When the COVID-19 quarantine was first implemented, my thoughts immediately went to those members of society known as “extroverts”. In this category are people whose energy is charged by interaction with others. Their sense of well-being is fostered by in-person experiences with others and social connectedness. With the quarantine, the extroverts lost significant ways to charge their batteries. They have been forced into daily lives which deplete their batteries, draining them of energy and a sense of well-being. Essentially, the extroverts are now living the lives of their counterparts, the introverts.
Introverts are people whose energy is charged by alone time, or time with very limited, very close friends. In non-Corona times, introverts exist in a society which functions on social interaction. They leave their homes and have to function all day in environments which deplete their batteries. They have no way to avoid these social interactions and simply have to deal with our socially-based society to go to school, go to work, run errands. So while the introverts are now living their ideal social lives – by themselves or with limited numbers of people, in the security of their homes, choosing when and how to be social via technology, on their own terms – the extroverts are adjusting to a daily social environment that is contrary to what their batteries need.
So as a therapist, I was concerned about how the extroverts would manage and have the luxury of a sample population within my own home.
Our younger daughter is an introvert. Getting through an entire day of school, with non-stop social interactions and no opportunities to escape and re-charge, is exhausting for her. The societal expectation is for her to be social, particularly as a teenager; to be otherwise labels her as weird or “antisocial” or stuck up. So she pushes through the day, enjoying her friends and classmates, but drained of all resources by evening. The quarantine, however, lets her create her own schedule. She happily exists with limited social contact during the day, focusing on her online classes, working out, engaging in activities she loves, and then connecting with friends via technology at night. The perfect introvert world, right? Maybe, but the challenge introverts are having is that they never really get time alone. They are now constantly surrounded by people in what can seem like a smaller and smaller space. So helping my daughter and other like her to find a corner, a room, or a way to get the true alone time they require to recharge is important.
Our other daughter is an extrovert. In actuality, if there was an “uber-extrovert” category, that would be her label. Prior to social distancing, she would wake up excited to go to school, not because of her love of academics, but for the opportunities to be with other people. By the time she drove the 20 minutes home from school, she’d be thinking about the next opportunity to be with larger groups of people other than her limited family size. She will offer to run errands for me simply to get out of the house and be around other people. Her personality fits within society’s established standards, and it is extroverts like my daughter who are typically reinforced and rewarded for their outgoing natures. So when all that is taken away, and the extroverts are now in a world of limited social interaction and small group sizes, they are struggling. They are now experiencing what introverts have always dealt with – a social construct that works against their batteries rather than with.
Or so I thought. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed an unexpected trend among some of my teenage patients who are extroverts. These are the kids I thought might need extra, online therapy sessions to manage the change to their social environments. While that is true for some, there is a larger group of extroverts whose mental health seems to have IMPROVED in this quarantine. They report being more relaxed and less stressed. They like not having to go to school and making their own daily schedule to get work done. Their parents have reported these kids are more productive than usual, demonstrating better focus and seemingly happier. Like their introverted peers, they are enjoying choosing when to be social, maintaining focus on academics without social distraction and then social interactions without academic pressures. The quarantine is allowing these extroverts to compartmentalize their lives to truly enjoy all parts, rather than having the parts overlap. It makes me wonder if for some extroverts, the continuous demand on their sociability overloads their social batteries in a similar way that too much sociability overloads the introverts’ social batteries. If then these extroverts present as overly stimulated, hyper, irritable, or unable to process information or make sound decisions due to the overload.
The quarantine is also allowing extroverts to determine true friendships versus extraneous relationships. A mom of an 8th grader was exceptionally worried that her daughter wasn’t reporting the “painful” experience of some friends not responding via social media. Her daughter was close with these girls prior to the quarantine, but during, hadn’t heard back from most of them. When I asked my patient about the situation, she said she was relieved! She hadn’t felt close to the girls she had called friends for many weeks prior, and was glad not to have the pressure of interacting with them during school. She described these girls as “people I thought were friends, but who were really former friends that I just hung out with because I always had”. She shared with me that she didn’t want to continue friendships with them in high school, and was glad the quarantine made the timeline to be around them shorter.
Because of the quarantine, I am reminded not to assume how kids or adults will react in times of crisis or trauma. Some are finding value in the downtime, allowing themselves to learn about who they are and who the people they want in their lives to be. Others are discovering new interests, or re-discovering old interests, as they are confronted with boredom. And while there are some who are reacting with fear, or anxiety, or depression, the quarantine might provide those individuals time to take care of themselves, get the mental health support they need, and ultimately be stronger individuals once our society is healthy.
Just a little something for your insight. – Dr. Robin