The COVID-19 quarantine period is a lot of things. For some, it's an opportunity for self-reflection and solitude. Others struggle under the weight of fear and isolation. The one thing that the quarantine should not be is a battle between extroverts and introverts. After all, we've all seen the memes and posts highlighting the divide in perception. Shall we review it?
All introverts are supposedly snug in their homes embarking on knitting projects or whipping up perfect loaves of sourdough bread in celebration of the fact that their time has come! Meanwhile, extroverts stare from windows while withering away from a lack of social interaction the way a fern shrinks when deprived of light. The real story? It's somewhere in the middle.
What if the way you're feeling, reacting, and coping isn't actually in line with your "assigned" personality type? The reality is that there is no formula for how you should feel. What's more, the way you feel about the situation one day may be wildly different from how you feel the next. Let's dive into the truth behind how COVID-19 is impacting introverts and extroverts.
We'll cover a brief overview of introverts versus extroverts. As you know, there are shades to every person. Introverts are generally reflective types who enjoy "retreating" into their own minds to relax and process information. They may feel "tired" after spending time in crowds. They tend to have a few very close friendships instead of building wide social networks.
Extroverts are outgoing. They feel energized during and after social interactions. An extrovert usually has a wide social circle.
There are lots of myths about introverts and extroverts. One is that extroverts are insecure, "loud" people who "need" the spotlight to survive. The other big myth is that introverts don't like people or socializing.
Some people seem to be "thriving" during quarantine by checking things off of their to-do lists, learning new skills, and exploring new hobbies. Others seem to be battling depression and unhealthy coping strategies. Some of that comes down to personal circumstances or coping techniques learned throughout life. A person is not reacting better or worse based on what they can accomplish during the quarantine.
Yes, introverts have an obvious advantage during quarantine because they're pretty comfortable with solitude. Researchers at Princeton have actually found that introverts serve a very important evolutionary purpose in times like this. That's because they can help to ensure the survival of a species during a disease breakout because they're isolated from the group.
A lot of how introverts and extroverts experience social interactions differently has to do with brain wiring and chemistry. Introvert brains seem to react differently to dopamine than extrovert brains. Dopamine increases that occur during social interactions may leave introverts feeling tired. The same dopamine increase in an extrovert's brain creates a flashing light in the brain's reward center. That's why an introvert may feel fine after weeks of little no interaction with others. By contrast, an extrovert may feel "starved" for reward signals in the brain. It doesn't mean that you're coping wrong if you're feeling depressed during isolation. This could be a natural consequence of your brain being deprived of the feel-good boost it gets when you see friends and family!
You're not "in the clear" during quarantine because you're an introvert. Introverts don't dislike being around people. They simply require downtime between interactions to recharge. They have the same need for connection as everyone else. The loss of routine interactions that occur at work or while grabbing coffee can create very real and serious mental health consequences for introverts and extroverts.
Extroverts aren't necessarily "doomed" because they're in isolation. There are many ways to feel energized by connecting virtually with others or partaking in physical activity that boosts dopamine. Both introverts and extroverts may feel different about the situation from day to day, based on personal circumstances and dopamine levels.
The big takeaway is that you shouldn't assume you don't need to practice self-care as an introvert because the memes say you were made for this. In addition, extroverts shouldn't feel as though they lack self-reliance because they're struggling to thrive while cutting off from people. It's okay to feel both despair over a loss of personal connection and a sense of self-reliance during the quarantine. In fact, both introverts and extroverts may walk away from this experience with new appreciations for their opposites.