Being home doesn’t automatically equal an introvert’s paradise.
When you go online now, you’d think we’ve entered the Era of the Introvert. Alongside the data about why the pandemic means we all need to practice social distancing and isolate ourselves within our homes, there’s a steady stream of articles and memes trumpeting why we introverts should be psyched.
We get to stay home! All the dreaded events on our schedules have been canceled! We can stay in our pajamas, snuggle up with a book and a pet, and avoid all human contact for weeks, possibly months!
And, we can finally teach those extroverts — long over-valued for their temperament — how to handle this challenging time.
I Was Excited… at First
I’ll admit it. I felt this way, too — at first. When I began my stay-at-home status last week, a part of me was relieved to be there. My office has been going through stressful times between personnel issues and intense deadlines, so being out of that environment felt good. My two teenagers, each of whom struggles with school for different reasons, welcomed time away from the classroom. And as a single parent juggling their needs, my world gets a lot easier any time their stress gets reduced.
When it became clear we were all heading into some form of quarantine, I made the same jokes as everyone about finally being in my element. As planned activities began to drop like flies, my boyfriend, a true extrovert, teased me that I must be happy (I was!). When my social media feed filled up with links to articles about why it was the introvert’s time to shine, I eagerly read them for validation that I had the right skills to weather this new challenge.
No Introvert Paradise
Except, as one day at home grew into three, and as three days grew into a week, I didn’t experience this promised introvert’s paradise. In fact, I was having a hard time staying focused on my work and my home responsibilities. I should have loved being home, but I was feeling entirely off.
It took a (long-distance) conversation with my boyfriend, who is also finding the social distancing challenging, to make sense of what was happening with me. What we’re facing now is more than just extra time alone. This isn’t the extended staycation that I dream about on my busiest days. It’s a global health crisis, and there’s more to it than just knowing how to stay home alone. Introverts and extroverts alike need to remember self-care.
How to Be Alone, But Not Isolated
We know that introverts deal better with alone time than extroverts, but there’s a difference between having time alone to recharge and being totally isolated. Studies have shown that we are all wired to be social on some level, and introverts are no exception.
So, enjoy your newfound time at home, but don’t forget to look for opportunities to interact with others in whatever way brings you joy. Here are some things that are working for me.
1. Go to the movies… remotely!
Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally… when the titular couple watches Casablanca in bed together from their own apartments? The same types of low-key social interactions we enjoyed before the quarantines, like going to the movies or staying home to Netflix together, can still bring us enjoyment from the comfort of our own couches. It just takes some creativity — and similar media accounts.
2. Share a meal over Zoom or Skype.
There are a handful of people with whom I could share a social evening and not feel like I’m wearing my “socializing mask” while I’m there. My boyfriend and I are friends with another couple that I feel this level of comfort with. When one of this pair recently suggested we try to do a dinner party over Zoom, I was actually excited to try. We haven’t attempted it yet, but I have high hopes that it will be as awesome and ridiculous as it sounds.
3. Create a virtual office water cooler.
Socializing with coworkers can be stressful for an introvert (forced togetherness activities are the worst!), but having a chance to laugh about a silly meme or share stories of your children’s antics can ease a stressful day.
Now that everyone is remote, my company’s Slack channels include ones devoted to fun distractions like random cute animal pictures and daily quizzes that allow us to have low-key interactions. I may have consistently found ways to avoid big social events back when we had them, but I have strong opinions on whether coffee is better than tea (it is), and you’d better believe I shared my cat’s adorable photos with my Slack buddies.
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How to Find Alone Time During Forced Togetherness
Whether you typically work at an office or you’re used to working from home, as an introvert, you know how to find the time you need to recharge. Even if it isn’t always perfect and exactly as you’d like (hello, small children), you have options.
But now that you and everyone else in your household — roommates, partner, children, extended family, etc. — is trapped at home, what do you do? How do you recharge if you’re never alone?
In the pre-pandemic world, my time for recharging was already pretty minimal. I work full-time at a demanding job and my children are with me six nights a week, sometimes seven. Because my boyfriend and I don’t live together, we try to make time for a Saturday date night, which is my occasional solo night. Therefore, my alone time is limited to my one- to two-hour round-trip commute, plus the occasional Sunday when I have a few free hours before I pick up the kids. It’s not much, and I confess I am often not as replenished as I need to be, but it is something.
Now, like everyone else, I’m with my household 24/7. I no longer have my commute. I no longer have my Sunday free time. And although I may spend much of the day in my room, which has a door I can close and is thus the best space to have a private “office,” I’m busy working and not truly alone.
So, what are those of us who are surrounded by others supposed to do in order to find our much-needed time to recharge? Again, here’s what’s working for me.
1. If you can, get outside.
Not everyone has the option to leave their home, whether because they are under official quarantine or they live in a dense urban area, but if you have the opportunity, take it. I live in the suburbs where I have the advantage of a yard and, for the time being, available neighborhood space to run or ride a bike. I have sent my children outside for their health (and to give me alone time in the house). But I am also starting to run again, which I got lazy about during the cold winter. Getting time in the fresh air by myself is an act of self-care that I shouldn’t pass up while I have the chance.
2. Make rules to create alone time inside.
I have rules about when the kids can come into my room while I’m working. Being on a conference call and starting to speak just as your child bursts in with a random question that completely distracts you is a level of social embarrassment that’s particularly hard for this introvert. But I haven’t been as thoughtful about setting rules when I’m not working because I feel guilty about being locked away for work all day. It’s certainly easier if you have a partner to take shifts, but it’s all the more important if you’re handling it all alone.
3. Give yourself room to freak out.
We’re home, but it’s a lot harder than it seems. Accept that you may not feel the way you expect to feel, even in your safe spaces. One piece of very practical advice I saw recently is from the fantastic Josh Gad: It’s okay to cry.
As much as we love it, being home doesn’t automatically meet an introvert’s long-term needs. We may have a better grasp on how to be okay with alone-ness than our extroverted friends, but we can’t ignore the world in which we’re experiencing this newfound alone time.
Just remember to take care of yourself, in whatever ways you can. We are all likely filled with the same anxiety, and it’s okay if we’re finding that we sometimes hate being alone, too.