Are you an extroverted person? Feel energised by socialising, love to try new things, and get excited doing stuff? Otherwise known as an ‘open’ personality type - extroverts tend to be outgoing, socially confident peeps.
Recent headlines have brought to light a mental wellbeing decline in extroverted people during the pandemic. With lockdowns and restrictions limiting our lifestyles, it’s not hugely surprising that it’s taken a toll on our mental wellbeing. But, according to research by the University of Glasgow , extroverts have experienced an even greater decline in mental wellbeing than others.
Fret not, folks! We’ve got you. We spoke to our resident Life Coach, Grace McMahon, to understand why we extroverts have been affected more than other personality types and what we can do to get back on track and prevent further decline.
The extroverted brain is wired differently
The wiring of an extrovert brain differs from an introvert brain, which affects our behaviour, and personality.
One difference is the way dopamine is responded to. Both have the same levels, but the way the reward system is activated differs. Dopamine, a chemical released that provides motivation and pleasure to seek reward, makes us more talkative, alert to our surroundings, encourages us to take risks and explore the environment (all the things needed to be open to trying new things) when it floods the brain. The activation of this reward system differs, an extroverted person’s reward system activates more eagerly, even at the thought of reward - like watching waiting staff dart about a restaurant salivating at the thought of them bringing food. This makes extroverted people energised by people, bright colours, and busy spaces. For an introvert, the reward system is less activated by external stimuli, we feel overstimulated and prefer a calm space.
Another reason is that extroverted people can enjoy the fight, flight or freeze mode! Ok, not literally (it can be quite unpleasant for any personality type) but extroverted people tend to thrive when the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for fight, flight or freeze mode) is activated. The other side, the parasympathetic nervous system, is responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ mode, the calming side, which introverts tend to prefer.
So it’s not surprising that extroverted people enjoy the thrill of new things, seek adventure, and enjoy socialising. Extroverted people thrive on the dopamine-charged good feelings created when they engage the sympathetic nervous system, but that can be too much stimulus for an introverted person. And hence the difference in interests, activities and relationships.
But what’s this got to do with lockdown?
Well, we’ve been stuck at home for a year, and your home probably isn’t as visually stimulating as your favourite bowling alley or bar, nor bustling with people (unless you’ve got a FULL house). There’s not been as much going on to excite that dopamine release or activate the reward system. The researchers found that restrictions limited our capacity for new experiences and sensations, which would explain the decline in mental wellbeing to some extent. The researchers also suggested that, unsurprisingly, restricted socialising was associated with mental decline in extroverted people. However, this was most significant in the early stages of the pandemic, which they reckon is likely due to some extroverted people adapting, by engaging with others on social media or Zoom.
The restrictions have also meant our activity levels have decreased (not pointing fingers), even if you have been keeping up with Joe Wick’s ‘PE with Joe’ online fitness series throughout the past year. We haven’t been doing as much trivial movement, those small things we’d have done before that kept us active. No nipping to the shop for snacks, not popping over to your mum’s for a brew, we’ve generally done less, and so have moved less. When we stop moving as much or don’t really move we feel more lethargic, which reduces motivation and makes us feel more tired, and for anyone that can be mood crushing, but extroverted people? There’s no energy to be stimulated, we don’t feel as motivated and the reward system is less activated, extroverted people haven’t been as satisfied, stimulated or able to thrive as they did pre-pandemic.
Beat the blues
If you’ve been feeling more anxious, feeling upset often, or feel highly irritable (more than usual), here are a few things that open and extroverted people can try to get a mood boost and feel good:
This might seem obvious, but now that we can do more things we can get out there! Call your mates and get chattering, over dinner, in the beer garden, with coffee in the park. Remember to stick to the current guidelines, while reigniting your reward system with a new view, a missed go-to restaurant, and your closest friends.
2. Create your stimulus
If your home space is a little underwhelming, spruce it up a bit. Create more things to look at and take in, to stimulate your senses and keep your ‘extrovertedness’ alive. Buy some house plants, hang some pictures, play board games with the family, chat to someone on facetime, get a pet fish!
3. Find joy in small things
Even when life feels a little lacklustre we can find joy in small things, and the more small delightful moments we have the more time is spent feeling joy. One hundred £1 coins are £100 right? For ideas on how to find joy in the small check out this piece! Jot some ideas down to look back at on a rainy day.
One last thing: Extroversion and introversion are personality traits that land at either end of a scale, and as individuals, we can land anywhere on that scale (or be a mix of both). If you associate as more introverted but are feeling a little underwhelmed by life at the moment, try some of these tips too! Perhaps a pet fish is just the right amount of company for you and will boost your mental wellbeing too!
Covid-19 and Mental Health of Individuals with Different Personalities (2021). Working Paper Series, University of Glasgow.