For Type A Introverts in Quarantine, the Struggle Is Real

In times of uncertainty, my need to achieve manifests as impatience and nervous energy. Here’s how I’m coping.

I first heard the term “Type A personality” ten years ago when, despite being very ill, I begged my doctor to send me back to work. Nodding in gentle understanding, he smiled and said, “Ah, classic Type A personality,” promptly declaring that I take a three-week break from work. No arguments.

Initially, I presumed Type A must be good — like grade A student, top of the A team — because A is the first letter of the alphabet. Logical, right? Until I found that, actually, where my health was concerned, being Type A was definitely not a good thing. 

The Type A personality is characterized by ambition, impatience, competition, and work. The concept was developed in the 1950s by American cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, who suggested that having a Type A personality was a risk factor for coronary heart disease. 

Type A Introverts? So Great

Type A isn’t just the preserve of extroverts. I’m a Type A, and I’m very much an introvert, soothing my frantic work days with reading or journaling. My introversion has complemented my Type A traits, giving me the ability to focus while putting in long hours at work. 

Having drive and ambition has moved me out of my comfort zone — which is positive — however, my Type A traits have caused stress and anxiety in the past. Although I try to keep a check on my healthy ambition, sometimes stress resurfaces, especially when change is afoot. 

Like now. 

In times of uncertainty, my need to achieve manifests as nervous energy and impatience over the smallest thing. In recent months, my stress levels have flared up again, and I promised myself that I would tackle it. But I didn’t. Then the global pandemic changed everything.

When the virus morphed from a remote concern into, “Oh my god, stay inside now or else we’ll all die!” I’ll admit to thinking I’d cope fine in social isolation. I already worked two days from home, and, hey, I was an introvert!  

I was confident I’d make the transition with all the grace of a swan. After all, Type A introverts are work obsessed and have no problem putting in long hours, especially if it’s something we care about.

Type A Introverts in Isolation? Not So Great

Except I hadn’t realized my Type A traits would rush to the surface, nor did I consider that I might spend my first week fully working from home engaged in a tug of war with myself.

I’m busy enough with work, but it’s weird. My to-do list has plenty on it, but the impetus behind those tasks has grown skewed. My routine has been disrupted and my priorities have shifted. I’ve put aside what was on my list last week for more immediate concerns. And I am lost, in disarray, no longer sure where my focus should be. 

When my working life is in tumult, I feel aimless and adrift — like I’m not useful, not running at full capacity. And feeling like I’m not thriving or moving forward at a pace I think is ideal has been causing me all kinds of anxiety and sleepless nights.

I feel rudderless. Time has taken on a new form — an hour feels longer than 60 minutes — and time is a big thing for Type A introverts, or, more specifically, wasting time. Not utilizing time as best I can is a constant source of irritation for me. I’m always in a rush to do something, always looking to the next thing on my to-do list before I’ve finished the current item. No time to celebrate that success, Karen. Just go, go, go! 

For me, it’s always been about moving onto the next thing. Before the virus overtook our lives, I’d fill my time outside work with reading challenges, writing classes, meeting up with friends, walking challenges, and writing groups. And now all of that has stopped with time stretching before me. 

Lean Into Your Introversion

Oddly enough, my introverted skills are what have been getting me through this anxious situation. I’d been wanting to reduce relying on my Type A traits for a while, and social isolation has given me the perfect chance to do that. 

Of course, it hasn’t been easy. At first I railed against the change and fumbled my way through the new ways of working. Still at odds with my body, my mind continued to keep me up at night, revealing my fears and preventing me from finding a solution. 

I’ve only recently begun to find ways of managing this unprecedented situation. I’ve had to reframe what I believed was success and how I view time. Instead of imposing rigid ways of thinking, I’ve arrived at a more compassionate way forward. 

I’ve been viewing every day as a new chance to explore and experiment with my schedule and my needs. Do I feel better exercising before I begin my work or after? There’s no need to pick — it can depend on the day. Do I prefer to schedule a telephone catch-up with my manager or message them instead? Framing my new responses as an experiment takes off some of the pressure. 

Here are some tips for getting through social isolation as a Type A introvert. Even if you don’t fall under that category, you can still hopefully take something away from this list. 

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5 Ways to Survive Social Isolation as a Type A Introvert

1. Set small goals.

Every day, I make sure to tick a small commitment off my list, whether that’s exercise or practicing my brush lettering skills. 

Now that I have no commute, I have no excuse not to exercise. I’ve committed to doing 30 minutes of exercise at least every day to help burn off excess cortisol and fill my body with happy hormones. Jessica Smith’s Spring Ahead Challenge is motivating at any time of the year. 

Buddy up with a friend and motivate each other with your exercise success. Ten minutes a day is better than nothing!  

2. Get out of your mind and into your body.

Speaking of goals and exercise, it’s understood that stress and anxiety raise cortisol levels and suppress the immune system response. We’ve all heard about the benefits of yoga and meditation on the mind and body, so what better time than now to give it a try? 

I’ve taken a few yoga classes over the years, but I’ve never managed to integrate regular practice into my daily life. If being introverted makes in-person exercise classes seem like a chore, try something like Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Every time I follow Adriene’s gentle moves, I feel as though my insides have had a massage. 

Yoga has an added bonus for me. My anxious mind struggles to just stop and relax. With yoga and meditation, my mind is convinced I’m doing something, when really my mind and body are being soothed by stillness. 

3. Learn something new.

The internet has opened up so many ways to learn for free. Organizations such as Coursera offer a range of courses — from business analytics to graphic design. It’s also worth checking your local library because many allow you to borrow ebooks. I’m currently learning all about ayurveda medicine. Not only will this broaden my mind but it will help me to develop a purpose outside of work. 

I’ve also been setting aside some time for Continuing Professional Development (CPD). I usually put CPD to the side when I’m in the office, but I’m enjoying having time to increase my practical knowledge. 

4. Take part in group activities remotely.

I joined an online read-along hosted by the Elizabeth Gaskell Museum and we’re reading North and South over a period of three weeks, with discussions taking place on the museum’s Twitter page. This hits my bookworm needs and lets me connect with like-minded readers, which helps me feel less alone. 

Since my writing group is no longer able to meet in person, I’ve searched social media. The hashtag #WritingCommunity has put me in touch with all kinds of writers from across the globe. 

I’m also planning on making use of Netflix Party, which allows you to host long-distance movie nights with friends and family. 

5. Make peace with time.

Give yourself a break and try to accept that time will run differently for a while — not forever. I’ve been using the extra time to reconnect with hobbies I didn’t have time to do before, like calligraphy. Perhaps get out that old craft you used to reserve for rainy days: knitting, painting, or something similar. Give yourself a goal — even if it’s just for an hour here or there — of making something for someone else. 

In the past, I’ve thrived on striving for career success and reaching often-punishing goals, despite the negative impact on my health. Spending time in social isolation has forced me to reassess my relationship with time and plan regular activities so that I can still move forward in a positive way.

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Karen Bryony Rose is a freelance journalist and writer from the UK. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, MetroOnline, and Mindless Mag. She is happiest when she is by the sea or lost within the pages of a book. She’s trying to replace her Twitter obsession with yoga. Find out about her progress at @SunSparks4.