“I bet you’re loving this.” One of my best friends, Veronica, laughed over Facetime as I sat on my patio in Tampa, Florida, sipping an Aperol spritz. She, an outspoken extrovert in Austin, Texas, was filling me in on her life while social distancing: Missing her girlfriend who was in quarantine and feeling like she was losing it over her lack of social activities.
At the time, she was right. I was loving social distancing. As a proud introvert, my friends are very aware of my tendencies. Staying home to fall asleep while they went out, FOMO-free as they partied the nights away — that was my jam. Sure, I’d go to dinners and happy hours and the occasional bar crawl, but they’d always joke about how I needed at least a week’s notice for plans and even then, it might be too much too soon.
“I am,” I had laughed back, stretching in the sun and watching my dogs run around in the yard. “This is paradise for me.” Naturally, that was an overstatement. As someone with clinical anxiety and depression, many nights are spent worrying over my 60-year-old mother who’s a nurse and trying to avoid news-induced panic attacks. Still, in spite of the horrifying pandemic disrupting my everyday life, having to stay home was the very slight silver lining.
The conversation between Veronica and I happened just over three weeks ago when we had all been inside for a few days and everyone was joking about how happy introverts must be. I hate to lean into the stereotype, but they were right. It’s not that I don’t like talking or socializing or any of that. In fact, when people find out I’m an introvert, they’re usually pretty confused. It can help to think about our social needs in relation to beans. A friend of mine training to be a psychologist told me about this metaphor and it changed all of my relationships. Stay with me.
- Extroverts: Wake up in the morning with an empty jar. Throughout the day, all of their social interactions give them beans. They’re happiest when their jar is full, but to fill it up, they need to have person-to-person connections. If they don’t fill up their jars, they feel lonely and unhappy.
- Introverts: Wake up in the morning with a full jar (on good days). Throughout the day, their interactions take beans out of their jar. Some cost more and others cost less, but ultimately, when their jars get too low on beans, they feel depleted.
Naturally, it’s an elementary explanation, but it’s helped my communication with my friends, husband, and family. If I say I’m “low on beans,” my loved ones know it’s not personal that I need to be alone — I’ve just gotta recharge. In the “normal” world, it was easy. Once everyone was home, however, figuring out how to say “no” was a whole different journey.
At first, I was all for the video chat trend. I played games with my brother who lives across the country, and I saw my friends from Austin that I hadn’t chatted with in a bit. It was a great excuse to finally get on FaceTime and see some faces I started to miss, all from the comfort of my home. As time went by and more people have jumped on the video chat trend, however, the requested obligations began to stack up. Friends I haven’t talked to or seen in years, family I never connect with, and old college buddies whose last names I forget wanted to do virtual happy hours and drinking games and movie nights. With everyone home, it seemed the whole world decided that now was the time to connect, to build those friendships that had been pushed aside, to get as much interaction in as possible because WE WEREN’T GOING ANYWHERE.
I felt trapped. My calendar was filling up, and one day I looked at my schedule and realized I had a virtual event every single day of the week.
For some, this is ideal. It’s a way to still feel connected to others during this scary time. For me, however — someone who has to be particular with her interactions and balance the line of commitments to not get burnt out — it sent me on a spiral.
I told my husband about my schedule: three happy hours, a girls’ night, a family game night, a virtual brunch, and a dinner date all in the next week, and I started crying. Sure, I had agreed to all of it. How could I not? There’s no excuse to get out of plans now. We’re all just sitting at home, waiting for a sense of normalcy to set in again. Besides, who was I to complain? I had people who loved me and wanted to connect with me and needed to lean on me during this crisis. Who was I to turn them down so I could sit on my couch and watch TV uninterrupted? That guilt spiral — agreeing to plans, getting burnt out, wanting to cancel and/or canceling, then feeling bad — was becoming even more detrimental than ever because now the only reason to say “no” was I didn’t want to, and that didn’t seem to be enough.
Accept your needs.
It turns out, the only way to avoid quarantine burnout is to really listen to what you need, not what you think you should need. I know I need plenty of alone time, but I figured if I was sitting at home talking to friends on my computer, it wouldn’t deplete me of beans. After a week, I realized I was wrong, but I had already made so many commitments. Listen to how you’re reacting and pay attention to your body’s cues. Are you exhausted? Dreaming of canceling plans? Dreading another Zoom hangout? Instead of shaming those thoughts, pay attention to them.
Set boundaries and say “No” to yourself first.
Some introverts need more alone time than others, just like some extroverts need more social stimulus than others. Instead of expecting yourself to fit into a mold, experiment and see what feels right. Does FaceTiming with your best friend leave you feeling refreshed but daily drinks with your college friends or parents leave you tired and anxious? Pay attention to how you feel after certain events and come up with a plan that works for you.
Instead of saying “yes” to every Zoom invite, have a limited number per week and be firm with yourself on what you can and can’t attend. While I’m usually excited about the event when I made the plan, if I’ve done too much, by the time it arrives, I’m dreading it. By giving myself a limited number of events per week, it helps ensure I say “yes” to what I really want to do and still have the stamina for it when the time arrives.
Communicate kindly but firmly.
The hardest part of the video trend is feeling like you need an excuse to turn down a plan. In the past, work, a prior engagement, or illness was an easy (yet unethical) “get out of plans” free card. You couldn’t physically go, so you were off the hook. Since no one is leaving their homes, it feels like you always need to say “yes.” Just like in everyday life, however, you don’t need an excuse to take time for yourself.
While being upfront might feel weird, in the end, you’re more likely to gain respect. Be honest and ask yourself why you don’t want to accept. Are you exhausted? Does the idea not sound up your alley? Are you not interested in reconnecting? Did you have other plans, whether they were with someone else or alone? Once you figure out why, simply explain it respectfully and kindly, if you desire. Otherwise, a simple, “thanks for the invite, but I’m going to have to pass this time,” will suffice.
Find a solution.
One of the biggest reasons I hate turning down plans is I worry that not only will the person be mad at me, but it will also put our relationship in jeopardy. Whether or not this is correct is dependent on the person, but ultimately, having a backup plan helps me ensure I don’t completely isolate my importation connections while still carving out enough space for myself to recharge. If I’m not up to doing the event when invited and it’s a relationship I value, I tend to look at my calendar and select a time/date I had blocked off for social interactions as a counter. That way, they know I want to see them, and I’m able to stand by my boundaries and limit the extra interactions that will leave me feeling depleted.
By keeping a calendar, setting (and sticking to) my own boundaries, removing the guilt of saying “no,” and coming up with solutions that adhere to my own needs and schedule, I’ve been able to recover from the initial social interaction overload that took place at the start of quarantine and am finally able to sit at home, uninterrupted, with peace of mind and a jar full of beans.
Rachel Varina is a social media, digital marketing, and editorial expert living in sunny Tampa, Florida. When she’s not creating content or collaborating with brands, you can catch her devouring thriller novels and supporting pineapple in the great pizza debate with her husband and two rescue pups by her side. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
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