Help, I am an Extravert! Loneliness and Well-being in Lockdown
I consider myself a rather extraverted person. I love to participate in social activities and to maintain my social network. When I am around people, I feel comfortable and at ease. As I have little difficulty reaching out to others to meet my social needs, I rarely feel lonely or unhappy. However, my desire of social belonging can also become a burden, which I learned the hard way during the first COVID-19 lockdown when drastic public life restrictions made it impossible to visit friends and relatives.
Although all humans depend on social connections, people react differently to the loss of social ties. We know from past research that extraversion (a stable personality trait that indicates how outgoing and social a person is) protects against negative feelings such as loneliness and low well-being. Individuals who describe themselves as more extraverted tend to generally feel happier because they seek the company of others and interact with others for support. But what happens when extraverts can no longer pursue their need for social activity, like in lockdown? And are there ways to deal with negative feelings such as gloominess or loneliness as soon as they arise?
To answer these questions, my colleagues and I at the University of Bern asked 466 people living in Switzerland to fill out an online survey between March and April 2020. During this time, most shops and restaurants were closed, gatherings of more than five people were prohibited, and most people worked from home. We asked participants to report on their loneliness and well-being over the past seven days and to complete a questionnaire about their level of extraversion.
We also asked them to report on the strategies they generally use when negative feelings arise. These can be divided into strategies that quickly make us feel better (so-called adaptive strategies) and strategies that prolong or even intensify our misery (so-called maladaptive strategies).
Some adaptive strategies are these:
- Accepting a situation (“Lockdown is beyond my control, so I might as well accept it”)
- Focusing on positive aspects of the situation (“Finally, I have time to re-watch all Seasons of Game of Thrones”)
- Focusing on solving a problem (“Let’s find out how my friends and I can play our favorite board game online”)
In contrast, here are examples of maladaptive strategies:
- Ruminating about a situation, dwelling on it to excess (“Every day I think about how bad it is that I can’t see my friends”)
- Catastrophizing, magnifying the impact (“This is the worst situation of my life”)
- Suppressing emotions (“I feel terrible but I make sure no one sees it”)
We found that during lockdown, extraverts were no longer happier or less lonely than introverts. This is in line with our assumption that in “normal” times, extraverts feel better because they actively engage in social activities and interact with others for support—activities that became temporarily less available both in private life (meeting friends and family) and in the work context (talking to colleagues) during lockdown. Thus, when the opportunities to engage socially disappear, extraversion seems to lose its protective function.
As expected, a more adaptive emotional strategy was related to higher personal well-being. However, some strategies affected introverts and extraverts differently. Extraverts benefited most when they did not suppress their negative emotions, perhaps because expressing their feelings to others (for instance in a video chat) helps them get the social support that is so important for their well-being. Introverts, on the other hand, fared best when they did not ruminate or catastrophize too much about their situation. Compared to extraverts, the subjective well-being and loneliness of introverts probably depends more on how they deal with their emotions internally. Therefore, it is especially important for introverts not to dwell on negative thoughts for too long.
As COVID-19 still exists and leads to recurrent limitations in public life, the question of how we can maintain our mental health is extremely important. Although the loss of social ties affects our well-being (particularly when you have an extraverted personality), there are strategies we can use to better cope with feeling down, gloomy, or lonely. Focusing on making plans and solving problems, finding other ways to communicate with friends and relatives, and putting the situation into perspective can help us feel happier.
If you are an extravert, do not hesitate to share your emotions with others and ask your friends and family for support. If you are an introvert, make sure not to get too caught up in negative thoughts.
P.S. Ever tried a yoga tutorial on YouTube (alone) or a virtual trivia quiz (with friends or strangers)?
For Further Reading
Buecker, S., Maes, M., Denissen, J. J., & Luhmann, M. (2020). Loneliness and the big five personality traits: A meta-analysis. European Journal of Personality, 34(1), 8–28. https://doi.org/10.1002/per.2229.
Gubler, D. A., Makowski, L. M., Troche, S. J., & Schlegel, K. (2020). Loneliness and well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic: Associations with personality and emotion regulation. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-020- 00326-5.
Danièle Gubler is a PhD student at the University of Bern.