Introverts haven’t necessarily gotten off easier when it comes to self-isolation.
Five months into the global COVID-19 pandemic that has changed our lives, lockdown is finally easing in many parts of the country. Ideally, of course, most people will continue to social distance and stay home as often as they possibly can, despite the lifting of restrictions — there’s no need to sacrifice safety in favor of frivolous fun.
While the pandemic has been stressful and frightening for everyone, I’ve encountered some people who assume introverts have gotten off far easier when it comes to self-isolation — we finally have a full-proof excuse to avoid crowds, noisy bars, and parties.
But it might come as a surprise to those people to learn that this pandemic isn’t any easier for introverts. In fact, it’s presented additional challenges for the more solitary-prone.
5 Struggles of an Introvert During the Pandemic
1. Living alone can now be surprisingly lonely.
Typically, introverts enjoy living alone. We may struggle to exist in close quarters with roommates or even spouses, needing time to ourselves to pursue creative projects or quiet spaces in which to recharge our emotional batteries.
Yet when the U.S. government issued shelter-in-place orders, billions of people were stuck at home not by choice, but by necessity. For introverts living with others, the obstacles were obvious — their typical outside respites like libraries or cafés were gone, and their roommates and children were suddenly inescapable, at home 24/7. Translation? No more alone time.
Perhaps the more unexpected sufferers, though, were introverts like me who were already lucky enough to be living solo, conscious of our need for solitude. However, now stripped of even the option of company, I found myself pretty lonely. Yes, even introverts need some level of meaningful social interaction to be happy.
In quarantine, having other people around is definitely an asset. They can share in anxiety-laced trips to the grocery store, pay half the rent (a financial help, when so many people have lost their jobs), and be there to provide assistance if anyone falls ill.
It is also essential to have someone to commiserate with in times of strife. With other socializing options limited, the amount of alone time a single introvert is subject to can become detrimental to both their physical and mental health.
So invite us roommate-less introverts out, if you’re able — to distantly hang at the park, the beach, or on your patio — as long as the weather’s nice and you’re wearing a mask.
2. Distanced communication may create further isolation.
Regular old phone calls are stressful enough for introverts, packed as they tend to be with small talk and a lack of any visual cues.
But, due to the pandemic, most business meetings and friendships have moved into the digital realm, with Zoom emerging as the leading facilitator of both professional and personal interactions. Yet Zoom calls are tremendously draining for introverts, despite visual cues being more readily available. But even with video, our brains must work harder to interpret non-verbal cues like body language (half of a person’s body is usually hidden on Zoom) and tone of voice (computer audio can be patchy).
Despite not being allowed to see friends or loved ones in person, certain introverts may gradually shy away from methods of virtual communication they find uncomfortable, causing them to grow increasingly isolated.
My advice? Try writing us introverts a text, letter, or email instead, as we tend to do better with less intrusive and immediate forms of correspondence. Given time to breathe, relax, and contemplate, my responses will be all the more thorough and thoughtful.
3. Introverts who are also highly sensitive are absorbing lots of suffering.
It goes without saying that no one is enjoying the pandemic — but as an introvert who is also a highly sensitive person (HSP), my feelings seem magnified. HSPs already tend to feel things deeply and pick up on stimuli others may miss. But coping with a crisis as an HSP is challenging — we don’t just notice other people’s feelings, but we also absorb them, which can be overwhelming.
Sometimes, we even experience physical symptoms of distress in response to the highs and lows of others, which has been happening a lot more during the pandemic. Being an HSP is sometimes wonderful, but with the news currently full of despair — COVID-19 infections are up, kids can’t return to school safely, the economy is in ruins, unemployment is at an all-time high — we HSPs have been contending with more than a usual helping of doom.
Karen Ho, a finance reporter for Quartz, recently coined the term “doomscrolling,” the incessant checking of social media most of us are powerless to resist. Not only are there endless stories of human suffering out there, but HSPs are more likely to be overwhelmed and negatively affected by reading these accounts.
Particularly if you’re an HSP, take a break from social media. I’ve personally deleted certain apps from my phone so I check them less mindlessly and frequently and I avoid the hyperbolic headlines of cable news. Instead, I listen to music as background noise when cleaning the house or working from home and try to limit myself to about an hour of news per day.
4. Masks necessitate speaking up more.
It has been scientifically proven that wearing a mask helps slow the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, masks conceal our faces, which means we must adjust to new communication styles.
Many introverts are of the quieter variety — not because they are necessarily shy, but because they need time to privately process information. So introverts will be ready to share their thoughts less regularly and quickly than others.
So when it comes to wearing a mask, we cannot merely smile at someone and stay quiet, since they might misinterpret us as rude or hard of hearing. Plus, because our entire lower faces are covered, many facial expressions are not apparent. This necessitates speaking up in order to make sure you’re heard and understood.
If this makes you nervous, practice speaking with your mask on at home — in the mirror, on the phone, or to your cat. The fabric will likely muffle your voice a bit, so enunciate clearly and adjust your tone accordingly — you’ll get used to it.
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5. Being alone in public can make us more self-conscious.
Some introverts are embarrassed to do things alone in public, not because we don’t enjoy partaking in activities by ourselves, but because we fear judgment from others. People may wonder why we’re visiting a museum, eating dinner, or doing any conventionally social activity without company.
But now, going out with others is no longer the norm. The safest way to watch a movie on Netflix or get groceries is by yourself. Most introverts struggle less with the Netflix part — though I do miss marathoning The Lord of the Rings extended editions with my friends — whereas doing things in public without backup is a far more intimidating prospect.
The more people you surround yourself with, the more likely you are to contract the virus, especially with all the asymptomatic people out there, and inviting your friends to join you only increases the chance of them potentially spreading it, too. So shopping, doctors’ visits, grabbing iced coffee, and any other services open to the public should be done alone when possible.
As an introvert who feels self-conscious on my own in the above situations, I find talking on the phone helps greatly (yes, even though introverts usually dread phone calls). But a call will help since you’ll be distracted by the person you’re speaking to and feel busier, like you have a purpose. Bringing a book along if I have to wait around somewhere or listening to a podcast (with headphones on, naturally) is also a good alternative to flesh-and-blood companionship.
Some Habits Will Be Hard to Break
Eventually, this pandemic will end, one way or another — the curve will be flattened, a vaccine will be discovered, and things will slowly return to normal. But certain pandemic habits may be hard to break, and for those of us introverts especially prone to avoiding groups of people in the best of times, getting back to socializing, post-pandemic, may be daunting.
I’ve rapidly adjusted to the habit of fearing others — instinctively keeping six feet apart, flinching if they cough near me, rejecting hugs — and it seems impossible to imagine touch becoming commonplace again. I feel the same way about eventually attending concerts, festivals, or get-togethers: Big groups of people clumped together in tight spaces? I’d rather not, thank you very much.
But this attitude isn’t going to get me anywhere. We cannot permanently live life as we would during a zombie apocalypse — sweating upon seeing the silhouette of another person on the horizon. Human connection is what makes life worth living, even for us solitude-loving introverts.
Introverts, then, should do our best not to shrink away from people due to lingering paranoia and the muscle memory of pandemic self-preservation. One day, the time will come to be brave and risk embracing each other — metaphorically and literally — once more. And that gives me hope.