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‘Once January comes, it’s time to retreat and crash’

Naps, Netflix, baths, blankets, cats and dogs: this is Meghan Ableson's ideal January.

People are noticeably absent from her list.

Like others staring down a polar vortex, Ableson has nixed much of her social calendar, setting a firm once-a-week rule on fraternizing this winter. The Edmonton event planner admits that she's even avoiding phone calls and FaceTime.

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"You push yourself through the holidays because you just have to, but once January comes, it's time to retreat and crash," says Ableson, 30. "I just get tired out. It becomes about self-preservation in the winter, you want to conserve as much energy as possible. When I consider an invitation I find myself calculating how much energy will be consumed."

Hibernating away from family and friends in winter is an art form. After months of cocktail parties, holiday office bashes and family sagas, those more inclined toward introversion are now seeking time alone to recharge. January often provides that built-in respite, but how to push back against the extroverts in your life whose appetite for schmoozing seems bottomless?

How to evade your nearest and dearest without seeming pompous, fragile or completely anti-social?

"We all get to that point of over stimulation," Susan Cain, a former corporate lawyer and author of the bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, said in an interview from New York.

"Many of us would prefer not to spend the holidays attending party after party. We'd rather go inward and be more reflective, matching our lives to the rhythm of the season, which if you were paying attention to it would cause you to stay in more," says Cain.

"The nights are longer, the weather is cooler. All the signals the calendar is giving us would encourage us to go inward and go deeper. And yet the social expectations of the season are pushing us in exactly the opposite direction. It's natural for January to bring with it a reaction to all of that."

Speaking at a 2012 TED Talk, Cain explained: "Introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they're in quieter, more low-key environments."

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Cain argued that just as socializing at parties can exhaust introverts, time alone can prove draining for extroverts. But she added that January offers a breather not just for introverts, but also for the introvert inside every extrovert. Taking time to reboot should be treated like making time to sleep and eat enough so you don't become "irritable and sluggish," said Cain, stressing that our body sends us signals when it's time to take a break.

Kathleen Roy, a Toronto retail manager, now tries to limit her socializing to twice a week, maximum. "Sometimes I go to three but then I get miserable," says Roy, 44.

Those in her (admittedly small) social circle get it: "If someone asks me to do something when I'm already pretty booked, I might just say, 'I'm sorry, I have other plans.' And I do have other plans: to stay home by myself," Roy laughs. "To be at home in my house alone is very rejuvenating."

Hoping to elucidate the distance between social butterflies and their quieter counterparts, 29-year-old American-born illustrator Roman Jones drew a comic strip titled Dr. Carmella's Guide to Understanding the Introverted. The illustration, posted last year and well-shared online, shows an introvert cowering inside a bubble while an extrovert (or "obnoxious predator" as Jones puts it) tries to climb inside.

"The world seems to be catered toward extroverts to the point that extroverts don't even know introverts exist," Jones said from Prague.

He said that being socially oversubscribed can feel "wasteful" for introverts, especially after they've been depleted over the holidays. It's a notion some friends and family members take issue with. "I've heard the word selfish tossed around a lot," says Jones. "Self-centred, smug, 'thinking they're too good for everyone else,' which is unfortunate because it has nothing to do with it. It is genuine discomfort. It should not be taken personally at all."

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What about the fear of alienating friends after a long winter spent holed up alone? Like other introverts, Cain believes that close friends and family will understand. Still she advises that with "relationships you care about, you do need to make sure to accept the invitation enough and maintain that relationship."

It took years for Hannah-Lee Lawrence to learn how to demure. "I'd end up at all the functions and gatherings, seething with resentment, uncomfortable as hell," said the 38-year-old piano teacher from Echo Bay, Ont.

She's started setting boundaries, this month limiting social calls to once a week: "That has been amazingly freeing." Lawrence's personal brand of hibernation now involves reading with cat Ophelia in her lap. "There's a wood stove in the picture as well."

As she says, "Introverts regain energy from having quiet time. That recognition goes a long way to help you do self-care."

Follow me on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

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