How introverts gain in pandemic - Keith Roulston editorial
You can learn a lot listening to CBC radio. The other morning, for instance, I found out that I’m part of a portion of the population uniquely equipped to survive the stresses of the pandemic.
Much has been discussed about the mental stress brought on by the isolation of distancing required to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus, but according to the woman being interviewed that morning, as an introvert, not being able to socialize is not as great a hardship as for – well as the beautiful old Barbra Streisand song goes, “people who need people”.
Many people have been affected by the deprivation brought on by physical distancing and stay-at-home orders. A U.S. study back in December, for instance, found that more than 42 per cent of people surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. Plenty of advice has been circulated about combatting the effects of no longer being able to socialize at work, at a gym or restaurant or at church. CAMH advises people to keep busy (hence the amount of baking and the do-it-yourself projects) and stay physically active, even if it means just using the stairs or watching an exercise video.
But at our house, both Jill and I have remarked that we haven’t suffered as much from the isolation as some of our friends seem to have. Oh it’s frustrating not being able to see family or to just go to a store and buy something when the need arises or to go to a movie and out for dinner, yet all and all we wouldn’t say we’ve joined that 42 per cent who experience anxiety or depression by being cut off from the world.
The explanation was provided by that woman on the radio. You see we’re both introverts. I wouldn’t say, though, that we “love” the pandemic as some headlines on the internet suggest many introverts do.
Exploring a little further on the internet I read that, according to a British website called The Conversation, “extroverts typically exhibit higher levels of energy and sociability compared to introverts, enjoying a boost in mood after social interactions. Introverts do not tend to experience such benefits.”
But some entries on the internet suggest some introverts are apprehensive about going back to the sort of open social life that was normal before the pandemic changed things beyond belief. I can see that. Having been cut off from the sort of adaptations that I had to make, as an introvert, to successfully navigate a social world, I sometimes think I’m regressing to the shy kid I was many decades ago.
Back then, if a stranger came to our farm – say a repairman to fix the electric stove – I’d hang back timidly for a while. But besides introversion I had another trait: I was incredibly curious. It wouldn’t take long before my curiosity trumped my shyness and I’d be peppering the stranger with questions about what he was doing.
When it came time to go to school, my introversion, combined with the fact I was teased unmercifully, made me dread the beginning of each school year when the pleasant life of long summer days exploring the countryside with my best friend, free of harassment, came to an end. But once in school my curiosity again overcame my hesitancy and subjects like history, with intriguing stories of people over the centuries, made me willing to push myself socially so I could learn more.
Over the years I’ve met people, especially farm residents, whose social hesitancy meant they continued to live with their parents and never married. That could have been me, but my parents made it perfectly clear I couldn’t get away with that – that I had to go to university.
Because I liked to write and was curious, I enrolled in the journalism school at Ryerson University in the very heart of crowded downtown Toronto. At my very first journalism class we were assigned to go out on campus, stop an absolute stranger, interview him or her and write a story. Talk about a baptism by fire!
It seems unusual for an introvert to live a life in the limelight in journalism and the theatre as I have, but introversion is a strange thing. Many well-known actors, for instance, surprise people during TV interviews by admitting that underneath their fame, they’re actually shy. Taking on different personalities helps them cope.
The chance to work from home must have seemed a blessing for many introverts. There was no more forcing yourself to be outgoing when you weren’t, no more having to pretend to like that noisy or pushy co-worker. Instead, you kept people safely at arm’s length – or at Zoom-meeting length – which brings a whole different form of anxiety.
Anyway, thanks to that woman on CBC radio I now know that what I’ve thought of as the curse of introversion has been a blessing for coping with the pandemic.