Although the pandemic has been stressful, it’s also allowed me to press pause and reassess my habits.
This may sound a bit strange, but I think social distancing has made me a healthier person. I know this seems crazy, especially given the real and serious pandemic the virus has caused worldwide, but I’ll explain what I mean.
I’m an introvert. I find that social interactions drain me. I can think better and I have more energy when I am alone with my thoughts because I internalize everything. Before the virus, I didn’t really have the time to cultivate that solitude. I was spinning my wheels, running around to three different jobs, volunteering my time to help others with tasks they could easily do themselves, and feeling nothing but exhausted.
Of course, I had some initial anxiety when the “stay at home” orders began. It seemed as though the momentum I’d been building with my health coaching business was going to suffer, and I feared being unemployed. It only took me one week, though, to discover I was unequivocally more happy. I slept better, had excess energy to workout more frequently, and could devote time to preparing healthier meals.
Social distancing has allowed me the freedom to cultivate the things I need to be a spiritually, physically, and mentally healthy — and happy — introvert.
I Reconnected With Meditation and Gratitude Practices
I used to feel very rushed in the mornings — running to the gym, to work, to clients. But being that busy rarely left me time for what I truly needed. As introverts, we crave alone time for a very specific reason: It’s beneficial to our mental health, and arguably, that feeds into our spiritual health.
I enjoy meditation, prayer, and silent contemplation, and I have found such a wonderful gift in starting the day with those practices. I also listen to beautiful music, write in my gratitude journal, reflect, and meditate. These practices follow me throughout my entire day, so I feel more grounded and connected even as problems or stressful situations arise.
As we begin to transition back into the “real world,” I know I need to stay consistent with my spiritual practices in order to maintain my sanity. Here are my suggestions on how we can all achieve that post-quarantine:
- Plan to wake up 15 minutes earlier.
- Use that extra time to set an intention for the day or write down three things that make you feel grateful.
- Listen to music that lifts your spirits. It can be anything, as long as it’s music you enjoy.
- Read a quick reflection from a book or online source. There are lots of resources, and even apps you can download for daily inspiration. Some of my favorites are: Deepak Chopra Guided Meditation for Gratitude, mindful.org, and Greater Good Science at Berkeley’s Gratitude Meditation.
It’s hard to say what the demands will be as we transition out of quarantine, but knowing how important solitude is for self-reflection, and how self-reflection can help us build strong spiritual foundations, challenge yourself to set aside real, specific time before diving into the craziness of the day.
I Cultivated Better, Healthier Routines
Believe me, I feel very blessed about this one. Typically, introverts need to be alone in order to rest and recharge their energy levels after draining social interactions. But since social interactions have largely disappeared — or been replaced by more manageable (though sometimes draining) video calls — I’ve been able to cultivate the amazing power of rest.
Part of rest involves getting good sleep. Your body benefits from deep sleep in multiple ways: It repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue, improves brain cognition and focus, and helps your body function properly so it’s better able to maintain your immune system.
Prior to social distancing, I was getting maybe five hours of sleep per night between the demands of work and my other responsibilities. I felt tired all the time because I didn’t give my body a chance to catch up from all the physical stress it was under. Now, I sleep longer and deeper, which helps me feel clear-headed, alert, and energetic.
My exercise regimen has also improved. As an introvert, I’ve always been drawn to working out at home. Not only can I get into my workouts a lot more, but I also have more energy to exude because it’s not as socially draining the way an exercise class or a gym buddy might be. Over the past several months in quarantine, I’ve had the time — and energy — to workout more frequently, improving my physical endurance and strength. (And I’ve even lost seven pounds. Not bad!)
(Here are the best solo exercises for introverts — that you can still do during social distancing.)
Knowing that I will be returning to the world eventually, I know what changes my daily routine will need to ensure my physical health won’t suffer like it did before. Here’s how we can all go about this:
- Set a bedtime (that you keep every night). It’s key to achieving better sleep because your body follows a natural sleep-wake cycle, so the more you reinforce it, the more likely you’ll get deeper, more restful sleep.
- Plan your workout days. I’m going to stick to home workouts and limit the amount of (draining) time I put in at the gym with others. But everyone is different. Knowing how important physical activity is to your health, try to workout — run, do yoga, do a HIIT class on YouTube — make it a priority at least a few days a week.
- Plan your meals. Many of us have likely given into the temptation of snacking, but you can set limits around your eating. Create and stick to a meal plan, and develop a game plan for when you do grocery shop, so that you purchase healthier items and don’t panic-buy junk food.
I Rediscovered My Creative Essence
Like many introverts, I imagine, it’s easy to get buried in our schedules and forget what it is we need. Above all, this period of time — strange and scary as it has been — interrupted mine so I could see what was missing.
Before quarantine, I experienced nightly panic attacks. About one hour into my sleep, I’d wake up in a sweat — my heart pounding — feeling like I was suffocating. Fun, right?! I’m not quite sure what’s in the “social distancing secret sauce” that helped them go away, but they stopped altogether, almost immediately. It could have to do with a less demanding schedule, more alone time, meditation, better sleep, or exercise. Or the combination of all of those things.
Sleep and exercise have helped me not just physically but mentally as well. Exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones), so a good workout helps me feel accomplished and improves my mental state as I continue throughout my day.
With all this time on my hands, I’ve also rediscovered my love for art. Introverts need creative space, and I’d been too busy to cultivate that. I ended up picking up an adult coloring book that had been collecting dust on the shelf and coloring. I like putting on fun music or a podcast and zoning out. It’s been so therapeutic for me, it’s unbelievable. Like meditation, this practice seems to bring me peace and clarity.
I hope we all find a way to prioritize our mental health during this trying time and beyond. Try to:
- Maintain sleep and exercise schedules. Again, these are so important, and have made a huge difference in my physical and mental health.
- Find a creative outlet. I realize I need to be creative everyday to maintain my best mental state. I am going to continue this practice moving forward. Instead of filling my downtime with TV watching or the news, I will color. Find a passion project that gets you in the flow and recharges that introvert battery of yours.
I would be lying if I pretended that I’m not dreading the return to normal life…just a bit. The time in quarantine has taught me some really important lessons — lessons that all introverts can benefit from.
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Make Some Promises to Yourself
As we slowly start to adjust to our new “new normal” in the world, make some promises to yourself. Give yourself the grace to say no. It’s okay not to say yes to every social engagement that comes your way. Remember, as Annie Lamott said, no is a complete sentence — it needs no further explanation or qualification.
Prioritize your mental health. Ask yourself, “Is this going to feed my spirit and improve my health?” or “Will I feel drained and zapped if I do this?” I am promising myself I will not continue to run around aimlessly just to stay busy.
Although the pandemic has been stressful in its own right, it’s also pressed pause in a way that allowed me to take stock of my life and realize my priorities. I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned. Make your health a priority — now and after all of this is over.