The In-Between

From the care of teens to emerging adulthood

Moving Out Leads to Anxiety for Introverts

Quiet time was once built in, but starting over is relatively "noisy."

Myra started her first “real” job six months ago and the adjustment has been tougher than she expected. She lived at home while she earned her bachelor’s degree; adjusting to college had been enough stress without moving too. Now 90 minutes away from her parents, Myra is living on her own for the first time and tackling the start of her career. The move, the job, and the new city create a constant barrage of stimulation and leave Myra’s nervous system overloaded. Myra is an introvert.

The family never thought much about her temperament while Myra was growing up, but they are thinking about it constantly now. All the change has brought on a problem with anxiety, and Myra is coping by calling her parents for marathon support sessions lasting late into the night. The stability of her parents input is her only refuge.

An introvert replenishes energy by spending time alone or in emotionally quiet settings. When given the option, her preference will usually be a lower stimulation environment. The new job requires getting to know dozens of strangers and being surrounded by them for nine hour stretches five days each week. As an introvert, Myra would prefer to form new relationships in small groups or one on one. She would like to work in a quiet space alone, uninterrupted. Meeting the need for quiet time was once built in to Myra’s routine, but starting a new job, and a new life, is a relatively “noisy” course of events.

Myra is experiencing the overload as a bout of clinical anxiety. Being introverted is not the same thing as having anxiety, but anxiety can result when introverts lose their vital opportunities for emotional quiet. Leaving home to start a new life can be a bumpy adjustment for emerging adults like Myra. She fears the anxiety will become her new normal state. Her parents have reassured her that an introverted person can temporarily appear to have a serious mental health problem when “fight or flight” reactions interfere with the ability to settle in to a new environment, but she will not be stuck this way. Her parents understand the anxiety is a temporary response to feeling overwhelmed. It will resolve as Myra becomes more comfortable in her new life.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cant Stop Talking, advises parents of introverts to accept that introversion is a normal trait and ease them into new experiences. Parents should not assume introversion defines their child but should understand how it affects their experiences during times of high stimulation. Passionate introverts manage to overcome their fears, so parents should be alert to the passions of introverted kids. 

As kids gear up to separate from the family during young adulthood, a foundation of love and acceptance in the family makes a stable launch pad. But it’s important for families to expect that leaving the nest may be uncomfortable for an introverted young adult, especially when the childhood home life has been ideal. Moving out means losing the solid, secure foundation of daily life in the family home.

If you’re an introverted teen or emerging adult, or if you’re the parent of one, use these tips to make the move-out go smoothly:

• Prepare ahead for the move-out. Big transitions can be stressful. Even on moving days, it is important to rest and re-group.

• Discuss the adjustment well in advance. Realistic expectations prevent panic.

• Build in opportunities after the move for quiet time alone. Quiet moments replenish energy stores and prevent burnout.

• Consider frequent visits by family for the first few months. Safe, caring relationships with loved ones provide a haven during times of big change.

• Think about the need for alone time when deciding where to live, or with whom. A boisterous roommate in a cramped space may send introverts over the anxiety cliff.

• Remember why this big change was important. Feeling uncomfortable is worthwhile in pursuit of one’s dreams.

• Don’t forget: self-care is not selfish. We all need to listen to our bodies for signs of excessive stress and limit activities that drain our energies.

Melissa Deuter, M.D., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.

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