With COVID-19 infection rates stabilized or declining around the country, we may be returning to a world that more closely resembles life pre-March 2020. This likely brings feelings of relief, excitement, and hope to many—especially extroverts who may have struggled by not being able to take part in their usual social activities.
But for many introverts, this public reengagement may cause some anxiety and trepidation. Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, some people did experience an upside to quarantining, especially the respite it provided from dealing with taxing social situations, meetings, and noisy gatherings. For these individuals, working remotely provided a time of self-reflection and perhaps even allowed more time for meaningful activities.
There is a misconception that introverts are cold, shy, and socially awkward. That’s just not true. Introverts often do enjoy being around people, but prefer small groups of people they are close to, rather than large crowds. The difference between extroverts and introverts is how they regenerate their energy. Extroverts regenerate from being around people and social events. Introverts need alone time, as they find themselves drained by being around a lot of people.
This is because the neurotransmitter dopamine affects the brains of extroverts and introverts differently. Extroverts are less sensitive to dopamine and require lots of stimulation. For introverts, small amounts of dopamine can have a strong effect, and large amounts become quite exhausting. It may surprise people that plenty of successful public figures are introverts, including Bill Gates, Brené Brown, and Larry Page. However, after they are done with their public time, they need to get away by themselves, or with those close to them, to regenerate.
For introverts who are dreading an impending return to in-person meetings, conferences, or other office duties, here’s how to prepare.
When stressed and facing new challenges, it is important for introverts to rely on strategies that have worked for them in the past. Apart from getting adequate rest, a healthy diet, and enough exercise, they need to reach out to support systems you have already established. It might mean meditating or other activities you find regenerating. When moving back into situations that are stressful, it’s crucial to set aside adequate time to recharge and regenerate.
“When introverts practice good self-care and tap into their unique ability to listen deeply, collaborate, problem solve, and build trust, they can leverage their subtle but powerful abilities and experience incredible success in the workplace,” says Monica Parkin, author of Overcoming Awkward: the Introvert’s Guide to Networking, Marketing and Sales.
Ask for what you need
In the Western world, extroversion is often regarded as the norm for success. Introverts may feel uncomfortable asking for what they need—whether that’s a hybrid work schedule, a quieter workspace, or time during the workday that’s reserved for quiet, individual work. But it’s important for introverts to let their managers and coworkers know what they need to function at their highest level in an office setting. Having a frank conversation with your manager about how you work best can go a long way to quell nerves about a return to the office, and ensure you have time to recharge.
Reach out to others for support
As an introvert, you may feel that you are alone and everyone else is more extroverted than you. However, a survey by Myers-Briggs discovered that 50.7% of the U.S. population is introverted and 49.3% is extroverted. That means that half of the people you work with are likely in the same situation as you. This is a group that understands what you are going through–meaning you can reach out to them for support.
Many introverts have a small close group of people in their lives outside of work that they can reach out to for support during a difficult transition time. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by the thought of returning to work, do not hesitate to search out professional counseling. These times are not normal and have taken their toll on everyone.
Gradually expose yourself to new situations
The thought of suddenly having to go back to an office five days a week can feel especially daunting for introverts. Slowly exposing yourself to new situations before the actual event will help ease the transition. Perhaps you can go in to the office during a quiet time in order to get re-acclimated. Or maybe you could start by going in one or two days per week to start. Laying this groundwork may be helpful in alleviating the stress when the day comes when you have to return to work full-time.