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How to Think Like an Introvert

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Even if you typically thrive on alone time, self-quarantining can be a challenge.

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Even if you typically thrive on alone time, self-quarantining can be a challenge.

It’s an introvert’s world, and we’re living in it right now.

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Despite my reputation as one of the chattiest editors in AFAR’s Slack channels and the last person to leave most work parties, I’m actually an introvert. It’s not that I’m a quiet person—I don’t shy away from going to events without a plus one or traveling solo. I even make friends pretty easily, whether I’m on a 10-day Galápagos cruise or attending a media tour of Manhattan’s newest observation deck back home in New York City. 

But after two nights out in a week, I hit an emotional wall. When I travel with my family or friends, I need to schedule in quiet time each afternoon so I’m capable of socializing again at dinner. After long bouts of traveling for work, I’ve been known to hibernate for several weekends in a row in my one-bedroom apartment by myself to recharge.

So I wasn’t surprised when Laura Dannen Redman, AFAR’s digital content director and a self-identified extrovert, messaged me a few days into our work-from-home efforts to slow the current outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the NYC area. 

“Teach me how to be an introvert,” she wrote. 

Sometimes it’s hard to read tone over Slack messages, but it wasn’t difficult to grasp the sense of panic she felt about being cut off from everyone outside of her immediate family . . . indefinitely. It was around the same time I started seeing memes on Twitter asking people to “check on your extroverts, they’re not OK.” 

A week ago, when that conversation happened, I couldn’t wrap my head around this fear of isolation. I was excited to cancel all my plans so I could schedule some solitary projects: I had a reading list six thick hardback books long, cookbooks full of baking projects to start, a Netflix queue dozens of movies deep. “Only boring people get bored,” I thought to myself as I started to write a story about a day in the life of an introvert. I learned quickly it wasn’t boredom that made extroverts hyperventilate.

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In the age of coronavirus, a week feels like a lifetime (what is time anymore?). How quickly that precious, reaffirming time alone grows overwhelming, from day 1 of physically distancing myself from every person in my life to day 11—where I now face a month, or months, of solitude. While I did get a sourdough starter going this weekend, I’ve found that other introspective activities, like reading, are nearly impossible to accomplish. The stress of the news cycle and the fact that this is forced alone time—rather than me choosing it—makes it hard to focus.

As someone who typically loves (and desperately needs) time to myself, I found myself chattering random thoughts to a Taco Bell delivery guy in my building’s lobby—something my pre–physical-distancing self would never do. In fact, I’ve found that in the last week I’ve been more social—albeit online—than ever before. Knowing that all of my friends and family members are cooped up in their homes, too, it’s comforting that I can at least see their faces and hear their voices while we share a similar experience together, yet apart.

So instead of walking you through how I spend my days blissfully alone, these are a few ways I’ve been tethering myself to the physical world to stay sane in these uncertain times. 

Introvert’s secret: You can be alone in a crowd. 

I started off with the basics: FaceTiming my mom more regularly, maintaining several different group texts throughout the day, and keeping my regularly scheduled video chat meetings on the calendar each day with my coworkers. You don’t need to chime in all the time; it just helps to be in their presence for a while.

This weekend is when things started to get creative. On Friday night, my friends and I tested the limits of group FaceTiming (it appears the call, and the spacetime continuum, breaks down once you add roughly a dozen people to it). On Sunday, I spent nine whole hours watching a movie marathon with a group of friends while simultaneously chatting in a WhatsApp group together and also streaming to Zoom so we could see each other’s reactions. (Need inspiration for your own movie marathon? Check out some of AFAR’s favorite international films.)

As a rather social introvert, these face-to-face hangouts with groups of friends have made me feel less stranded. But hilariously, introverts on the far end of the spectrum have already started to revolt against the constant run of video-streamed happy hours. In fact, The Cut’s staff chimed in the other day about their “Zoom hangovers” in a story that detailed how one writer just wants to focus on her “comfort projects and read,” and another who said she was “desperate for some alone time.”

Write more. Read more. Cook or bake more.

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If you don’t want to maintain a constant Zoom stream with your friends, I’ve found baking to be one of the most soothing ways to pass time when I’m not glued to my phone. While I’ve enjoyed staying in touch, my eyeballs have started to feel gooey from all the screentime. So once every other day or so, I’ve been baking a loaf of bread. I’ve found the recipes in The Bread Bible and the Poilâne cookbooks to be easiest to navigate. 

If you can focus on reading, AFAR has plenty of reading lists that will transport you to Italy, France, or even somewhere closer to home. Introverts often use writing to sort out their feelings—now could be the time to start a new journal even if you’re used to doing that outloud. We’re living in the middle of a historic moment, after all.

Don’t be afraid of your own thoughts . . . and if you are, adopt a pet.

One friend asked me if I’ve been talking to my cats more now. While I do greet them out loud when I wake up and find them staring at me or completely sacked out, belly up in an armchair, I don’t carry on full conversations with them throughout the day. As an introvert, I enjoy silence. But that doesn’t mean I’ve haven’t taken great comfort in having animals around. As I write this, my orange cat Chips is curled up in a ball next to me and my tabby Dip is sleeping at my feet. If you don’t already have a pet, consider reaching out to your local animal shelter and fostering a cat or dog during your time at home. They will appreciate your company as much as you’ll welcome theirs.

Not one for surprises? Schedule social time once a day. 

If you find yourself missing random office banter or your daily coffee break, schedule a FaceTime call or video chat for 15 minutes each day with your work BFF to catch up on life like you normally would. If you live with your partner, or your kids, or you have roommates and are worried about interrupting their daily work flow, find a time where you can hit pause together and go for a walk around the block to get some fresh air—while staying a safe six feet from anyone you don’t live with. 

Above all, it’s most important to remember that loneliness isn’t about being physically alone, but more about feeling alone. So don’t forget to check on your extroverts—and your introverts. We are all in this together.

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