My husband is the quintessential extrovert. He is the fellow who receives Christmas cards and gifts from the baristas at his favourite Starbucks. At least he did before the pandemic. In fact, last spring, when our family played, “What’s the first thing you’re going to do after lockdown?” my husband’s answer was “Go to Starbucks.” Now back to this picture. Indeed, some of you introverted readers might relate to this image, and where you would prefer to spend your time, especially when avoiding people. I am with you. Don’t get me wrong, I love to talk. After all, I’m a former litigator turned therapist. However, I also enjoy my quiet time. The introvert, extrovert, ambivert personality “scale” has always intrigued me.
There have been many jokes about how the personality tables have turned during the pandemic, and how introverts were offered the opportunity to check in on their extroverted friends, as opposed to the other way around. Humour serves to lighten our spirits. It can also help us be more compassionate during this difficult time. What must it be like for those of us who crave, thrive, live and breathe off of the energy of others, to have to be isolated for so long? How about those of us who are more introverted? What has it been like to not have the choice to disconnect? Humans are social animals, and our experience of isolation has been challenging, even for the most introverted.
Where am I going with this? I believe the more we know about ourselves and each other, the better able we are to choose how we will show up, engage, and respond, as opposed to react to situations. We have been encouraged to be accepting and understanding of where each of us sits on the comfort scale regarding risk as we work through the phases of engaging, or not, during the pandemic. Perhaps it might also be helpful if we consider where we are, and where others may be, on the personality scale in terms of our desire, or not, to connect. Maybe the next time you encounter your “chatty” neighbour on your morning walk, or a stranger strikes up a conversation with you while you are grocery shopping, you will stay a little longer to talk, give them some of your time, listen and engage. We are all learning how to navigate this difficult experience, and many are struggling to find comfort. Showing compassion by offering your time, or alternatively, by giving someone space, is something we can all do. Maybe you need to take a deep breath now and then to stay in the moment, but you can do that.
Stress motivates us to connect with others, regardless of our personality traits. This part of the stress response is driven by the hormone oxytocin. One of oxytocin’s functions is to help us build and strengthen social bonds. When we are feeling overwhelmed, tapped out, or exhausted, oxytocin encourages us to talk to others, tell people how we feel, instead of keeping our feelings to ourselves. Oxytocin is also good for our cardiovascular health because it helps our heart cells to regenerate and heal from stress induced damage. And guess what? These positive effects of oxytocin are enhanced when we reach out to others for support, and when we offer support.
So, the next time you find yourself in a moment where you have a choice, that sliding door moment where you can choose to walk away from someone or turn toward them, may you choose the latter, and join the conversation.