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Being an introvert may be an advantage in a pandemic

Intoverted woman enjoting being home alone

You may have noticed introverted friends celebrated the news of lockdowns forcing them to stay at home, and now new research backs the idea being an introvert may be an advantage when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An observational study of US university students early in the pandemic found introverts had a slight increase in mood over time compared with students with extrovert traits, who saw a decrease in mood.

Extroversion usually associated with more resilience

The results, published in Plos One, are interesting because extroversion is typically associated with better mental health, including during and after stressful events.  But the special circumstances of mandated social isolation and reduced activities that accompany a pandemic appear to negatively affect people who prefer stimulation and social contact.

Introverted individuals appeared to be less troubled with being confined at home and those with a tendency towards anxiety, self-doubt, etc, appear to have benefitted from not having to deal with the everyday stressors of normal life.

Uni stress not linked to mood, for some

Interestingly, stress levels fell for extroverts during the study period, suggesting university, for US students at least, can be quite stressful, but the type of stress doesn’t necessarily lower mood for people with extrovert traits.

The researchers note, despite reporting a decrease in mood, extroverts still scored higher mood levels, overall, compared with introverted students.

Study limitations

The study is limited as it was relatively small, focused on university students only, was observational, meaning it can’t prove cause and effect, and relied on self-reporting.

But it does point to some of the specific challenges and stressors related to pandemic responses.

How to look after your mental health during lockdowns

There are things you can do to improve your mental health during pandemic restrictions, and in other stressful situations:

  1. Help others. Check-in with friends and family to see if there’s anything they need, or surprise someone with a food or grocery delivery
  2. Find a physical activity you enjoy. There are lots of exercise routines available online or you could just pump up the music and dance for half an hour
  3. Get enough sleep. Follow our tips here
  4. Prepare and eat healthy food you enjoy
  5. Connect with others, even if it’s via Zoom
  6. Learn strategies to manage stress such as taking a walk in nature, deep breathing or unplugging from technology for a bit
  7. Have realistic expectations of yourself and others
  8. Find ways to relax such as meditation or taking a hot bath
  9. Counteract negative or overcritical thinking. A thought diary can be useful
  10. Do things you enjoy and that give you a sense of accomplishment. This could be as simple as baking some bread, planting some herbs or getting tasks crossed off your to-do list.
First published: Mar 2021

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