Connecting amid coronavirus: Some advice for lonely extroverts

The advent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed everyday life for millions of people. We know for some industries, it is (and will be) absolutely devastating.

Tourism, hospitality, event planners, gig workers, live entertainers, airlines — the list goes on and on. For those of us fortunate enough to have the ability to work at home, we too face uncertain prospects and a fear of how long we will be isolated and what world will await us when we emerge. I can’t solve all of these issues, but I do want to address something that I can speak to — keeping your mind healthy.

The struggles for many people go beyond financial damages during periods of isolation, as the impact on mental health is real. Extroverts tend to draw their energy from being in groups of people. We are connectors, joiners, idea people, coordinators, and social forces of nature who thrive on being out in the world with others. Our happiness, and often our jobs, depend on it.

When suddenly faced with indefinite isolation, the collapse of all events and social outings, the end of networking opportunities (often multiple events per week), and the inability to have face-to-face interactions or group discussions, the effects can be emotionally draining and utterly depressing for even the most positive extrovert. For those of us who are in business development, client relations, or other careers based on personal interaction, how do we stay in front of our clients, stay productive, and keep our spirits up?

It's still early in the transition, but here are some ideas and resources:

1. Organize: Have a solid work-at-home plan. I am working with my supervisor to develop projects, goals, and outcomes that we can measure week to week; for others that can be ongoing, depending on how long this isolation lasts. Having a set schedule helps keep me on track and ensures my work time doesn’t slide into my personal time. Some people dress like they are at work. Some people make sure to move to the dining room table to have their lunch. I find having a designated spot (since I don’t have a home office) that I treat like my desk at work helps me maintain the right mind frame and feel a little more normal.

2. Learn something: Add something you’ve always wanted to do for professional development to your to-do list. It really has energized me to think about learning new things and to perfect skills I didn’t have or make time for in my previously tight schedule. Right now, I’m focusing on video conferencing/meetings/networking, getting better at Microsoft Office platforms, and deeper dives into areas of the construction field I am less familiar with but curious about. I’m exploring online classes in real estate and urban land use. For personal development, I’m planning to work on my Spanish, piano skills, meal prep, and yoga.

3. Do something less fun but worthwhile: Get some of that tedious work out of the way. Clean out your inbox, make sure your customer relationship management system is current, work on content for your social media channels or newsletters, and finish up other administrative work that always seems to pile up. You will feel an incredible sense of accomplishment and relief when you check off some of the tasks that tend to be harder for extroverts to prioritize.

4. Improvise: Find new ways to be social! Living in today’s era of technology, we can help minimize the loneliness of social isolation. Virtual coffee, lunch, or after-work happy hours can help people feel more connected. Host a watch party with your friends. Get on the Nextdoor app or your neighborhood’s listserv or Facebook page to find ways your neighborhood is uniting. For example, our neighborhood put shamrocks in our windows/doors so neighborhood kids could walk around at a safe distance and do a scavenger hunt for St. Patrick’s Day. Then people posted pictures of their adventures. Participate in an at-home fitness challenge or game that can get you interacting with people who share common interests or goals. I use Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, the Anytime Fitness app, and Gaia. There are several local gyms and yoga studios that are putting classes online for no charge. Explore those opportunities — they are growing every day on YouTube and Facebook!

5. Give back: Do something benevolent for your community. For those of us who are connectors, helping our fellow community members during this crisis is one way to continue that sense of community and connectivity. Contribute to virtual community tip jars, buy gift cards for future use, arrange for pickup of donations for shelters that will find their resources stretched, or again, reach out via platforms like Facebook or Nextdoor to your neighbors to find other safe ways to help out. Don’t forget to check on your friends who may be in difficult or vulnerable situations during this challenging time. Remember, you can be someone’s light in a dark time.

6. Take care of you: Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Do not hesitate to reach out. Mental health is not something we talk about as openly in our society as we do physical health. Frankly, I am as concerned about the mental well-being of many of our community members as I am about the effect COVID-19 could have, and believe me, I take COVID-19 very seriously.

Many people are losing their livelihoods indefinitely, they are losing physical connection with their friends and family, they are losing the ability to gather in their places of worship, and where they find and feel community. Please don’t underestimate the impact this can have on people’s mental state and well-being. Call your friends, reach out to your family, or contact local health care resources. NAMI of Dane County has a resource page. It includes contact information for a multitude of services, including:

  • Dane County 24-hour Crisis Line at (608) 280-2600;
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (8000 273-TALK or (800) SUICIDE;
  • Dane County Clerk of Courts (regarding the commitment process) at (608) 266-4311; and
  • Journey Mental Health, which also offers emergency resources here.

Whatever you do, remember that our vigilance in slowing down the spread of COVID-19 will allow us to get back to the in-person world faster. Don’t be afraid to virtually reach out to your friends, family, and colleagues. You may be physically distanced, but you don’t have to feel emotionally alone. Lastly, be kind and take care of one another!

Carole Schaeffer is the vice president of business development for Miron Construction.

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