Craving Alone Time

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Reader’s Question

My thought process seems to be much, much slower than everybody else’s. As a result, I crave time alone — lots of it. If I don’t get it, I seem to get backed up and can’t think straight, and become more forgetful and cranky. My happiest time is when the children and hubs leave for work and school (they’re pretty much grown, so it’s not that kind of overload). Is this normal? Is there a name for this condition? I would like to read more, but don’t know where to begin to research it.

Psychologist’s Reply

It must be a relief for you to have space for yourself each day. Many people crave alone time to recharge their batteries, and it can be a very ‘normal’ process if it has felt familiar to them for most of their lives. If the slowed thinking, forgetfulness and irritability have only happened recently, then it may be helpful for you to discuss these changes with your doctor.

Let’s first consider this as a life-long interpersonal preference for you. We all have different needs for social interaction — some of us feel energized by being around other people (sometimes called extraversion), while others of us feel energized when we have alone time to think or process and then interact with others (sometimes called introversion). People who prefer introversion usually have a very rich inner life, while people who prefer extraversion usually enrich their own ideas by interacting with others. There is no ‘right’ way, but western culture typically values extraversion more, and researchers have consistently found a slightly higher percentage of people in the US who tend towards extraversion. For more about these preferences and to learn more about the Extraversion/Introversion scale and what it means, visit the Myers & Briggs Foundation.

If the changes in thinking, memory and irritability are more recent, however, it may be indicative of something more serious than preference for how you attend to the world around you. Sometimes, slowed thinking, forgetfulness and irritable mood can be symptoms of a depressive disorder. Your primary physician can help determine if a depressive disorder is a possible diagnosis, and can rule out any other potential physiological issues that may be contributing to these symptoms. I would encourage you to schedule an appointment to discuss these concerns with your physician. Your physician will have treatment choices and referrals for you if needed, or you can visit the American Psychological Association to find a qualified psychologist near you.

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