By Chris Croll
As the days of the pandemic drag on, and COVID-19 positivity rates continue to be high, some of us are acutely feeling the negative effects of having to quarantine. Extroverts like me who draw energy from being with other people have been stressed for a long time now about the lack of available connections. When a human being experiences stress, no matter what the cause, the body goes into fight or flight mode and the brain responds by releasing cortisol. Chronic activation of this stress response, say over a period of many months during a quarantine, can lead to serious health issues.
One way people cope is by numbing out. Wine and alcohol consumption has gone through the roof since the pandemic began. I recently read that women are drinking 41% more than they were a year ago. I guess I am not the only one who is finding “Dry January” to be a challenge this year.
Another way people numb out is by snacking. The “quarantine 15” may end up being the “quarantine 30” for some of us. Noshing does give us a temporary taste (literally) of novelty and can provide quick relief from emotional discomfort, but all-day snacking is a bad habit to develop, especially considering obesity is known to compromise the immune response.
Many extroverts are suffering in some way, whether their struggles are visible or not. While most people miss going out, gathering with friends, and attending in-person events, extroverts feel these absences deeply. After months of not doing the things that make us feel plugged into society, we start to wither. Add in the lack of novelty from spending time with the same few people for months, and the tumult going on in the world around us, and it is a perfect storm for depression to set in.
How badly do I need a fix of in-person socialization? Recently I noticed that I got a little buzz from talking to the cashier at Kohl’s. You know you are starved for connection when you get a high from talking to a stranger about an online survey (which I never remember to take once I leave the store anyway). As trivial as that interaction may have been, it was telling about my mental state. I am desperate for novelty and social interaction. I need life to go back to normal ASAP. For people like me, no Netflix series or Tik-Tok videos can take the place of live energy exchanges between people.
My introverted friends are loving quarantine. They try to be supportive by offering to Zoom with me. But for some of us, the whole ‘who’s-turn-is-it-to-talk’ awkwardness of video conferencing is more of an energy drain than it is a boost. I make a living from communicating so it is no exaggeration to say that being cut off from people like this feels, for me, like energetic asphyxiation. It feels like I am holding my breath waiting for the dark clouds overhead to dissipate. My way of coping is to go for walks in the woods where I can focus on fully exhaling after each deep cleansing breath.
There is some good news in all of this for extroverts. By nature, we tend to have well-developed coping skills, since we are always putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable with other people. This resilience we have developed over the years may prove to be a protective factor keeping us from getting too depressed during this pandemic. I hope it is enough to carry us through.
To all of you extroverts out there who are struggling right now, please know you are not alone. People like us are not designed to endure this kind of prolonged social isolation. If you feel sub-optimal at this point, know I am right there with you. Do whatever you have to do to make it through the next few months intact—eat, drink, walk in the woods, Zoom, chat with the cashier at Kohl’s—whatever it takes to hang in there. This will all be over soon.
Chris Croll is a writer, empathy activist and communications consultant. She lives in Leesburg with her husband and two teenage boys.