Staying Connected While Social Distancing Is Even Tougher for Introverts—but That Doesn’t Make It Impossible

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Introverts use a different playbook than their social butterfly counterparts—especially during required periods of sheltering in place as the world deals with the spread of COVID-19. You witness everyone's Zoom parties not with joy and amusement, but with deep-seated anxiety. Twenty people on a video call? No, thank you. Of course we (introverts) want to genuinely connect with our loved ones, but why does that mean saying hi to their potpourri of bored friends from across the globe? Honestly, we could use a little more digital distance in our social distancing.

"During the pandemic, social distancing can be difficult for all of us," says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear. "Although extroverts might find comfort in connecting through video chat parties that allow up to 32 participants, introverts can feel a bit intimidated or overwhelmed by these larger forums. That said, introverts feel the isolating effects of social distancing requirements like anyone else, so it’s important to find ways to connect that are within their comfort zone."

How do you navigate being introverted but not overly isolated? What boundaries can one draw when everyone knows you're home doing nothing? We're likely in it for the long haul here, fam, so it's important to find some healthy balance when it comes to being social under quarantine—especially if every 10 minutes on the phone needs to be matched with 20 minutes of quiet time. Here are a few strategies you can follow.

1. Figure out good guidelines for being connected

One of the big misconceptions about introverts is that we flatly hate being social or have serious misanthropic tendencies. Look, that's not entirely true. Some people are chill, and the ones we keep close to us we tend to cherish. But when you're an introvert, less is usually more when it comes to being social. That applies to the amount of people you keep in your inner circle and to the amount of time you enjoy spending in the outside world.

And that rule still applies even if you're not in the outside world right now! Take a moment to simply examine your feel-good limits of how much you want to check in with other people.

"It's important for introverts to recognize what they find helpful, and to be creative about how they go about remaining connected," says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. "I'd challenge someone to reflect on their definition of connected to begin with—connection could mean touching base with everyone they love each day or it could mean touching base with everyone on a weekly basis."

And to paraphrase something cute a friend said recently, it's okay to only take FaceTime dates by appointment.

2. You can still keep things intimate

We're not much for group activities because it's super easy to get lost in the din, and that's more than ever true now. Like, you can't just stay in a corner huddled up with a buddy, you know? But you can make digital communication work for you by declining invites to the large-group chats and extending your own to a smaller guest list.

"While a massive video chat party might leave an introvert feeling anxious and dazed, one-on-one chats, group text messages, or 'parties of two or three' may feel both comforting and uplifting," says Dr. Manly.

3. Activities can offset long COVID-19 conversations

When the lockdown first started, we phoned all our friends and family to see how everyone was adjusting... even though for introverts, three days at home watching Good Girls is just, like, a successful holiday weekend, thank you very much.

But now it's been over a week of life in confinement and there isn't, like, much to report. Things are still terrible, you're living in leggings, and people want to get on FaceTime to discuss all the horrifying things you already saw in your newsfeed? Ugh, no. Connection does not have to mean conversation, especially if it means unpacking and repacking things you've already talked about with your friends. In fact, the true facet of social connection is a shared activity.

"Connection also can happen through creative means, such as knowing you're watching the same show as a friend," says Teplin.

Oh, big emphasis on a friend, one, solo, please stress that up front. So maybe you want to hop onto Netflix Party with a friend to catch up on that series you both were interested in or enjoy a game together virtually. You could have a wholesome time playing Animal Crossing together and just, you know, keep the dialogues to a minimum.

4. Time limits are still a thing

You might need to get a little more creative with your fail-safe excuse to bounce, but let it be said: Nobody cares if you leave the (Zoom) party early. Treat it like you're swinging by a friend's very loud and communal birthday drinks; mentally give it an hour, and if you find it agitating, pardon yourself out of there.

"For the introvert that finds the Zoom chats to be overwhelming I'd challenge them to realize the value in the large connection, and to see how much time on the call, if any, is helpful," says Teplin. "Never forget that just because everyone isn't leaving the party at the same time, it doesn't mean you can't leave. While an introvert may have applied that rule to in-person hang outs, never forget the same rules apply virtually!"

Even though the world is a different place (for now), the same general rules applies when it comes to creating happy limits for being social.

"No matter what, it’s important for both introverts and extroverts to find a personal balance that feels connective without being overwhelming to the self, or to others," says Dr. Manly. "A heathy respect for the boundaries of all concerned is always so important, but it's especially vital during this anxiety-inducing time."

Looking to connect with someone, uh, physically? You should probably know about the New York City Department of Health's new safe sex guidelines. And set some boundaries for yourself with a career coach's work from home tips.

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