Alone Together

An Introvert’s Tips on Surviving Social Distancing

My dreams have come true! Never did I imagine that this day would come. Due to the increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 43 states and the District of Columbia have issued stay-at-home orders. States like California and New York have cancelled everything requesting everyone to stay inside! No gatherings of more than 10 people. Stay six feet away from everyone. No school, crowded volleyball tournaments, or 10-hour Sunday soccer games. No parties, no play dates, no awkward small talk with strangers. Introducing (drum roll please) Social distancing!! An introvert’s dream, but an extrovert’s nightmare.

An Introvert’s Reaction to Social Distancing

Three days into this dream, I came home from work and my 11-year-old met me in the garage. He was like a puppy eager to get off his leash. Stuck in the house all day he practically leapt into my arms begging, “mommy can I go to the park and play with my friends?” Still wrapping his head around social distancing, he didn’t understand that kids were not allowed to play at the playgrounds anymore. “No son. We can’t go!” His response caused my heart to break into pieces. Big, voluptuous tears streamed down his cheeks. He ached to hang out with his buddies.

What alarmed me was that he was my most introverted child. After four days on lockdown, with eight weeks to go, it was getting hard for everyone. Introverts, extroverts, children, adults, teachers, health care workers, preachers and grocery store clerks. From the left to the right the east to the west…the struggle was getting real.

While this is challenging for all, it’s no secret that introverts have the upper hand when it comes to surviving social distancing. While extroverts thrive on social connection, introverts have always thrived in solitude. So if you don’t mind, as an introvert myself, I’d like to share with you a few tips on how to maximize, or at least survive this time that we are apart.

1. Take Advantage of the Time

Every introvert knows that times of solitude are rare. Ten minutes between soccer practices, weekend trips out of town, they all come to an end long before we’re ready. But the truth is we’re never really ready.

That being said, we know the importance of taking advantage of this time. There are things you can do now that you can’t do when the world picks up speed again. There are things you can accomplish now that you’ve been trying to accomplish for weeks, months, or years, but could never seem to find the time. Do those things now!

I usually wish I had more time to rest and restore my body and my mind. So rest, is my priority. I sleep longer for physical rest, journal more for emotional rest, pray more for spiritual rest, and play more for social rest. I sit in the sun with my kids, enjoy lazy Sunday afternoons, read my favorite book, and sip a cup of tea.

Rest is hard to come by in the normal pace of life. For as long or short as this time may be, resting is what I do. What will you do? Whatever you do, make sure you take advantage of the time, it will be over before you know it.

2. Re-evaluate Your Life

When we stop moving at breakneck speed we can re-evaluate our lives. Busyness is a great way to cover up the cracks in the floor. When my life slowed down I became aware that most of what I do is for the purpose of pleasing others. I spent little or no time pouring into any of my own interests or hobbies. I started to wonder if the reason for my chronic exhaustion was not because of doing too much, but because of doing too little of what made my heart happy.

While I am taking to re-evaluating my life, others are re-evaluating their marriages. According to an article in The New Yorker  entitled, “To Have and to Hold, in Quarantine and in Health,” when quarantine restrictions were lifted across the country of China the divorce rate spiked. Lawrence Birnbach, a psychoanalyst who wrote the book How to Know if It’s Time to Go, predicts that as the pandemic subsides in the U.S. we too will see an increase in the divorce rate. Laura Wasser, a Los Angeles divorce attorney, says, “A quarantine experience, particularly where there are underlying issues of resentment and poor communication, could be devastating to a marital relationship.”

I believe this is due in part to the fact that when life slows down, husbands and wives may realize that, without a busy after school schedule, they have nothing else to talk about. This time is giving us the opportunity to re-evaluate our familial and marital relationships. Now, you can see the cracks in the kitchen tiles and the chipped paint on the bedroom walls. They were always there, but you sped right by them. I encourage you to use this time to find to the cracks, the holes, the ignored issues, and give them attention.

3. Think Creatively

This time has also made the majority of our traditional gathering practices out of reach. Physical school buildings, church buildings, soccer complexes, workout facilities, and malls are off limits. But people still need to be educated. People still need to worship. They still need sports. People still need to be fit. They still need to shop. In the void, the creatives should rise. If ever there was a time to think outside the box, it’s now, because we desperately need a way to connect.

I’m immensely inspired by mom’s who turn living rooms into classrooms to make sure their kids graduate. Pastors who have crafted sanctuaries through cameras to bring hope to people trapped at home. Children creating driveway chalk art to encourage families as they walk by. Trainers sculpting online workouts with couch cushions and water jugs to help people stay fit. Designers promoting clothing lines to keep people dressed to the nines. The absence of our traditional gathering places has paved the way for creatives not to give up, but to innovate.

It’s quite possible that these creative innovations will not only help us survive our current situation, but stay with us as part of our new normal.

Lessons From Being Alone Together

This is a stressful time for all of us. No one could have predicted that we would be facing these hardships today. Most of us were expecting to be celebrating weddings, going to concerts, planning tropical cruises, walking for graduation, and playing championship basketball games. Instead, we are doing none of those things. We are at home. Alone. But be encouraged. For we are alone, together.

One day all of this will come to an end and life will return to the way we’ve always known it. In the meantime, we can learn from introverts, the experts in social distancing, to take advantage of this time, reevaluate our lives, as well as use this time to think and produce creatively.

A Lesson on Exercise From an 88-Year Old Champion

For several years I worked in a nursing home. Daily there were six or seven elderly residents lining the halls in wheelchairs. They were either sleeping, staring into space, or speaking incoherently to themselves. The odor in the hallway smelled of stale carpet and fake sweetener.  The mood felt like sadness and desolation. Day after day it was the same scene and the more I worked there, the more I was determined that I would never grow old.

The Glory Days

One day I noticed an elderly man siting in a wheelchair in the Physical Therapy gym, struggling with his exercises. He was given the task of lifting a pair of tiny pink 4-pound dumbbells 10 times over his head.  It was visibly hard work for him. As he rested between sets, he pulled out a picture from his back pocket. It was old, frayed and discolored. In the picture was a young man holding an impressively massive barbell loaded with weights over his head. Across the top of the picture was the word “Champion” in big bold letters.

With pride he passed the picture around to the other residents and explained that he was the young man in the picture. He spent the next several minutes describing his glory days. He told us of his many accomplishments as a competitive weight lifter, the number of years he competed and the glorious feeling of wearing the champion medal year after year. Those around him were drawn in by his stories and listened in amazement.  When he no longer had stories to tell, his therapist indicated that his PT session was over and that it was time for him to return to his room for his medication.  I watched as his feeble body was wheeled away with his oxygen tank in tow.

When Youth Meets Old Age

Later that day I went to the local CrossFit gym and stood in a room with young men and women, all working hard to beat the odds. Picking up weights and throwing them down, running laps, climbing ropes, swinging kettle bells, wiping sweat, pushing hard, and digging deep. They talked about their meal preps, how much they missed bread, the last dessert they enjoyed, and the latest vegan recipe. Everyone had the same objective. Get stronger. Get healthier. Stay young, defy gravity and stop aging!

Then my mind’s eye pictured that elderly man in the nursing home earlier that day. He once found himself in a gym just like this one, with people just like us, and with objectives just like ours.  And yet none of that prevented his gradual decline to frailty and weakness. His once strong body was still forced to succumb to the wheelchair. No matter how much work he put in, he still had to trade in his strong legs for atrophied pegs; his chiseled physique for a frail frame.

Aging is Inevitable! Why bother?

The obvious questions overwhelmed my thoughts: Why bother? Why bother with any of this, if even the strongest of us are forced to submit to degeneration and atrophy? Why am I waking up at 4 am to get to the gym? Why am I depriving myself of the foods I love? Why am I punishing my body with strenuous workouts if none of this will keep time from ravishing all my hard work?

The next day in the gym I lacked passion and purpose. Suddenly, like the thoughts of Solomon, everything seemed vain and pointless. “Nothing I do in this gym will change the inevitable,” I thought. Physical aging and death comes for all of us. The strongest, the fittest, the fastest…we all end feeble and weak.

At the nursing home the next day I asked that 88 year old gentleman to tell me another story of his physical feats. His eyes lit up and he boasted and beamed about the first time he held a champions trophy in his hands. He ended the story by saying, “Not anymore, I can’t do those things anymore. I was prepared though. I knew this day would come.”

A Lesson in Exercise From an 88-Year Old Champion

I asked him, if he ever felt like the years he spent working towards physical strength were a waste. With a smile of conviction and glassy eyes he said, “Not one bit! Growing old is a privilege that some never get to experience. I knew that one day my body would not be able to lift those weights.  But I eventually learned that the real reward was not the change in my body, but the change in my Spirit.” He saw the confused look on my face and precede to explain.

“Achieving goals I never thought possible taught me JOY.

Avoiding foods that cause me harm taught me SELF CONTROL.

Showing up to the gym day in and day out whether I felt like it or not taught me FAITHFULNESS.

Waiting for the slowest person on my team taught me GOODNESS.

Putting to rest the negative voices in my head taught me PEACE.

Encouraging a friend to never give up taught me KINDNESS.

Enduring the pain of depression taught me LONG-SUFFERING and GENTLENESS.

Treating my body like a treasure taught me how to LOVE.

Understanding that nothing changes overnight, taught me PATIENCE.”

“God brought the fruit of the spirit to life through the process of building my body, His temple. And because our bodies are in fact the temple of God, health and fitness is an act of worship!”

“If you are not actively improving your physical body, you may be neglecting your spiritual health.”

The next morning I woke up with more vigor than I had all week. I was filled with a sober conviction that taking care of my body was of Kingdom importance. Knowing that one day my body would return to dust ignited a fire within me to build My Body; His Temple. I now have this burning desire to worship Him through exercise. Will you join me?