When I pick Izzie up from school each day, we have a tradition.
“Tell me something you know right now that you didn’t know this morning,” I say.
She then shares what is on her heart, something that interested or inspired or infuriated her.
Did I know engineers expect that omnidirectional tires will make parallel parking easier? I did not.
Have I ever read Animal Farm and did I realize it was an allegory? I have and I did.
Did I know that if everyone alive right now were as wasteful as people in the United States, it would take five Earths to provide enough resources for everyone? No, but good lord that is both shameful and terrifying.
Since we’re only minutes from the new high school, we’re generally back on Quisenberry Lane by the time she finishes explaining the way she grew her neurons that day.
When we walk in the house, it goes like this: First, a bathroom break (like all teenagers on the planet, my daughter prefers her own bathroom to the scary bathroom in C wing). She then grabs a snack (growing neurons uses a lot of calories), her dog, and goes outside (or, if it’s raining, her bedroom).
I see her as I type this, her too-big body swinging on her too-small swing, a granola bar in one hand and a pup at her feet. She stares out over the valley, maybe at the birds, or trees, or perhaps just staring into space. She will likely stay like this for anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour.
I am watching decompression.
Decompression refers to the process of relieving or reducing pressure, and it is crucial to a life of contentment, peace, and joy.
I’m thinking about decompression this week because one of the things my daughter shared this week was about psychoanalyst Carl Freud’s theory that humans are either primarily extroverts – those who are energized by social interaction – or introverts – those who feel their best being quiet and introspective.
Neuroscience bears his 1921 theory out; it is thought that extroverts have a more active dopamine reward system, so extroverts feel a stronger chemical rush when in social settings. Basically, this positive rush gives them energy to socialize more. Introverts, on the other hand, get less dopamine when socializing, so they feel overwhelmed and exhausted more quickly, leading to the need to decompress. If they don’t recharge, they suffer what is known as an introvert hangover, which includes short-term physical sensations like a rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, shaking hands, or blurred vision and longer-term symptoms such as exhaustion, depression, muscles aches, or a general sense of malaise.
Many assume I am an extrovert since I love being on stage in front of hundreds of people. Not so. My job is performative and I am good at my job, but the introvert hangover is something I know well. Too much peopling throws my circuit breakers, and those who really know me accept that I’ll always be the first one to leave the party. Even when I host, I’m apt to leave my friends playing cards in the kitchen while I quietly sneak off to bed. But I also crave connection with my friends and family, look forward to spending quality time with my people. And I’ll happily navigate a crowd if it means seeing a concert. That’s because I am in Freud’s third, less talked-about group: ambiverts, or those people who share characteristics of both extroverts and introverts.
I personally believe that our out-of-control cellphone use has created an imbalance in our natural dopamine system, and now we are all ambiverts. We all have differing limits of what feels like acceptable amounts of time alone or with others, but everyone needs time to relax and refuel. You might identify as an introvert, but you still need to interact with the world. Or you might identify as an extrovert, but you still need time to decompress. Those people that tell me that they can’t do yoga because they just can’t sit still? That statement is a red flag of an overregulated nervous system, a body literally stuck in the fight, flight, freeze, or fold state.
But decompression – or down regulating our nervous system – can be cultivated. Start by carving out five minutes a day to decompress. Meditate, make-out, brew a cup of hot tea, soak in an Epsom salt bath, do some yoga stretches, pet a dog or cat, or go for a short walk in nature. Whatever activity you choose, breath deeply to send more oxygen to your brain, which quickly down regulates your nervous system into the rest and digest state.
I’m wrapping this up to go sit in a swing and stare out at the valley.