Can I still be a people person as an introvert? How can I be a good PT and stay true to my introverted self at the same time? Should I try to make myself more extroverted so I can succeed as a PT? Some of these questions may have crossed your mind; they have certainly crossed mine during my journey to becoming a physical therapist. Although I’ve known for a long time that I am pretty introverted, it wasn’t until I started attending various clinical internships and facing some challenges that I learned a couple of tricks for thriving as an introvert physical therapist.
An introvert is basically just someone who prefers solitary or calm activities and often needs alone time to recharge after socializing. Contrarily, extroverts tend to gain energy from being around others and are able to socialize in bigger groups, for longer periods before getting tired. This short video helps explain what an introvert is a bit more clearly.
People have both introverted and extroverted tendencies and will tend to fall more towards one side of the spectrum than the other. You’re likely an introvert if:
- You need time alone in order to recharge after socializing
- You prefer one-on-one interactions to being in big groups
- You’ve been told you are private, quiet, or reserved
- You often notice yourself lost in thought
- You find it easier to express yourself through writing rather than verbally
Introverts can still be friendly, charming, and fun. People who don’t know me very well are often surprised to learn that I’m an introvert because I’m personable and love connecting with people. We just need plenty of me-time so we don’t get drained and burnt out. If you are an introvert, you likely have discovered this about yourself by now. So how can we thrive as introverted PTs and use our unique characteristics to make us better practitioners? Great question. Here are four ways you can thrive as an introverted PT:
1. Embrace your introversion
The first step is to own who you are: an awesome introvert physical therapist (or DPT-to-be). You cannot fight who you are and force yourself to be an extrovert, and you shouldn’t want to! Both introverts and extroverts have a lot to bring to the table. Once you own who you are and figure out how to work with your strengths, you can create a balance in your life that allows you to be your best self. You can bring out your best qualities with your patients while honoring who you truly are as an introvert. You don’t want to fight your tendencies because that can lead to frustration, doubt, and complete burnout. (If you're looking for ways to avoid PT burnout, check out this article)! Once you’re on board with who you are, you run the show; that’s when you begin to thrive.
2. Take breaks
So how do we find the delicate balance between dealing with the daily demands of work while constantly interacting with patients, and making sure you have quiet time to recharge so you can keep on being an energetic, caring PT?
Utilize your day to take breaks as needed! Lunch is a perfect time to do so. Before starting documentation and joining the hustle and bustle of coworkers eating together, take some time to decompress in a quiet place where you can be alone. If weather permits, sitting outside and taking some time to chill and letting the mind wander before starting your next task can be a great way to relax.
Are all your coworkers documenting in a busy office while chatting, venting, or laughing? If you notice yourself unable to focus amidst all the commotion, find a quiet spot where you can work on notes, put those earphones in, and listen to some music. Learn to respect when you need to take breaks and do so. This can help you be more present and energized when you are interacting with patients and coworkers throughout the rest of the day.
After work, give yourself time to decompress and do things you enjoy. Be sure not to stretch yourself too thin or overcommit to social engagements if you know you need time to unwind after work. It’s better to take breaks and come back a better version of yourself rather than pushing through and being completely drained by the end of the day, week, or month.
3. Practice mindfulness
I think mindfulness is a useful tool for everyone to practice (and the research agrees), but it can be especially helpful for introverts who tend to get lost in their heads. Mindfulness, simply put, is just being aware of what is going on in the present moment (which is easier said than done). It includes being aware of your surroundings as well as noticing what is going on for you emotionally without getting lost in your thoughts (someone please let me know if they’re actually able to achieve such a feat).
I find doing a guided meditation in the morning to be good practice for me; there are plenty of apps you can get on your phone for meditation and mindfulness. If that seems like too much of a commitment or it’s something you aren’t comfortable doing, it’s easy to take just one minute during the day to sit and close your eyes and try and focus on your breath. When you notice thoughts or emotions entering your mind, simply labeling them (“distracted,” “overwhelmed,” “excited,” “worried,” “thinking”) can help you to detach from those experiences and observe them in the present moment. This labeling can be very helpful, and it is the foundation of helping us become more mindful!
But why bother being mindful? How will this help you as a physical therapist? It can help you become aware of when you are getting overstimulated or when you need to take a break. It will also help you to focus on how your patient is feeling and allow you to be aware of their reactions during your treatment sessions. It helps you to focus on what is important—the present moment and the patient in front of you.
4. Use your introvert superpowers to connect with people
Introverts are at an advantage when it comes to listening, observing, and deep thinking. Extroverts thrive when they’re with other people and are known for being gregarious, talkative, approachable, and generally the life of the party. They usually don’t mind being the center of attention whereas introverts prefer to be on the sidelines.
There are many extrovert characteristics that lend themselves to working with people all day. However, introverts have some tricks up their sleeves as well. They more frequently tend to think before they speak. They tend to be good listeners due to their quiet nature and innate observation skills. Introverts are often thoughtful, creative, and tend to be good writers. Introverts usually think and plan before they act.
Patients want to be heard. They require your services because they have a problem—they are likely in pain—and they are hoping you can help them with it. Listening (as well as making friendly conversation and building rapport) is key in fostering strong connections. Giving someone the gift of truly listening to them and making sure they know they are heard is vital as a healthcare provider. You want to know what is going on with your patients, you want to gain their trust and you want them to know you care about them as an individual. Listening is an important skill and it is one of the many things introverts are great at, and all of this amazing optimism and rapport building can help improve your outcomes!
Observing, another introvert strength, is something that we need to do as PTs every single day. Also, having time to reflect, think, and plan (as introverts do best) can lead to improved, well thought out treatment sessions—especially when you’re able to use your introvert creativity to make your sessions fun, unique, and individualized!