The Rumor: Attending a party is a great way to relax and recharge
Need to blow off a little steam after a rough week? It's not a closely guarded secret of the universe that heading to a party -- where you shoot the breeze with a group of friends, toss back a couple of cocktails and maybe shake your groove thang -- can be a great way to go about it. But do parties really recharge sapped batteries? Believe it or not, how a party affects your state of mind and body might have more to do with what kind of person you are than with how late you stay up, how much you drink or whether or not you find yourself swinging from the chandelier at some point in the night.
The Verdict: Parties are good de-stressors for extroverts, but introverts? Not so much
Before we delve in to why this is the case, it's important to clearly define the difference between "extroverts" and "introverts," which are labels coined by famed psychotherapist and psychiatrist Carl Jung. According to Jung, extroverts are generally gregarious and unreserved people who seek gratification by means outside of themselves -- namely, via their interactions with others. Introverts are more reserved, primarily find gratification within their own minds and enjoy their solitude and solo activities like reading and writing. (If you don't know which type you are, take this quick quiz here.)
Not surprisingly, extroverts tend to excel in party environments, but the mere thought of a soiree can tie an introvert's stomach in more knots than a Bavarian pretzel. In her New York Times bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, author Susan Cain argues that the main reason for that is that introverts' brains are better suited to observing social situations than actually participating in them. "[Participation] requires a kind of mental multitasking: the ability to process a lot of short-term information at once without becoming distracted or overly stressed," she writes. "This is just the sort of brain functioning that extroverts tend to be well suited for. In other words, extroverts are sociable because their brains are good at handling competing demands on their attention -- which is just what dinner-party conversation involves. In contrast, introverts often feel repelled by social events that force them to attend to many people at once."
As a result, parties can be a wee bit draining for introverts. "Consider that the simplest social interaction between two people requires performing an astonishing array of tasks: interpreting what the other person is saying; reading the body language and facial expressions; smoothly taking turns and listening; responding to what the other person said; assessing whether you're being understood; determining whether you're well-received, and, if not, figuring out how to improve or remove yourself from the situation," Cain notes. "Think of what it takes to juggle all this at once! And that's just a one-on-one conversation. Now imagine the multitasking required in a group setting like a dinner party."
Parties don't have to be Kryptonite for introverts, however. While engaging in banal chitchat or trying to juggle a conversation with multiple people at once can suck the wind right out of them, engaging in a meaningful one-on-one conversation with another partygoer can have the opposite effect.
Jennifer Grimes, a research assistant at Harvard University and Wellesley College who studies social neuroscience and introversion, believes that social interactions either drain or energize us based on the returns we get relative to the amount of energy invested. "You'll notice that there is a difference in how exhausted we are in dealing with different kinds of people," Grimes told Psychology Today. "There are people who like to invest a lot of energy and get a lot back. Some people don't want to invest a lot and don't expect a lot back... If what you're putting forth is not commensurate with what you're getting back, there's a dissonance." As you might have guessed, that can be soul-crushingly exhausting.
In a blog post for Psychology Today, Sophia Dembling, author of "The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World," offers two tips that can help introverts survive -- and hopefully thrive -- at parties:
1. Stay focused. If you're talking to someone and suddenly find that you're splitting your attention between that dialogue, the conversations of those around you, Antonio Banderas' voice in the Nasonex commercial on TV and a consideration of the theories of quantum physics, chances are you're suffering from sensory overload. In this case, suggests Dembling, "Focus on something manageable. One conversation."
2. Take a break. Another great way to give your brain a respite from the madness is to forgo interpersonal interaction by browsing the host's bookcase, stepping outside for some air or heading to the bathroom -- even if you don't have to go. (Ah, the bathroom -- a tired partygoer's favorite haven.)