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Introverts in lockdown: trouble in paradise?

Is lockdown too much of a good thing for introverts?

If you've always been reserved, shy, or had that unwavering preference for ‘alone time’ rather than social outings, you may well be an introvert. If that's the case, are you more likely to struggle with the impacts of the lockdown?

Popularised by psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early 1900s, the term ‘introvert’ is regularly used by today’s psychologists to describe people who fall at one end of a personality spectrum. On the opposite end of this spectrum is extroversion. The ‘extroverts,’ who are considered to be socially confident, talkative, and outgoing.

Many have suggested that this contrast is because of differences in our brain biology. Levels of dopamine, for one thing - you know, that happy hormone your brain releases when you eat your favourite food, watch your favourite TV show, or meet new people.

According to Ellyn Schinke, who has a MS in Microbiology and Immunology, it's not that extroverts have higher levels of dopamine than introverts, but how they both react to dopamine differently.

Introverts often become over-stimulated, Ellyn writes, because they have a higher sensitivity to dopamine (than extroverts).

They don’t need to engage in as many stimulating activities like meeting new people, because they reach that state of dopamine-satisfaction more quickly. Any more, and it becomes too much. Hence why you often see the ‘quieter’ people leaving the party early…

Extroverts are, on the other hand, less sensitive to dopamine. Ellyn mentions that extroverts also have a lower blood flow rate to their brains than introverts, meaning they are all round less susceptible to a cognitive overstimulation.

(In other words: they're going to be more drawn out into the external world, towards people and social activities, while introverts will usually find themselves retreating inwards to recover from a dopamine overload).

Compare dopamine's effect to paracetamol's pain-relieving effect. We each have different levels of sensitivity to paracetamol. Some of us only need that one pill to relieve our aches; others who are less sensitive to its effect need double that, or even several doses in a single day.

There's no dispute that both types of people need pain relief, but who will be reaching for the medicine cabinet the most?

Maybe it's understandable that since lockdown commenced the idea that introverts are finding lockdown-life ‘ideal’ has been circulating the media, from 'memes' on popular platforms like YouTube to articles from the Guardian. But how much factual weight do these statements carry?

Guardian writer Arwa Mahdawi, a confessed introvert herself, voices her own struggles with being in lockdown in her article 'Please check in on your introvert friends': "I was doing really well at the beginning of the pandemic," she writes. "But there is such a thing, I have realised, as having way too much time to think. I really miss missing being at home."

Is this just a case of 'having too much of a good thing' or does it go deeper?

Studies into the impacts of lockdown on introverted people are still relatively fresh, but most of them report high cases of loneliness, anxiety, and depression in introverted people.

Research carried out by Greater Divide in a survey of 1,000 American adults found that the percentage of people who scored higher on their extroversion test had experienced less mental health issues as a result of the lockdown than those who had scored lower.

Of course, no one is enjoying lockdown. We're all suffering from its impacts, from social distancing, being furloughed, the strangeness of immersing ourselves into technology to reach the very people we are physically avoiding, to being walled in to our homes.

As Arwa from the Guardian notes, "this isn't some kind of depression-measuring competition." And she's right.

But surely it's high time that the introvert's struggles were acknowledged, instead of being downplayed?

With social activities being limited to FaceTime and Zoom calls (which tend to infiltrate the 'me' space, the home, that many introverts have come to value so much for its quiet), it can't be easy for introverts to get their own much-needed - but of course carefully-curbed - dose of dopamine for the day.

If you are unsure about just how introverted or extroverted you are the Free Personality Test supplied by 16Personalities is great for getting a detailed insight into yourself. Your own personal levels of introversion and extroversion will be included in the results you get.

Share this blog post with your introverted friends if you think they might be feeling a little too alone right now!


Gemma Knight is a DMU graduate working as an editorial associate intern with Niche Magazine. She’s had work published in Braunstone Life and left university with first-class honours. Along with editing and proofreading experience for Cross Productions’ clientele, she writes pieces for Niche and the new She Inspires magazine.

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