Social Distancing Is Business as Usual for Introverts

I knew my introversion would come in handy one day.

“Concert — canceled. Knitting class — canceled. Dentist appointment — canceled. Dinner with client — canceled.”

As I crossed off these plans on my March bullet journal calendar, I felt a strange mix of emotions. 

Being an introvert, I’m normally less than thrilled when the day rolls around to go to a concert or dinner I planned to attend. Nine times out of ten, I wish I could cancel my plans. And nine times out of ten, I don’t cancel them. Sometimes I end up happy I went. Other times, I wish I had just stayed home.

But this time, the pandemic canceled them for me. All of them. In the name of social distancing and such.

It was like I’d hit the canceled-plans jackpot. I hadn’t even had to disappoint anyone!

Introverts, you know what I’m talking about — that feeling of both peace and glee when you suddenly have the evening all to yourself.

At the same time, it feels wrong to be happy at a time like this. People around the world are sick and dying. It’s scary that we have to avoid each other, and it’s scary that things are changing so quickly, with lockdowns being ordered and borders being closed.

But as an introvert, since the pandemic was declared, it’s mostly been business as usual for me.

No Pressure to Socialize

Nothing much has changed in my daily life — except that I’m even more reluctant than usual to go shopping.

I already work from home. Last year, I left my cushy government job to freelance as an editor and transcriber. I made the move to honor my introversion and respect my need for more alone time and deep, uninterrupted work. It’s been great — stressful at times, but worth it.

My non-work life is also relatively unaffected. I’m a homebody, and my social calendar was sparse even before the cancelations, which is just the way I like it. Now governments are telling us to maintain social distance and self-isolate if needed? No pressure to socialize after a hard day of work? It’s an introvert’s dream come true — minus the deadly pandemic, of course.

Extrovert Cabin Fever

Apparently, some people are having a hard time with social distancing. I am not one of those people, but my best friend and roommate is. Sheila is an extrovert who also meets Dr. Elaine Aron’s definition of a highly sensitive person. Socially, she’s all in, and then she needs downtime to recover.

She’s bored. She works as a registered nurse in a long-term care facility for seniors, so she’s being even more cautious about social contact for their sake. Her volunteer activities with Girl Guides of Canada have been canceled. And as her roommate, I’m not exactly the life of the party.

I asked Sheila what she’s struggling with most as an extrovert right now. She said she feels like she has no purpose, like she isn’t contributing when she can’t volunteer. There isn’t much she feels like doing. She’s sleeping more out of boredom, watching more TV. Cabin fever is setting in.

On a run to the store for groceries and cleaning supplies, she couldn’t help talking to an old man who was having trouble reading dish detergent labels. Walking the dog, she couldn’t help conversing with the people walking on the other side of the street. Back at home, she couldn’t help chatting with the neighbor.

As an introvert, I never have these issues. Earlier this week, I was looking for screen wipes at Walmart, ignoring people and considering playing the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” loudly on my smartphone.

Like I said, business as usual.

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The Introvert Advantage?

I knew my introversion would come in handy one day! Actually, it took time, but I’ve learned to appreciate and value this part of my personality. It makes me wonder, though, if introverts have an evolutionary advantage in circumstances such as pandemics.

In her bestselling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain discusses the trade-off theory of evolution, in which the same species’ “radically different survival strategies…[pay] off differently and at different times.”

In simplified terms, our extrovert ancestors were more eager to meet new people and make new friends, so they were more likely than introverts to find a partner and pass on their genes to the next generation. The introverts were more cautious and less likely to be murdered by their new “friends,” making introverts more likely to survive to pass on their genes in hostile times and places.

In this pandemic, we as introverts are less likely to give in to the urge to socialize irresponsibly — or even to have that urge in the first place. I can walk my dog in the park to ease my low-grade cabin fever. (All my favorite things are in my cabin.) Sheila, on the other hand, can’t stop making small talk in the checkout line.

How to Support Your Extrovert

Extroverts are starting to feel the strain, as a quick browse through social media confirms. Memes and GIFs of people going a little stir-crazy create some levity, while the r/introvert subreddit is flooded with posts like these:

reddit
reddit

We may be feeling a little smug about this turning of the tables, but extroverts enjoy canceled plans and social distancing about as much as introverts enjoy large gatherings and pointless small talk. Extroverts gain their energy from socializing, just as we gain ours from quiet alone time. Hard to fathom, but true.

Our extroverted friends and loved ones need support right now, just as we need theirs when we’re low on energy. After reveling a little in our newfound downtime, we can help them stay safe and energized by engaging with them a little more — without neglecting our own needs for alone time, of course. If you’re in the same household and not self-isolating, you could play games, have deep conversations, go for walks, brainstorm blog ideas, invent something. The possibilities are greater than your depleted extrovert might imagine.

Here are some more ideas for your extroverted friends to survive social distancing, according to an introvert.

If one of you is self-isolating or you don’t live together, get creative. There’s Skype, online games, virtual museum tours, watching TV together over the phone, Morse code through the wall… and so on. It’s harder for extroverts to get that social charge, but not impossible, right?

How to Support Yourself

As introverts, we must also take care of ourselves, especially given the news we’re hearing each day through the media. It’s scary and stressful worrying about possible exposure to the virus when we still have to go to work or pick up groceries.

Introverts are prone to thinking too much, which can lead us down rabbit holes of speculation about supply chain disruption, loss of income, what we’ll do if we get sick. We may be anxious about friends and family who are ill with what may or may not be the dreaded virus. We may start catastrophizing and losing ourselves in news media and stats.

Keep in touch with what’s real right now — not what might be. If needed, practice media distancing as well as social distancing. Give your extroverts some love. Ask them how they’re doing and what their thoughts are. Much as we like to be alone, it’s not always healthy to be alone with our anxious thoughts.

And take this time to appreciate all those canceled plans you’re suddenly off the hook for. Hopefully, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Introverts, it’s our time. Let’s do what we do best.

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Written By

I’m a freelance editor and transcriber. I’m also a dog mom of two, a recovering perfectionist, and a compulsive learner. I enjoy working from home in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.