didn’t feel able to handle on a regular basis. It never occurred to me that being unapologetic and confident with who I am is the quickest way for others to understand that needing time away from them now and again isn’t personal.

The key to staying true to yourself without alienating everyone else is to recognise that, as an introvert, you probably value quality over quantity when it comes to your friendships. Quality friendships are most likely to form when you’re being true to yourself, and you’re operating on full charge.

As time goes on and you establish closer relationships with people, fostered through one-on-one time, the less energy they will drain from you, and the more open you can be about needing alone time. The big group of friends you start with in September will naturally whittle down to a smaller group of closer friends, with whom you have more in common and naturally gravitate towards.

One benefit of going to university is that it offers the opportunity to mix with people from a vast array of different backgrounds and circumstances. This environment offers the perfect opportunity to be open and honest with people – perhaps you’ll find a fellow introvert if you open up about your personality sooner rather than later.

If all else fails, you can always fall back on the excuse that you have work to do when you feel the need for alone time. But be warned – this excuse won’t fly during freshers' week.

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