As an extrovert (someone who gets his or her energy from other people), when I can’t spend time with others, I just don’t know what to do with myself. When it comes to social connection, nothing beats real life, it just doesn’t. 

This mandated social distancing feels unbearable. I’m complying and staying home (mostly) but I’m heartbroken. I’m writing to bemoan the (temporary) absence of real people in the same physical spaces and to try to get my introverted husband to understand why I’m having such a hard time staying at home. 

Not only are In-person social experiences medicinal for people with anxiety and depression, but they are just good for the soul. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is so difficult for me.  

I mean, I’m not alone, my husband and son are in the house with me, but they are both introverts. My husband happily works from home all day and both my husband and son are perfectly content playing games on their phones, sitting around, reading and such. 

We schedule FaceTime happy hours with friends nearly every day, but after an hour my husband thinks that’s enough. When I have a one-on-one FaceTime with a girlfriend, we can be on for hours. 

We go on family walks and we eat dinner together but it’s just not enough for me. My family doesn’t understand why these activities aren’t enough for me so I started to think about why. Here are some of the reasons I came up with to try to explain why this so hard for me:

I love noise! I just can’t stand complete silence. For those who know me, I can be loud! When I’m home alone I always have music, a podcast or the TV on.

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I feel a sense of panic about being cut off from everyone outside of my immediate family for who knows how long. 

Lone activities, like reading, are nearly impossible to accomplish. The stress of the news (it’s unavoidable) and the fact that this is forced at-home time—rather than me choosing it—makes it hard to focus.

I’m motivated when I’m busy. When I have a lot to do, I tend to get more done. Now that I have a ton of free time on my hands and a list of things to do a mile long, I have no motivation to do any of them — zip, zero, zilch in the motivation department.

In the last week I’ve been more “social” than ever before (all online), but I still feel lonely. It isn’t about being physically alone (my family is here). Loneliness isn’t just about being alone, it’s about craving social contact. Being able to see body language and facial expressions is important.

I feel cut off from the rest of the world because I can’t do my normal activities (gym, lunch/coffee with friends, eating out, talking to people in person who aren’t my family.

I also miss the physical connections, touching others through handshakes, hugs, and other physical gestures.

For some people social media offers a sense of community, but nothing replaces in-person connections for me, no matter how hard I’ve tried.

I feel like I’m missing something, like a party or other gathering. I’m just waiting for something interesting to happen. 

There are no deep connections right now and conversation always seems to be about the virus, how others are coping, what they are doing to stay busy/occupied. No one can seem to change the subject; it always flows back to this virus and the stay-at-home orders. I can’t take any more of this!

I can’t seem to focus on anything. Staying focused on writing this has been a chore. Physical activity helps a bit, but after the rush of exercise wears off, the restlessness returns. I find myself wandering around the house wondering what to do – wash dishes? Turn on the TV? Pick up a book? Do a project? Work on the puzzle on the table? Even though I have a list of 15+ projects to do, I just don’t know what to do.

What’s an extrovert to do? 

Physical distancing for COVID-19 leaves plenty of room to engage in emotional and social connection, despite being physically separate. After reading Public Health Order 20-24 here in Colorado (I’m sure other states are similar) individuals are allowed out of their home to “recreate” and “for other valid reasons.” The PHO then goes on to say you may leave your home for necessary activities, one of which is for your health.

In the case of us extroverts — for our mental health.

Here you go extroverts — a list of ideas to get us out of the house for our mental health and within an appropriate physical distance (at least 10 feet) from real people.

Host a BYO happy hour in your driveway with everyone at least 10 feet apart. Use the whole front yard if you have to. You don’t need to invite the whole block, but another neighbor/couple at the opposite end of the driveway works great. Bring your camp chairs, a cooler with drinks and snacks and enjoy each other’s company.

Hike with a friend. Pick a single-track trail, hike single file, and stay at least 6 feet apart. Step off the trail when someone approaches. Under these circumstances everyone will understand departing from the trail.

Stop and talk to people you know when out walking, just keep your distance. Seems a lot of people think saying “hello” when passing someone on a walk will contaminate them, but not if you keep your distance.

Find an empty parking lot and have a picnic with friends. Back your cars into a circle, drop the tailgate, and enjoy your meal with friends.

Have a backyard BBQ with your over-the-fence neighbors. Everyone grills their own stuff, but you can play music and “hang out” from a distance. Works even better if you have a chain link fence!

Have a block party. Everyone can hang out in their own driveways and talk to friends and neighbors on all sides and across the street.

Any other ideas? This extrovert needs help!

Sheryl Williams lives in Arvada.