Healthy Mind

Sorry, Extroverts, Research Shows Social Distancing Is Hardest for You

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61

COVID-19 gave our social lives a ferocious body slam, but the aches and pains definitely hit each of us a little differently. For introverts, the pandemic has forced us to find new ways to straight-up flake on those Zoom birthday parties (ugh, the worst). But if you identify as a People Person, it’s a little more complicated, because extroverts and social distancing don’t mix well.

A large study conducted by the American Psychological Association analyzed 101,005 participants from 55 countries, using the Big Five Personality Traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, extraversion, and neuroticism). While those who skewed high in openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism all predicted higher rates of sheltering-in-place, high levels of extroversion reflected a clear negative association. These are the people who had a harder time keeping contained in quarantine, especially since the study reflects that extraversion is tied to risky health behaviors and decreased germ aversion.

Humanity is living through a period of prolonged loneliness, especially for those who get an actual buzz hanging around other humans IRL. “Identifying as an extrovert means that someone feels that they recharge due to outward social interaction, and this recharging is difficult when we’re told to stay apart and remain at home,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. “I recommend that each individual reflect on what feeling and experience they most enjoyed having or most miss and recognize that what they are longing for isn’t close contact but close experiences and moments.”

What does that look like in practice? Well, if you miss the gossiping over brunch, she suggests you set up a time to video chat with your friends and come prepared for the call by making yourself a little something to eat. If you’re someone who loves exercising, you can find a local park where you can maintain distance from others while working out together. “In general, shift the focus from identifying what’s lacking to identifying how you can modify, and bring back the extrovert experiences you’re craving,” says Teplin.

And when shelter-in-place gets really intense in your area, there’s a lot of little technological tweaks that can help you feel connected in the interim. Eliza Davis, LMSW, shares that you can trade voice messages to your loved ones versus texting if scheduling that video date feels impossible. An app like Marco Polo even adds a video element so you can phone tag in a low-pressure, joyful way. She also adds that you can switch-up the way you use social media to connect.

“Typically we just swipe through stories on social media without thinking twice, when we would like to use social media to actually connect and engage with people,” says Davis. “For example, try responding to friends’ Instagram stories, like replying to a story by asking someone to share a recipe for you.”

With waves of the pandemic crashing throughout the country like the world’s most miserable ocean, we’re bound to continue practicing social distancing for a long, long time. But we’ll to find new ways to keep our loved ones close and our ties to the world strong until we can reunite for face to face.

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