Saturday, March 21, 2020

An introvert's guide to surviving in isolation

On social media, extroverts are jokingly asking introverts for advice on how they survive being by themselves for long periods of time. Being extremely introverted, this is indeed a question that I don't hear that often. And while I realise that it's often being asked as a joke or a rhetorical question, I'm going to do the socially awkward thing (being an introvert) and give a long, serious answer to that.

Generally, I like being alone, and find ways to entertain myself. However, even for me there have been periods in my life when there was too much loneliness. In writing this blogpost, I'm keeping in mind the last of such periods: During my post-doc in Italy, I found out that, during the month of August, everyone is on holidays. The university was shut, with heavy chains blocking the main entrance to the building, and when I snuck in through the back door, I found the building completely empty, so I started working (or not working) from home. I didn't have many friends (being an introvert and finding it difficult to meet new people), and those I had were travelling themselves. I also had my own flat, and no housemates to socialise with. So I spent several weeks by myself, hardly talking to anyone. I'd like to list some things that might help others who are in a similar situation, of being at home by themselves, perhaps working from home, or living in quarantine for a few weeks.

The situation was, of course, different from the Corona-situation now. I could travel, and scheduled in regular day trips to nearby cities and towns and one or two weekend trips in further-away cities. There was no pandemic, no external reason for fear and anxiety. However, it was tough (even for me), and thinking back, I remember a few things that worked in terms of helping me to get through this period, and a couple of things that probably made me feel worse at the time. These are specific to me: an introvert who is impatient and has nerdy hobbies. I don't want to make it sound like the things that helped me will help everyone. But maybe some of my more extroverted friends will find some things that they can try out if they feel down during their time at home.

Things to do
1) Keep a routine. Eat regular meals, wake up at a reasonable time, get dressed, brush your teeth, go for walks, exercise, take showers.
2) Buy a pot plant. Even if you don't have a green thumb, a routined lifestyle and too much time on your hands will allow you to look after it well. If you live by yourself, it's a way to get something that's alive and low maintenance into your life, and you'll be happy when the plant grows and starts blossoming.
3) Treat yourself to good meals on a regular basis. This was very easy for me, because I was living in Italy: I could taste cheeses and meats from the market, buy lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and try out new recipes from Preparing and eating a nice dinner gave me something to look forward to each day.
4) Go outside every day. At this stage, in Bavaria, it is allowed to go outside for walks. Try to discover some new streets or parks near where you live. Find a nice place to watch the sunset, and make it part of your routine to watch it every day.
5) Vary the activities. To an introvert, there are many fun things that can be done at home. To name a few: Reading, learning a language, writing a blog post, short story, or working on a novel (don't worry, you don't have to ever show it to anyone - it's just a way to keep yourself busy and your brain active), playing the piano, listening to music, learning to code, watching movies, series, or youtube videos, cooking. Go through a list of things you've always wanted to do: perhaps you have a Spanish language book on your shelf from when you wanted to learn Spanish but then found out you didn't actually have the time, or your friends kept telling you about this awesome novel that you always forgot to download to your e-reader, or a guitar you bought ages ago and haven't touched since.

Things to avoid
1) Depressing things. There are times to read or watch movies about war, death, and destruction. But when in isolation, it's not a good time to expose yourself to things that drag you down. At this stage, this also involves my social media feeds and the news. It's important to keep up-to-date with what's happening, but it's not good to become completely absorbed by it. Minimise the amount of time you spend doing things that you know will make you feel depressed: maybe just check the news three times a day.
2) Drinking too much. In line with Point 3 from "things to do", it's nice to have a glass of some nice wine occasionally. However, then it becomes tempting to have another glass of the delicious wine, and then another, and then another, and before you know it, you're feeling drunk, lonely, and terrible.
3) Binging on anything. For me, doing anything for too long makes me feel like my head is about to implode, and at the end of the day, it feels like it's been wasted. This involves spending the whole day binge-watching series, but also finding a book that is so interesting that I can't put it down and end up forgetting my whole routine, including sleep, until I get to the last page.
4) Building a den: It's nice to have a cozy place, for example, your favourite blanket and pillows on the couch. But it's not good to spend too much time in it. This relates back to the previous point: Spending a whole day binge watching or reading something in your den, eating in your den, drinking in your den, is not a day well-spent for me.

I focussed on things that an introvert would say, but, of course, there are other things that are advisable to do if you're in isolation and feel lonely. Actively seek contact: call or email an old friend and ask them if they're OK. Video-chat with your relatives. Check if your elderly neighbours need something from the shop. And, most of all: Stay safe, and take care of yourself!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful and inspiring blogpost...thank you! :-)