By this point, most of us have probably seen at least one meme about how well introverts are coping with mandates such as social distancing, working from home, and sheltering in place. The coronavirus pandemic, they tell us, is like a dream come true. No more dealing with people, no more face-to-face contact, and no having to go out for basic amenities like groceries.
Even amidst these jokes, the simple truth is that prolonged social isolation isn’t good for anyone. Human beings are social creatures, after all. Most of us, even the most introverted, need at least occasional contact with other human beings.
According to the American Psychological Association, a leading organization comprised of over 121,000 researchers, educators, consultants, clinicians, and students, prolonged isolation is incredibly damaging to an individual’s mental, physical, and cognitive health. Loneliness can put one in a prolonged state of “fight-or-flight,” reducing resistance to illness and disease. Feelings of isolation can also lead to depression, cognitive decline, insomnia, and reduced executive function.
But how exactly can you know if the isolation created by COVID-19 is getting to you? And more importantly, what can you do about it? Let’s talk about some of the warning signs.
You’re Feeling Perpetually Exhausted
Are you tired no matter how much sleep you get? Do even menial tasks seem to require a herculean effort to complete? Are you noticing a significant decline in the quality of your work, but lack the capacity to address it?
This is a red flag that your loneliness and isolation have pushed you straight into the waiting jaws of burnout. Human beings were never meant to exist in a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty. Yet the intense loneliness of social isolation coupled with anxiety around the effects of the pandemic has forced us to do exactly that.
Everything Bores You
The things you used to be passionate about simply no longer bring you joy. You’re withdrawing from your hobbies and interests. Perhaps you’ve even stopped caring about personal hygiene, nutrition, and exercise.
If you’re feeling more like an empty machine than a person, this is cause for alarm. It means you’re likely suffering from some form of depression. Worse still, you’re likely embroiled in a vicious cycle.
You’ve stopped caring about cleaning, and the mess stresses you out and drives you even deeper into your funk.
Even Little Things Enrage You
On the other end of the spectrum from apathy and exhaustion, you might be feeling extremely irritable lately. Things that might ordinarily glide off your back instead cause you to lash out. You simply cannot relax, no matter how hard you try; you’re constantly on edge, constantly feeling like an elastic band on the verge of snapping.
Not only can this frame of mind cause you to say and do things you’ll later regret, but it also puts you at a significantly higher risk of a stress-related heart attack.
Remember: You Aren’t Alone
This is an incredibly difficult time for many of us. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. The first thing you need to know is that there’s no shame in the struggles you’re experiencing.
If possible, the first thing you should do is consider taking a break from your work. Step back, disconnect, and give yourself a chance to recharge. If you keep trying to force things, you’re only going to burn yourself out further.
I would also strongly advise speaking to a therapist. Either seek one through your employer or do a bit of research into specialists within your region. They can help you address the things that are stressing you out, whether an undiagnosed mental illness or simply the emotional strain of the current global climate.
Beyond that, the best course is to seek social interaction where and when you can. This could be something simple, like video chatting with friends and colleagues or playing some online games. Whatever it takes to remind you that you’re not alone, and you don’t have to suffer through the pandemic in isolation.
There are people who are here for you, and people who care about you —never forget that.