Restorative niches and the SfEP conference

In a follow-up to her popular blog post last year, Abi Saffrey has some ideas for how introverts can find spaces to breathe to help them avoid being overwhelmed at the SfEP conference.

Coffee cup with pause symbol

Last year, I (with substantial assistance from two fellow introverts) put together A survival guide for introverts, in preparation for the 2016 SfEP conference.

I am, ahem, embarrassed to say that I ignored most of that advice and I came away from the conference exhausted and not wishing to speak to anyone at all about anything at all for a week or so. During the conference, I did take a bit of time out for myself – a walk around the Aston campus and a bag of Minstrels in front of rubbish TV – but not as much as I’d planned. I was having a ball! I learnt stuff, I met so many smart and funny people, I saw a mouse in the dining room, I danced till after midnight, and I attended some inspiring sessions. I was getting energy from those around me; perhaps, very slowly, I am becoming an ambivert (calling myself an extrovert would be extreme).

I recently watched a fascinating TEDx talk by Brian R. Little, an extremely introverted university professor specialising in the study of personality and well-being. He talks about how the sensitivity of our neo-cortex is key to whether we display introvert or extrovert tendencies – some of us (introverts) have an optimum level of stimulation way below that of others (extroverts). And often when an introvert and an extrovert meet, they find themselves in a painful impasse where the extrovert tries to raise the level of stimulation and the introvert tries to lower it. As the introvert withdraws, the extrovert talks more, moves more, both of them trying to keep their neo-cortex happy.

One of Professor Little’s key concepts is that of restorative niches, the time out I mentioned above. Everyone needs a restorative niche to bring their neo-cortex back to its optimum level of stimulation: introverts need down time; extroverts may need more interaction and more action. Extroverts may well go from one highly stimulating situation into another – and create one if needs be by turning their music up loud. (I like loud music in my down time, but I’m still not an extrovert.) Introverts are more likely to indulge in meditation, a walk or staring into the middle distance.

Green trees

So, with the 2017 Conference fast approaching, I’m starting to think about the restorative niches I will be able to seek out over those two and a half days. I’m starting the weekend with a visit to the spa at Wyboston Lakes, making the most of the facilities that the conference venue has to offer. This should give me the break I need to transition from day-to-day life to conference mode, and help me cope with the physical tension that does arise when I’m out of my comfort zone.

This will mean that I can’t go to the speed networking session. Extreme introvert part of me is relieved: I’m pretty sure every introvert twitches at those two words. Speed. Networking. Social part of me is sad to miss out on the opportunity to be introduced to peers in a very directed, structured environment. On the SfEP forums, several conference attendees have talked about this session and the personal conflict they have about it – but all have acknowledged that the benefits far outweigh the anxieties. Some have expressed relief that it’s early on in the conference rather than at the end – when their neo-cortex could well be buzzing like ten wasps in a tiny jam jar and they may not be able to do more than nod and perhaps blink.

I’ll also be making the most of the free time in the evenings, and I won’t be rushing down to the bar well ahead of dinner. The accommodation and grounds look lovely, so I’ll probably go for a walk before or after breakfast, and sit in my room and stare at the wall for a while (note to self: pack Minstrels), or put on my headphones and turn up the volume. Or I might just hide in a toilet cubicle for most of a tea break.

All that said, I’m going to take things as they come. Maybe I’ll want to be first at the bar, maybe I’ll even manage a coherent conversation over breakfast. It’s okay to be a pseudo-extrovert for a while, socialising and learning with the tribe. When I get home, I’ll have a couple of days with limited stimulation to help my over-worked neo-cortex to recover, never wanting to talk to anyone ever again. And then I’ll be ready and raring to book my space at next year’s conference.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is an advanced professional member of the SfEP. She specialises in copy-editing and proofreading economics and social policy content, and anything within the wider social sciences realm. Abi is a social introvert with two young children, and slight addictions to bootcamps and tea.

 

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

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