Why Being Lonely Looks Different for Introverts
This article originally appeared on Introvert, Dear. It’s a 6-minute read.
When COVID-19 started changing the world as we knew it, it was widely assumed that the result was an introvert’s paradise. Companies shifted to a work-from-home model, in-person social events were canceled, and everyone was told to stay home.
Suddenly, all social interaction moved online as virtual clubs formed and invites to online birthday parties and game nights were sent out.
And I tried to get on board. I really did.
I joined a virtual book club, I agreed to be part of a group that met monthly to discuss various topics, and I set up Zoom hangouts with some of our out-of-state friends. But all of that was exhausting and hard to enjoy after spending so much of the workweek on Zoom and other video platforms, like WebEx and Teams.
I had been so excited about the virtual book club… but then the day of the first meeting rolled around.
It had been a particularly busy workday, and by 7 p.m., I was drained. The last thing I felt like doing was joining an 8 p.m. Zoom call. I just didn’t have the energy. But I quickly ate dinner, dialed in—video on, of course—and there it was: that dreaded deer-in-headlights feeling.
In typical introvert fashion, whenever I turn my camera on, I feel like a very unwanted spotlight is on me the entire time, making me extremely self-conscious as I act overly cheery. It’s that same feeling I used to get while I was masquerading as an extrovert in the office, and that act takes all of my energy—and then some.
Video calls put me way out of my comfort zone, and after that first book club meeting I knew I couldn’t continue, for the sake of self-care. I also realized that nothing virtual gives me the connection I want and need, and that feels incredibly lonely—and being lonely as an introvert looks different, I think.
Loneliness From a Lack of Connection, Not From a Lack of People
As an introvert, I get lonely from a lack of connection, not from a lack of people, and that’s a lot harder to solve.
Now, being alone and being lonely are two entirely different things. I love my alone time, and it’s something I need to have every day—often multiple times a day—to recharge and reset. I never feel lonely during that time.
But I’m also energized by a meaningful one-on-one connection with a good friend, and I crave that just as much as solitude and quiet. Before COVID-19, this looked like meeting a close friend for coffee, dinner, or drinks, and enjoying hours of deep conversation. Creating this kind of connection has become a lot harder lately.
Extroverts are energized by social interaction in groups, and they tend to love the spotlight. Virtualized activities still can’t replace socializing in person, but extroverts are far more likely to join (and be excited about!) a Zoom happy hour or game night.
While it’s a common introverted tendency to hate talking on the phone, now video calls have become our worst nightmare, both for work and to socialize.
This is a problem, because the two easiest ways to connect during this pandemic are the two ways of communication that introverts work the hardest to avoid. So, while I know that I can just pick up the phone to call a friend when I’m lonely or set up a Zoom call, I tend to just wait out the loneliness instead.
But we still don’t have an end date for this pandemic, and feelings of loneliness and sadness tend to be elevated during the winter months, when the days are shorter and we’re spending a lot more time inside. Plus, some research has found that introverts tend to be more prone to depression than extroverts.
To create the connection we crave, here are three things we introverts can do when we’re feeling lonely. They’ve worked for me—and hopefully they’ll work for you, too.
3 Ways to Combat Loneliness as an Introvert
1. Begin a meaningful “conversation” by getting a pen pal.
Did you ever have a pen pal when you were a kid? I had several throughout the years, and I loved them. The anticipation of getting a letter in the mail from a friend I’d met at camp or on a trip was so exciting, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing them back.
Introverts tend to prefer writing to other forms of communication because it allows us to gather our thoughts and thoughtfully respond, retreating into our heads and spending as much time as we need there.
If this sounds like you, maybe it’s time to seek out a new pen pal to engage in meaningful “conversation” over email—or even via snail mail. Choose either an introverted friend, or someone you know who also enjoys writing, and explain what you’re hoping to achieve.
Determine what you need to foster that deep level of connection through email or letters, and lay that out so expectations are clear. It may be helpful to include an ideal frequency, or indicate that you can each have the flexibility to reply as you have time, so this stays fun instead of becoming an obligation.
The next time you feel the loneliness creeping in, you can write an email to your pandemic pen pal and create a sense of connection without picking up your phone (and certainly not by turning on your video!).
2. Open up your journal and write to process all your emotions and thoughts.
This brings us back to writing again, but journaling is another way to create connection—this time, with yourself. It’s easy to find the source of our loneliness when we feel disconnected from our dearest friends, but it can be harder to identify when we’re disconnected from ourselves.
Writing has always been my go-to for processing and working through things, especially the deeper stuff, and this is true for many introverts. Plus, research has found that there are many health benefits of journaling, from boosting your mood to decreasing symptoms of depression.
When it comes to our deepest feelings—like loneliness, sadness, and disappointment—“the only way out is through” (a sentiment Robert Frost wrote about in his poem Servant of Servants). The best way to release these emotions is to give ourselves time to process them, uncover where they’re coming from at the deepest level, and then feel our way through them to the other side (no matter how challenging it may be).
Even if you don’t think you’re making progress by journaling about your thoughts and feelings, over time, you’ll see that you are. It’s just like therapy: you may not feel as though you work through something in one session, but it’s the culmination of many sessions that gets you from point A to point B.
There’s a reason—and often a lesson—behind everything we feel, and this can be the best season to work your way through your emotions, while we still have a little (or a lot) more space in our lives.
3. Take the focus off you. instead, be of service to someone else.
I learned this step—being of service to someone else—from Gabby Bernstein, and it’s a powerful one because it shifts your focus.
When we’re feeling lonely, regardless of the reason or circumstance, our focus is on ourselves, and we have a very limited view of the way out when we’re in that headspace.
But by reaching out to someone we can help—whether that’s a friend who lives alone, a coworker who’s going through a rough patch, or a family member who would love to hear from us—being of service to that person becomes our focus instead of our loneliness.
I’m talking about reaching out with a quick text or email, not a phone call (unless that’s a call you want to make). Sometimes, a text is all it takes to make someone’s day and replace your loneliness with a sense of purpose and connection in the process. Or, if you want a reason to get out of the house and help someone at the same time, you can always do some grocery shopping or run errands for an elderly neighbor or relative.
And if you haven’t had too much Zoom yet, there are also many online volunteering opportunities. You can check out programs like VolunteerMatch.com (which has everything from tutoring to teaching English as a second language) or AARP’s “Create the Good” remote opportunities (which has everything from being a virtual coach or mentor to teaching a musical instrument).
Plus, research has found that doing good doesn’t just make the other person feel good, it makes us feel good, too—which can definitely help lessen our loneliness.
Read my latest ebook for six coping strategies that you can start using today to fight pandemic fatigue and feel better.