Extroverts in the Age of Corona Virus- How to Stay Sane amid Quarantine and Social Distancing

If you depend on regular, intense contact and interaction with other human beings in order to feel alive, what do you do when, suddenly, the norm is self-isolation, lock downs and a prescribed fear of other people?

On March 26, Kenyans learned that six Tanzanian nationals who arrived in Vihiga County that day had to be forcefully quarantined at the Keveye Isolation Centre. Upon entering the country, the six were informed that Ministry of Health regulations required everyone entering Kenya to go into self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.

Acting County Health Chief Officer Richard Boiyo said that, despite the caution, the team “defied (the order) and went about their activities at Cheptulu market.” It was then the authorities forcefully quarantined the six at the isolation facility.

Around the world, reports of persons defying government directives to go into self-quarantine after traveling or coming into contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases are countless. Consider the following scenarios: “Kenyan Priest Tests Positive for COVID-19 after Defying Self-Quarantine Directive” (Aciafrica website). In Kentucky, USA, after testing positive for COVID-19, “…one 53-year-old man in Nelson County refused to follow medical advice. He recently checked himself out of a University of Louisville hospital against his doctors’ advice; he told the local health department he would not comply with an order to isolate himself from others” (the Washington Post).

The very sharp rise in both confirmed cases and deaths (in countries such as Italy, Spain and the United States) is attributable to millions of persons either partly ignoring or altogether dismissing the social-distancing recommendations of health authorities such as government health ministries and the World Health Organization.

Here in Kenya, many of us are bracing for the worst. After the country recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 13, 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta, while announcing the start of a dusk-to-dawn curfew to tame the spread of the pandemic, said, “If these measures are deemed to be inadequate, we shall without hesitation take...more drastic measures.” Suddenly, Kenyans began to prepare for the nightmare of a total lockdown. All around, anxiety now reigns supreme. People just cannot fathom a life without the chance to encounter others, to touch, joke, hug and share.

From our experiences with the novel Corona Virus, one fact of humanity that is emerging as a force that both governments and public health professionals everywhere must reckon with is our need for contact and connections. There is no denying it, especially in the face of the sheer difficulty of self-isolation: we are social beings. We need to meet people, to touch and be touched, to form relationships, to spend time with others and to interact closely with them. Take away such interaction, and problems like depression or anxiety become a real risk—at least for the majority of humans.

An online survey conducted by Recser Human Capital in April 2020 confirmed this very fact. According to the survey, three out of four people are enduring the lockdown with only one out of four enjoying it; the one out of four are likely to be the introverts amongst us, while most of those enduring are the extroverts amongst us.

Online survey conducted on Twitter- https://twitter.com/RecserTalent/status/1249073317195264002?s=19

The need for closeness is more pronounced among humans who exhibit extroversion—those who look outside of themselves for stimulation and who must depend on regular, intense contact and interaction with others in order to feel alive and function. For such persons, to be confronted with the new norm typified by self-isolation, lockdowns and prescribed demo phobia (fear of crowds and of other people) is quite disorienting indeed.

One Kenyan freelance accountant, who is a self-declared introvert, and who reveals that he is fine with remaining indoors, alone, says he would go into self-imposed quarantine at any time, “as long as I have a computer with accounting packages and an internet connection.” He adds: “For me, to have to remain indoors for 14 days at a stretch would be no problem at all.”

What advice would this accountant have for extroverted persons who are faced with the grim prospects of ever-deepening isolation? “Become an introvert,” he jokes. Of course, such hypothetical transformation is impossible. To survive in this era of imposed COVID-19 quarantines, which must get more extreme before they are finally relaxed as the infection curve flattens out, extroverts can profit by adhering to the following isolation survival tips or risk sliding into crippling anxiety, depression, or some other psycho-social malady:

1. Get creative

Optimism is a cure-all antidote to hopelessness. Or is it? If there is anything that Corona Virus has taught us, it is that optimism must often be tempered with a good dose of realistic thinking. Over the weeks, we have witnessed the COVID-19 picture in the US get increasingly bleak and more like the picture earlier witnessed in Italy.

The root of this progression has been reckless optimism. Faced with the grim prospects of deaths and infections, Americans were desperate for answers. This is when their President, the flamboyant extrovert Donald Trump, told them, “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down.” He promised to re-open American for business in a matter of weeks, defying the counsel of his handpicked health experts. In the span of days, the rate of infections and death skyrocketed.

What can extroverts learn from this? Tolerate a certain degree of uncertainty and realistic pessimism because, if you don’t, you will not marshal the mental faculties necessary to create security for you and your loved ones. Even as you try to acclimatize to this new reality, as an extrovert you can get creative in forecasting the future and planning for the unknown during the lock down.

For some people, the tendency has been to hoard, to reserve all their finances for food and other basic needs. The trouble with this approach is that cash reserves are finite; they drain away over time. If you spend without investing, the notion that you are taking away so many shillings or dollars daily but without bringing in any can be depressing.

The answer lies in strategizing, planning and acting. During the lockdown, the internet is especially proving to be a boon for enterprising persons. As businesses, mostly in the hospitality industry (restaurants, tourist resorts, amusement parks, airlines), collapse in the face of the need for social distancing and restricted travel, the new reality is slowly suggesting other viable businesses.

For example, with the advent of COVID-19, the world has witnessing a surge in the popularity of the videoconferencing app Zoom, as isolated persons turn to the platform to connect for both work and leisure. The lesson is clear: If you can find a need and creatively fill it in this era of ubiquitous isolation, you can reap big from the apparent gloom of lock downs and quarantines. A few industries that hold great promise for calculated disruption include publishing, academia, film making, psychotherapy, coaching and IT and food production.

2. Try virtual encountering

Without a doubt, actual physical encountering is threatened, because contact is shown to aid the spread of the Corona Virus. In its place, people are turning to social media as a half-way point of contact. Online platforms such as Facebook, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp are taking on a whole new meaning. The great advantage is that many of these incorporate a video feature, which enables you to view others and be seen during online interactions.

For those who wish to encounter many persons at the same time, online discussion groups are just what the doctor ordered. During such discussions, be sure to create questions or topics you truly care about. If you like to lead such groups, offer yourself as a leader in some capacity. The trouble with online discussion groups is the tendency of members to assume plastic, inauthentic character, which may not be helpful if you are trying to have the group solve a real problem. As a member, look for creative ways of getting members to be real and to contribute meaningfully. At such forums, you have a chance to not only share, pray, play and mingle, but also the opportunity to fashion a market for your ideas.

3. Seek to have genuine knowledge of the persons you live with

In the 1996 comedy film House Arrest, a group of children conspire to confine their parents in the basement in order to keep them from getting divorced. At the start when parents are tricked into the house and find themselves held hostage and uneasily face to face with their loathed spouses, it is all too awkward. Over time, however, some of the parents, confronted with unending time alone, have nothing better to do that talk through their problems.

Around the world, such is the scenario for many estranged family members who, forced into a lockdown, must now face their detested partners. What can they do? For some, this might intensify feelings of hatred and indeed foment domestic violence as activists and the United Nations have suggested. To be sure, emotionally disturbed partners can be dangerous, especially when they find themselves alone with members of their family. Cases of abuse have been reported in such countries as Brazil, Germany, China and Italy.

But lockdowns and quarantines may not necessarily lead to abuse. When forced to interact closely, a possible outcome, as the children of House Arrest hoped, is that people may be forced to interrogate their relationships, to re-evaluate their feelings and possibly to forge new futures with members of their family. As an extrovert, this may just be the time to bring your social skills to bear in re-unifying your family.

4. Study online

One of the reasons why humans do not become all they can become is that they keep running away from their thoughts and distracting themselves with addictions and wanton social interaction. Sometimes, what appears like a curse can turn out to be a blessing. For many of us, more so for extroverts, the current wave of curfews, lockdowns, quarantines and gratuitous police presence can be exasperating.

If you think soberly about it, this may be a blessing in disguise. Now that you have all the time in the world, with little distraction from friends and peers, how about enrolling in an online course to gain the skills you have always desired but did not have the time for?

Final Words

We do not know when the Corona Virus epidemic will end, if there will be a second or third wave, or what exact trajectory the pandemic will assume. To continue living, we must adapt. But adapting does not involve burying our heads in the sand and hoping for a miracle. To survive, plan to ‘own’ the new reality, to work with what you have, and to resourcefully re-make yourself in the process.

If you are resourceful, you will notice that the opportunities for play, adventure, exploration and business are within easy reach—right within your house and any part of the neighborhood you can access from your balcony. This is important, because the COVID-19 pandemic will change the way we live and work forever; indeed blessed are those who use this wave to discover and to create the new world order that this pandemic is pushing humanity to create.

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