In this blog post we discuss what it really means to be an introvert, how it’s scientifically proven that stronger bonds = better health and tips on how introverts can step up socially, even during COVID-19.
What is An Introvert Anyway?
Let’s begin with some myth busting. Contrary to popular belief, introverts aren’t socially anxious people or wallflowers.
Rather, an introvert is someone who enjoys solitude and focuses more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation. Unlike extroverts who gain energy from social interaction, introverts have to expend energy in social situations and this can be taxing emotionally and physically.
You may be an introvert if:
- You daydream or use your imagination to work out a problem vs. extroverts who seek advice and input from others
- People have said you’re hard to get to know
- Large gatherings are draining for you
Why It’s Important For Introverts to Be Social
When you enjoy solitude, it is not second nature to make new friendships. However, there is scientific research to support the positive health effects of strong relationships.
For instance, interacting regularly with other people appears to lower your risk for heart disease, depression, and early death. A strong social network is associated with a healthier endocrine system and healthier cardiovascular functioning.
On the other hand, the health risks of isolation are comparable with smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. Isolation is something that we punish children with via a timeout or even incarcerated people via solitary confinement. We are currently in an interesting situation where introverts experience outside barriers to establishing and maintaining contact with others due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
How Do Relationships Positively Affect Our Health
The scientific proof is apparent. When we’re connected, we’re healthier. But why is this so? There are two schools of thought. The first is that when we have more social supports, we are less stressed so we’re not subject to the medical conditions triggered by stress.
A quick reminder about the different kinds of stress. Not all stress is detrimental. Take acute stress for starters. This is short-term stress that helps motivate us. You know you have a test on Friday, so you start studying the week before. Whereas, bad stress is chronic and is described as long-term. An example is being stuck in an emotionally abusive marriage for years.
Chronic stress can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including:
- Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
- Obesity and other eating disorders
- Menstrual problems
- Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women
- Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and permanent hair loss
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
Another theory for how connectedness affects health is seen in studies showing that people who are more connected have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a result, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.
Both introverts and extroverts can benefit from developing strong bonds with others but whereas extroverts thrive, introverts view this as “work” and are less enthusiastic about it.
As if that wasn’t enough, let’s pile on a pandemic, stay at home orders, and endless Zoom meetings and staying social is infinitely more difficult. As the pandemic stretches into its fifth month, chronic stress is beginning to set in for many people, and especially for introverts who have a harder time creating and maintaining relationships.
7 Ways Introverts Can Stay Connected During COVID-19
- An outdoor fitness class or walking club. It’s best to find a quiet park so you can hear each other from 6 feet apart.
- Communicate with friends in their preferred way, be it text, email, phone call, Skype, or Facebook messenger.
- Write snail mail to friends. Make sure to include a fun or funny memory you share with them.
- Interact more with essential workers: grocery store employees, nurses, delivery drivers, mail delivery people. They are face to face (hopefully not too close) to stressed out people and others who don’t take their health into account by not wearing a mask. The best thing you can do is be respectful, give room, wear your mask, tip servers and delivery drivers well, and express appreciation.
- Google Hangouts, Zoom rooms, and Facetime dates with friends. You can even have a Netflix party with friends recreate Mystery Science Theater 3000 while you pick apart the plot holes in Tremors.
- Write letters to elderly patients in retirement homes to combat the isolation that is worsened by COVID19. Love For the Elderly is a great organization that gives you clear instructions.
- The old-fashioned phone call. Call all your favorites or call everyone on your Christmas card list. Consider it Christmas in July!