introvert looking out window wistfully

Tips for Introverts Coming Out of the Pandemic

It’s been 14 months (or longer, depending on what part of the world you’re in) that we’ve been living in a pandemic. 14 months of being acutely aware of our personal space, washing our hands, and largely avoiding other humans.

With the new CDC recommendations for vaccinated people, life is moving closer and closer to “normal.” (I just saw that Disney World dropped their outdoor mask requirement today!)

This is exciting news, and we’re all obviously ready to feel like we can do the things we want to do without fear of catching COVID or having to wear a mask or social distance.

However, as an introvert, I have found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed as we move back into “normal” life.

Over the past two months, I had three weekends in a row where I had plans, like real plans to hang out with people or travel. It started with a trip to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center one weekend, then the next weekend I helped host a baby shower for a close friend, and then the weekend after that my parents came into town for a visit.

All of that was fun and good, but I was looking forward to enjoying the upcoming weekend quietly at home. But by the time the weekend got there, it was somehow (I say that tongue in cheek) full of plans to do things with people! I have a coworker I’m watching an anime show with, and I had invited her to come over to watch a few episodes. We’ve started going back to church in person, so we had worship on Sunday morning, and then we also got invited to a small group church gathering that night. Then we had some friends we hadn’t seen in a while who asked us if we wanted to have dinner together… and so without even trying that hard, my quiet “no plans” weekend was gone.

It may sound like I’m complaining about having friends who want to do stuff with me, or being able to resume activities in public. I’m not – again, those are all great things that we’ve been waiting to do for the past 14 months!

But I will say that going through this pandemic, especially the shut down, made me realize how much of an introvert (and also a homebody) I am. I enjoyed the slower pace of life. I enjoyed more time with my family. I enjoyed the simplicity of it all.

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The Connection Between Your Mental Health and Physical Health

For the past few weeks, I’ve been really tired. Like REALLY tired. I found myself falling asleep on the couch after work – going to bed at 8:30 – coming home in the middle of the day to take naps… It seemed like no matter how much sleep I got, I still felt exhausted. 

I began wondering if something weird was going on. Was I sick? Was I pregnant? Did I have COVID and my only symptom was intense fatigue? 

If you’re a follower of my blog, you’ll notice that in the past three weeks, I haven’t published anything. Not only that, I really didn’t write anything at all those few weeks – not drafts, not personal journaling or anything. I normally try to get up early to have quiet devotional time and to write, but even though I set my alarm to get up early (and had gone to bed at a reasonable hour), I still woke up every day feeling tired and hit the snooze button.

What was going on? 

I have this sweatshirt I purchased recently that says “Mental health is health.” I love it not only because it’s cute and comfortable, but because of the message it broadcasts. Mental health affects our physical health. They are so intricately connected that to really be in a state of health at all, our mental health must be cared for. 

It only takes doing a quick Google search to get thousands of results on the link between mental health and physical health. One of the results I found was from the Hillside Mental Health Facility’s blog, and it described some of the warning signs that a person’s mental health may be negatively shifting, which included:

  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and activities
  • Loss of energy
  • Increasing irritability and mood swings
  • Loss of performance at school or work

Looking back, I realize now that I was also losing motivation at work, and having increased irritability with members of my family. Basically, I was exhibiting most of these warning signs. 

I should have noticed more of the red flags. I know from past experience that when I’m stressed or overwhelmed, (or when depression might be kicking in), I tend to cope by sleeping. Some people can’t sleep when they’re anxious or stressed, but I tend to start checking out and want to sleep all of the time. 

In the book Try Softer by Aundi Kolber, (one of my top recommended books!) she describes the idea of your “window of tolerance” (WOT). She is referring to our ability to tolerate discomfort, specifically emotional discomfort. All of us have an amount of emotional discomfort or growing pains that we can tolerate – this is our “just right” amount where we won’t be at risk of becoming overwhelmed emotionally and physiologically. But once we hit our limits, we can either go into hyperarousal or hypoarousal. 

Hyperarousal mode feels like being overwhelmed with adrenaline or anger. You are out of control. You may feel the need to be moving (trying to flee whatever stressful event you are experiencing).

Hypoarousal mode causes a person to feel sluggish or depressed. You become disconnected from the world. In a word, numb. 

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Purposeful (Over)Planning for Managing Anxiety

Like most people, I have good days and bad days when it comes to managing my stress and anxiety. The COVID-19 outbreak situation definitely spiked my anxiety for a few weeks – and still does on occasion. My son and I had a three-day weekend for Spring Break that began March 13, and basically we never went back to work/daycare – from then on I found myself working remotely from home.

The way my anxiety tends to manifest itself, is that I get overwhelmed. I think about all the things I need to do, and I feel paralyzed, like I can’t start on any of them. And when I sit down to do one thing, I can’t concentrate because I am worrying about all the other things on my to-do list. I have a hard time being present in the moment.

When I started working from home, I really had a hard time balancing work time, parenting time, and my own “me” time. I felt guilty that my son was watching a lot more television, and then I’d also feel guilty that I couldn’t focus on work without getting interrupted frequently (three-year-olds can be a little needy at times…) Then at the end of the day, I’d feel frustrated that I didn’t get to do anything just for myself – I’d feel worn out from interacting with people (albeit my own family) all day and not getting some much-needed alone time.

So how did this look the first few weeks at home? Well, it looked like me feeling really frustrated about all of it and getting angry and annoyed at everything. To summarize: not good.

I began to see that I really needed quiet, alone time to myself to recharge – typical for an introvert like myself. But what I found is that if I didn’t schedule this time specifically on the calendar, it just wouldn’t happen.

This eventually led to my husband and I deciding to purposefully plan out each evening – not only was I going to schedule my alone time, but we also decided to schedule other things, like family game nights, craft nights, pizza/movie nights… Our weekly schedule is jam-packed – honestly I’ve never been so meticulously scheduled with my time as I have while sheltering-in-place. You might think that scheduling almost every hour of the day would be stressful or limiting, but I have found it to be quite the opposite – it’s freeing.

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