New research suggests pandemic-linked isolation inflicts greater toll on introverts than extroverts

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      When the pandemic began, it seemed—according to social media—that an introvert’s paradise had arrived. We had entered a worldwide lockdown in which, in the words of comedian John Mulaney, “cancelling plans is like heroin”.

      He’s not wrong, by the way. As an introvert who needs time to herself to recharge emotionally and mentally, I can relate. Meanwhile, extroverts are people who gain energy from socializing—a clear recipe for disaster when it comes to self-isolation.

      As it turns out, though, we’re all suffering. There’s a significant difference between a world where there are a multitude of options and one where there are few. I might find Zoom calls draining, but I also miss going to the movies and seeing my friends for dinner. Meanwhile, my extroverted friends miss, well, everything—and their anxieties now seem much louder than mine.

      “This is a difficult time for more people than is being recognized,” says Gordon Flett, psychology professor and Canada Research Chair in personality and health at York University. “Society has clear views on introverts as people who prefer to stay indoors and therefore might have an advantage over extroverts. It’s more complicated than that. Assumptions about an introvert advantage need to be revised as the pandemic and need for isolation stretch on. It is a very difficult, prolonged, stressful situation, which personality theorists believe can have a stronger impact in ways that can blunt personality differences.”

      It’s also worth noting that there is heterogeneity among introverts. Some crave social interactions but feel anxiety at the thought of making social blunders.

      In fact, Flett adds, “Most people are actually introverts. They have a moderate level of introversion-extroversion because it is a trait measured along a continuum and is not an either-or typology.”

      A soon-to-be published survey conducted by Flett and fellow psychology professor Avi Besser notes that extroverts are faring better during the pandemic, but only by a slight margin.

      The fact is, no matter your “type”, this is a difficult time for people to be able to unwind and to consistently renew their emotional and physical energy. Thanks to continuing uncertainty and disruption to daily routines with no end in sight, and concerns about the safety of family and friends, general anxieties have overridden our usual cures. Even a half-hour video call can’t satisfy our universal need for something more.

      With goals and plans on hold and at risk of being abandoned altogether, along with financial worries, stressors are stacking up for everyone—leading to not only new anxieties but also depression. As a result, the few things we can still turn to—TV, baking, art—are also beginning to lose their pleasure, leading many people to feel unlike themselves. If you’ve found yourself perpetually exhausted or spending more time getting familiar with your wallpaper while laying about, this might sound familiar.

      Those who were already living with depression or another kind of vulnerability might feel like their struggles have magnified. Others may be feeling a baseline anxiety and sense of stability or calmness after having spent much of their condition catastrophizing.

      So how, as an introvert or extrovert, can we cope?

      “It is essential that we all maintain a sense of hope and optimism,” Flett says. “We have to remind ourselves that we’ve made it this far and that is an accomplishment, even though it might not feel like it. Take deep, relaxing breaths and stay away from too much pandemic-related news. You can also achieve an emotional boost by showing other people that they matter.”

      According to a recent paper written by Flett and published in the Journal of Concurrent Disorders, the concept of “mattering” has always played a vital role in crisis situations as far back as the Second World War, as many people begin to feel they don’t have value at a time when world events seem beyond control. That feeling is often in association with being alone, which means it’s more important than ever to reach out to friends and family. The more you disconnect from the outside world, the more you’ll disconnect from your sense of self.

      Other helpful habits include meditation, mindfulness training, and what Flett calls “pleasant distractions”. These can function like ambient noise and provide easy engagement as “contact from a distance”. That could mean playing music at all hours of the day, having a TV show on in the background as you do menial things, or listening to a podcast while cooking so that being in the kitchen starts to feel like less of a chore.

      Introverts can opt for minimal texting in the evenings and phone calls instead of video calls—which leave little space for reflection and offer little opportunity to take a pause. If living with family or roommates, find a space to call your own or take daily walks that provide alone time.

      Extroverts, on the other hand, generally have better coping strategies, thanks to their affinity for social interaction giving them a good foundation for finding their way through this period. Hold on to that instinct, but also find a variety of ways to stay active, whether by talking to friends or reaching out to lost contacts, trying novel exercise routines or finding new hobbies. Find ways to support your community, perhaps by donating supplies or picking up your neighbours’ groceries.

      In the end, there really is no battle between introverts and extroverts. We’re all looking for ways to connect that sustain us in the ways we need.