How to Survive Self-Isolation If You're an Extrovert
Nine Tips to Help You Stay Sane While Social Distancing
These are strange times indeed. The hot new term this month was "social distancing", and though the thought of self-isolation can be unpleasant for anyone, it's especially difficult for extroverts: those of us who require social interaction as a necessary part of human existence. Let's be clear: when it comes to extroversion and introversion, everyone is a little bit of both and everyone can tap into different modes depending on the situation. But everyone also has a preferred method of operation which comes naturally, and I'm sure you know instinctively which you are. Extroverts, generally speaking, feel more comfortable in the company of others, tend to have large circles of friends or acquaintances, and are usually seen as sociable by others. Social distancing is the antithesis of how an extrovert functions.
And now, to top it off, most parts of the world are requiring people to stay at home and severely limit interactions with the outside world. Many introverts are absolutely loving it, but to extroverts, this is dreadful. For extroverts like me who live alone, it's torture. But it must be done. We all must do our part to help humanity get through this unique and difficult phase. After quarantining myself for a week and being generally miserable through it all (sorry, friends), I've come up with a few suggestions that I hope will help others stay positive while persevering through what I like to call a "social caesura" (look it up). Hopefully we will all come out the other end with our mental faculties still in tact. And if you're an introvert reading this, maybe it will give you ideas to share with your extrovert friends, so please share! They are not happy, trust me.
1. Keep a routine!
Unless you're a key worker, you're probably either working from home or, well, not-working from home. And whichever position you're in, your social plans have probably gone straight out the window. Even for extroverts to whom planning and scheduling comes naturally, all this new free time can be disorienting because we're generally not used to being on our own. The best thing you can do for yourself is to create a new schedule and stick to it. If you work from home, keep your typical work hours: get up at the same time you normally do, go through your morning routine, and sit down with your laptop from 9-5, with a break for lunch. If you're not working, set specific times for meals and whatever else you do to keep yourself busy.
Now stick to those times you've set: punch that metaphorical clock when work is over. Once lunchtime is finished, clear up instead of dawdling on your phone. The same thing goes for spaces: if you have a separate room for work time, make sure it's only used for work during work hours, leave the room when work is finished, and close the door. (If it's just a laptop and a desk, put the laptop away and repurpose the desk.) The bed is only for sleeping when it is sleepytime, so get up when you wake up. The table is only for eating, etc. When you're perpetually at home it's incredibly easy not to be strict with your schedule. You might think it doesn't matter as much. But it does (to a degree … I mean, be a little flexible and don't stress yourself out). It's also easy to inadvertently let work life bleed into home life, and it's a slippery slope into non-productivity for extroverts, since we generally need to keep busy with something. Keeping your mind busy with time frames is a great way to stay productive and maintain a sense of purpose.
Then, on the weekend, since you're not going out, make other plans instead. Even if your plan is "sit on the sofa for 23 hours", decide that you are okay with that plan and then do it. If you're meeting friends in a virtual setting (see below) arrange a time for it. And remember, while organising your diary, don't feel like you have to schedule every minute. Just having a few things to look forward to will help you feel like you're still a part of a social world.
2. Stay in touch with people (obviously)
You're an extrovert; of course you have a social network. Use it. Just because you're cut off physically from your friends and family doesn't mean they've forgotten about you. They are in the same predicament as you, and they would love to hear from you. Your social media presence is the perfect tool for this. Whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever new platform the kids are using nowadays, stay in touch. You can even use your phone as, you know, a PHONE, as crazy as that sounds, and call someone. There are plenty of apps making headlines which make it easy for you to stay in touch with a video call. The one that I've found works best is Zoom (which I use to host my virtual pub quizzes) or if you're feeling a bit random, try Houseparty if you haven't already. It's easy to forget about your adoring fa– sorry, your friends when they are not constantly surrounding you (no offence, friends), so a simple phone or video call will pick your spirits up. And if you know anyone who is living alone, contact them first for added karma points. Human voices will be nectar from the gods.
That said, don't rely on your social media too much. If you're the kind of person who is a slave to that little red circle with a number in it (you know who you are), be sure to put the phone down every once in a while (see no. 1 above) and get your eyes away from the screen. Remember, social media is a tool, not a replacement.
3. Get plenty of sunlight
Of all these tips, this one is potentially the most difficult to follow since you're stuck inside all day, but that also makes it potentially the most important one. Getting enough sunlight is a simple trick for your brain to keep on top of your schedule and keep your extroverted brain happy, not to mention your body healthy. At least once a day, preferably in the morning, stare out the window for 10-15 minutes. I'd recommend doing it with your morning hot beverage (I mean, you're not spending that time travelling to work anyway) and simply soak up the sun while planning your day. It's a perfect time to contemplate life, or contemplate your feelings, or contemplate that weird tree over there. It doesn't matter, as long as you let your face absorb the natural daylight. If it's cloudy, stay a few minutes longer.
Then, throughout your day, make sure you glance out the window once in a while to remind yourself that it's still daytime and that life still exists out there. If you can, place your work area near a window or facing a window. If you're allowed, go out for a walk or a run or a bike ride during the daytime (while being careful about distance). By doing this, you will naturally stay in tune with your circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep pattern and therefore your mood. You will find that come evening, you will feel more able to relax and your sleep will be more restful.
4. Start a new activity
It's easy to get wrapped up in the misery of the current situation – all you have to do is watch the news for an hour. One interesting way you can change perspective is to view forced isolation as an opportunity that doesn't come around very often. It could be the perfect time to start something new that you've been thinking about forever. Now is your chance. Start that book you've been meaning to read, start learning that new language you've been wanting to look into (there's an app for that), or pick up that new skill. If you're an extrovert like me who has started and abandoned about a thousand things already, go back to them. Dust off your old guitar, arrange all your photos into albums finally, or, you know, write an entry in that blog of yours that's been sitting around untouched for years (ahem). You can even work this into your daily planning, and it will help fill up that empty diary (see no. 1 above). Whatever you choose to do, the point is that it will activate those parts of your brain that are more introverted, meaning it will allow the extroverted parts of your brain (which is most of it, let's be honest) to take a back seat and be relatively okay with the present situation for a while.
5. Stay active
Most extroverts use physical activity to help them recharge and to increase the release of those sweet, sweet endorphins, but this becomes crazy difficult when you're in isolation. I don't mean you have to start a home gym, but don't let yourself become a vegetable either. At least once a day it's a good idea to rev up your engines for at least half an hour with either an in-home workout routine (they are all the rage these days) or, if you can do it safely, go for a walk, making sure you're careful about social distancing and don't lick any doorknobs on the way. Endorphins are precious these days.
6. Listen to energising music
I chose that adjective carefully, since everyone listens to different kinds of music. But whatever your tastes are, make sure your music is uplifting in some way. Music is, of course, a wonderful way to alter mood, and extroverts benefit by having some kind of noise in the environment (until they don't), so why not use it to keep yourself busy and productive. It can be dancy and poppy, soulful and groovy, or even chilled and relaxing. It's your preference after all. Just be sure that it makes you feel good about yourself, as opposed to provocative or depressing (now is not the time for that). If you use Spotify, try experimenting with new genres, or listen to old albums that you used to adore back in the day. If you're working, I'd suggest putting on something pleasant that doesn't require too much attention, for example an album by musician Bonobo. Then in the evening you can put on a musical or something you can belt away to while you make dinner, if the spirit takes you (apologies to my neighbours). If you find a certain song or playlist that always puts you in a good mood, share it with other extroverts (including me please!)
And when you get sick of music, put on a podcast at the end of the day or whenever you're not working. It's a good way to get your eyes away from the screen after work or even PUT DOWN THE SOCIAL MEDIA, since it's hard to pay attention to these things when you have to listen to someone telling a story. And the sound of other humans' voices in the home is an added bonus if you live alone.
This isn't for everyone, admittedly, but if the thought of mindfulness or meditation has ever piqued your interest, now is the time to give it a try. Mindfulness, for some, is the perfect way to handle difficult feelings that pop up into your head, including fear, sadness, or anxiety. It's certainly not going to fix your problems right away, but it will help you gain a new perspective on these feelings, and the benefits you could gain are invaluable in other aspects of your life. And really it's only 10 or 15 minutes a day for a bit of mental self-care. There are plenty of free apps available that guide you through the journey of mindfulness; try Headspace or Calm, just to name a few.
Even if meditation isn't really your thang, it's a good idea to set aside some time just to be alone with your thoughts. If you are allowed outside, go sit in a park (with proper distancing please!) and simply observe nature, for example. Also, it might be the closest you get to being around people, and it's an especially nice thing to do in the sun if it's out. You can even leave positive messages for yourself on post-its around the house, to remind yourself to take a few deep breaths once in a while. Some people like to schedule time to connect to their spirituality. Whatever works for you to keep your mind in a calm state, set aside time to do it every day.
8. Remember, it's OKAY to feel sad
It's also okay to feel scared or worried. Being cut off from human contact is extremely hard, and those silly introverts will never understand just how difficult it is. It's perfectly understandable and even likely that you will feel miserable or lonely at times. But remember to be objective: you're probably just feeling that way because it is a natural consequence of the crummy situation. It is not a reflection of yourself. You will get through it. So go ahead, have a cry. Afterwards, you might be surprised how relieved your feel for embracing those feelings instead of resisting them. There are many, many other people feeling the same way, and you're certainly not alone. Keep this in mind and remember to do the things I've mentioned above; it certainly got me through the first week. Above all, if the feels are ever getting to be too much and you feel like you can't handle it, do not hesitate to get in touch with someone you trust.
9. At the end of the day, reward yourself
Go ahead, give yourself a pat on the back for making it all the way to the end. You've gotten through another day. Reflect on your accomplishments from the past 24 hours, no matter how trivial. As an extrovert it might help to be reminded of whom you spoke to today or how many people you reached. Regardless of how much you've accomplished, you've also done your part for your community and all of humanity by successfully isolating. Your efforts and sacrifices are literally helping to save lives. This is such a unique shared human experience, and someday it will end. So later, when it's all over and you can hug people again (still don't lick any doorknobs though), you will be able to look back on this time and say "Boy, that was tough, but you know what? I made it through." You're doing great.