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There’s been a slew of memes and articles celebrating the fact that introverts are thriving in a time of the coronavirus quarantine, with some calling it the “springtime for extroverts.” Turns out, that’s not quite true.
“While it's certainly true that… it's easier for introverts to stay home than it is for extroverts... each different type has a sweet spot located with a very different amount of stimulation,” says Susan Cain, author of the New York Times best-selling book The Secret Strength of Introverts. “From that point of view, of course, introverts are going to be a little more comfortable with this than extroverts. But having said that, it's not really as clear-cut as all that.”
One reason why: Cain says, since none of us have a choice but to stay home, it changes how we feel about staying at home, which is a big deal for introverts. “We all have our different routines that we love to do and some of those routines take place out of the house,” she explains.
Cain, a self-described introvert, describes her own struggle with the stay-at-home orders. “I've always written in cafes, and that's what I love. And it's a daily joy for me to do that,” she says. “I love the experience of being what I call, ‘alone together.’ Meaning being in a situation where you can feel the energy of other people around you but also have the freedom to go inside your own head.”
Katie McMurray, a freelance photographer and graphic designer in Silver Spring, Maryland and self-described introvert, has the opposite problem. She has been working from home for the last 14 years and has enjoyed having the days to herself while her kids and husband were at school and work. But since Maryland closed schools and non-essential businesses, that’s all changed – for the worse.
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“It’s exhausting. I've taken to sitting in my car for a while in the evening if I just need quiet,” she says. After a full day of working and helping the kids with school, she says her husband doesn’t understand why she doesn’t want to talk when the kids go to bed. “My 9-year-old is an extrovert and at least a good part of the reason I'm so physically exhausted,” says McMurray. “She wants to cuddle or be with me as much as possible, and I am just done. If I could be home alone, I would be fine.”
“If you're stuck in a house with your kids and your partner, that can be really overwhelming for an introvert,” says psychotherapist Perri Shaw Borish, who specializes in treating anxiety and depression. “They need personal space, so if they feel it’s being invaded, it's going to feel really draining on them.”
Borish says it’s crucial right now that introverts honor what they’re feeling and do what is needed to give themselves space during this stressful time.
“It's super important for the introvert because otherwise there's going to be more anxiety, more fatigue, more depletion, more depression,” she says.
Darren Mart, a software developer from Maple Valley, Washington and also a self-described introvert, says sheltering in place hasn’t affected his day-to-day routine, but it has impacted how he feels.
“Introverts tend to ‘live inside their heads,’ which can be a double-edged sword,” he says. “The good part is I'm never bored and can happily focus on projects, the bad part is that I tend to dwell on the COVID-19 tragedy that is unfolding and can sometimes feel overwhelmed and helpless.”
“Under normal circumstances, an introvert might be a worrier, and under these circumstances that we're all living in, there might be extra worry for an introvert,” says Dr. Borish. “The way that they might self-soothe is to have time by themselves – retreat into themselves. And that's really hard if you can't leave the house and get any time to yourself.“
Dr. Borish suggests several coping mechanisms introverts can use to keep calm and carry on, including getting plenty of sleep and planning the day in chunks of time that include short breaks to recharge. “If you’re an introvert you have to just focus on one task at a time,” she says.
And while memes are hailing introverts as those best equipped to deal with shelter-at-home mandates, many introverts say it simply doesn’t resonate with them.
“While I'm not offended by them, I don't agree with the sentiment,” says Mart. “There's a widespread misconception that introverts are misanthropes when the key distinction between ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ simply boils down to how our energy levels are affected by social interaction. Personally I enjoy meeting people and learning about them, and it pains me to know that hundreds of thousands are facing unimaginable suffering and death.”
Cain says she suspects those who are truly enjoying staying at home are the people who were overwhelmed in their lives before the pandemic hit the United States. And she says, it has nothing to do with being an introvert.
“What if you think about your social life as being on a kind of spectrum, where on one end of the spectrum, it's social overload… [and the] other end of the spectrum is loneliness. And then the middle of the spectrum is the sweet spot where you're getting the right kind of social stimulation for you and the right amount of it,” says Cain.
“Some people were in social overload before quarantine … and so for those people, the quarantine can come as a kind of relief. And then some people were already lonely, and for them, this quarantine would be really difficult.”
Cain says when people hear the word introvert, it’s assumed the person is a hermit or has no desire for social interaction. But, she says, that’s false.
“What I always say is introverts, many of them, really crave social interaction, just the way extroverts do. But they like to socialize differently and in different quantities, so they'll often prefer a one-on-one glass of wine with a friend as opposed to going out to a big party.”
Video conferencing technology like Zoom – used for work meetings and now, happy hours and birthday parties – adds another layer for introverts to navigate.
“There's all this talk about doing these big Zoom cocktail parties and stuff like that,” says Cain. “And I have the same aversion attending those as I do to a real-life cocktail party,” she says.
Dr. Borish says introverts need to prioritize what feels right in these circumstances.
“If you’re an introvert, you have to do what feels important to you, you don't need to worry about socializing with everybody on Zoom. It's more like quality rather than quantity,” she says.
And, she says managers should consider the introverts on their teams, as more meetings are organized via video conferencing.
“If a big portion of your workforce, or the people that you're working, with at work are introverted, then getting people's feedback electronically, individually, is probably better, in writing. People can see each other’s ideas and everybody can have the chance to contribute rather than like doing it in a crowd on a virtual platform.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.
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