With her painting, baking and near-constant gardening, Stephanie Hollowell kept busy at home even before efforts to stem the coronavirus pandemic meant she had to stay inside the Dallas, Texas house she calls her little kingdom.
She didn’t invite people to come taste her prizewinning cookies, or sample the sweet ground cherries that she grows. A proud introvert, public health orders to stay put suited her just fine.
“So many people are experiencing the painful aspects of this,” said Hollowell, an air traffic controller who took early retirement five years ago, when she was 50. “But basically my life has not changed one single bit.”
In the weeks since millions of people worldwide have been ordered to stay at home except for essential errands, the number of calls to psychiatrists has gone up as depression and anxiety wracks patients who lack social contact, and cannot even come in for an in-person therapy session.
But for those who are more used to solitary pursuits, the time alone can be rejuvenating - and a relief from the distress brought on by news of the coronavirus and its ravages.
Cynthia Burrell, a massage therapist whose home-based Seattle business has been shattered, said despite the loss of work she has enjoyed the quieter time with her husband. The couple, avid birders, miss their outings with the local Audubon group, but have been amazed to watch a Bewick’s wren gather up their cat’s fur to line its nest. They have seen black-capped chickadees at one neighbor’s house, she said, and chestnut-backed chickadees at another.
Gardening, sketching and watching birds in her yard has eased the near-crippling anxiety she had felt about coronavirus in the weeks leading up to her state’s shelter-at-home order.
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“It is almost like an introvert’s dream,” said Burrell, 52. “You can’t have a social life. You have to stay home on a Friday or Saturday night. ... It’s honestly a huge relief to have less to do.”
Sci-fi and Netflix
The American Psychological Association defines introversion as a personality trait in which people are more inwardly than outwardly focused, and relatively more reserved. The trait dwells along a continuum that culminates with extroversion, an outwardly oriented approach that includes people who are more outgoing and gregarious.
Because introverts tend to have fewer social interactions during the regular course of their days than extroverts, they may be better positioned to weather enforced time at home than extroverts - at least initially, said Matthias Mehl, a research psychologist at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
But all humans require social connections, even those who are more reclusive. So if quarantines or “shelter-at-home” orders last a long time, introverts will eventually need to find ways to step up their own interactions with others, Mehl said.
Jim Noh, a software engineer from Vancouver, Washington, works from home during the day, attending multiple meetings via video conferencing software, and spends most of the rest of his time on indoor pursuits such as reading science fiction novels and streaming shows on Netflix and other services.
He and his girlfriend, also an introvert, have found projects to do in their apartment, putting together a hydroponic garden and fixing a wobbly bench. When the public health restrictions forced him to put off a trip to Seattle to visit a friend, it was actually something of a relief not to have the anticipatory anxiety that often precedes social interactions - even those he was looking forward to it - Noh said.
But he said the discussions during the regular video chat meetings organized by his employer, a healthcare startup, have taken a turn for the personal, as colleagues feel the need to connect more, albeit electronically.
“I have noticed people are a little more social, a little more chatty,” said Noh, 36. “They’re more likely to ask, ‘How’s it going?’”
Living with extroverts
Marylin Bardet does not view herself as an introvert, but after a lifetime of community activism and involvement in her local community of Benicia, California, the 72-year-old is happy to immerse herself in painting, reading and other quiet activities at a time when a simple errand like going to the grocery store has become fraught with fear and worry.
“I am comfortable because I can read, I listen to music and go to the studio,” she said. “I can paint uninterruptedly.”
Hours stretching into quiet hours were also the dream of Emily Adelsohn Corngold, 77. The stay-at-home order meant she did not have to agree to every social invitation she received at the Pasadena, California, retirement community where she lives with her husband. She said she was looking forward to working on editing a friend’s memoir.
But she did not take into account her gregarious husband, a retired professor who could no longer go into his nearby office at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).
“He’s very social and he wants to talk,” Corngold said. “We now have to talk through almost everything.”