An Introvert’s Guide to Social and Physical Distancing

With what’s been going on lately, everyone is supposed to be practising “Social Distancing”; or as some of us prefer to call it, “Physical Distancing”. Extraverts have been learning the value of “alone time” and a 30-minute meeting that lasts for 30 minutes (some actually like it – they can get stuff done).  People are staying in and only touching things inside their homes with their filthy hands instead of whatever they normally would touch in the outside world. We’re avoiding strangers as if they’ve got…well, you know. And Single Introverts? They’re the most germ-free people in the world right now. Maybe don’t pet their cat for a couple of weeks though.

And then there are those online meetings and online social gatherings that are popping up to keep us social and working. Talking to people online is still talking to people, isn’t it? There could be strangers online as well. They’re everywhere, so we definitely need to be aware of that. I’ll talk about that special situation of online interactions in this article as well.

This article is written from the perspective of an introvert to everyone; especially extraverts who may not understand it at first. Introverts: this article is an affirmation of your existence and the validation of your preferred social style. It has been keeping us alive all these years and now the rest of the world is catching on to that.  Let’s start by talking about the concept of the “Personal Space Bubble”.

Personal Space Bubble

Have you ever heard of this concept? Introverts tend to have large space bubbles and germaphobes would likely use actual plastic bubbles to get around in. Maybe you’ve seen the videos (how do they clean those things? And what if they sneeze?). That was a joke, and I’ve actually seen a video of a person walking around inside a plastic bubble. He seemed to be struggling to get it to roll properly.

Anyway, the concept is that each person has a certain amount of space around them that only certain people are allowed to enter. Mine used to be rather large and was armed with an invisible force field. Now it’s smaller, just as public health officials are telling everyone else to make theirs bigger. It looks like the force field is going back up! Since the force field is invisible, it’s important to make people aware of it so they don’t get any ideas about trying to get into it, and so they don’t get hurt (in case you get the deluxe model that gives a shock). How do you do that? A simple dirty look is all it takes. Shoot the stranger a dirty look as if to say “Come any closer and you’ll regret it!”, and they’ll back off to the full two meter distance. Neither of you are sick or germy, but it’s a stranger so…there may be other reasons to keep them at a distance.

Make sure you maintain your personal space bubble too, and remember that it is a bubble, so it protects the space all around you – even above your head. There is no guarantee that it will protect you from birds pooping on your head should you venture outside.

Alone Time

Sweet, sweet alone time. Everyone is now seeing the value in this. Quiet time, time to reflect, time to sleep, time for people to stop talking for a while, time to breathe. It can be difficult to find this alone time when everyone in the household is always home at the same time (just keep breathing introverts). Here’s where noise-cancelling headphones come in. Still too much noise inside those headphones? Ear plugs muffle the sound, and you can put an eye mask over your eyes to block out light and people being in your face. Also, a blank stare could get you out of most interactions: “Hello? Earth to Kathryn – is anybody home?” Nope. Nobody to see here. And that’s how you get your “virtual” alone time if you can’t kick those people out of your home space.

Staying In

Here’s a quick how-to. Lock all of your doors and say to yourself: “that’s it; I’m not going out anymore today”. And then you put your phone on mute, or turn it off and that’s all you have to do. Do you like board games? You could play those if you’re okay with having someone else play too. Or, playing solitaire works well for staying in and not talking to anyone.

Avoiding Strangers

This is more than physical distancing, this is also social distancing which means the introvert (and anyone who just doesn’t like people) does. Just like you tell your kids, it’s for safety reasons – or because we just don’t want to talk to anyone. That goes for “meeting” somebody online too. When we’re talking to someone online, or on the phone, it counts as physical distancing. We introverts take it up a few notches, and what we do naturally in addition to physical distancing is social distancing. We do things like cross the street to avoid a strangers, do online speed dating but say “no match” to almost everyone because the thought of another conversation with that person (or anyone) that day or any other day is painful.

This doesn’t mean that introverts are unfriendly and aloof, it means we’re protecting our own safety as well as yours, and limiting the amount of awkwardness in our lives. Especially now, things are particularly awkward and being an introvert means being very sensitive to awkwardness – except awkward silence. We generally don’t find silence awkward. We’re usually glad that the other person has stopped talking for a bit and we can have a break from listening to them.

Being Single

It is possible for single introverts to spend too much time alone. They may not think so, but it is. Because when they’re forced to go out into the world and interact with people again, they may be unprepared or simply won’t. But, they get the choice. Extraverts: it’s okay to be single. You get to learn about yourself – possibly how much you miss interacting with people, even those weirdos who don’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone. You’re willing to talk to anybody, anyhow these days. Do you prefer face-to-face interactions when dating? Going out for dinner? Not allowed, but you can be single. Talk to your friends online, make phone calls, and send text messages. And then sanitize your phone. You’re likely touching that more than anything else. And you definitely don’t want to catch anything because once you’re allowed; you want to be ready to go and ready to get out there. Or continue life as usual if you’re an introvert.

Online Meetings

Here’s an interesting twist brought on by modern times: the online meeting. There’s likely an entire article to be written about this topic. There have been videos made about this topic as well. What if you’ve had enough of talking and listening to other people talk through your computer and it’s time for some alone time? You could be proactive and say something like:

“I’ve got a hard-stop at (whatever time)”, and you can just leave the meeting and turn off your computer.

Imagine how this would play out in real life: The meeting ends at 5:00pm and you simply get up and leave, even if people are still talking. I’ve done this before, believe it or not. I said I’d stay until 5:00pm and when 5:00pm rolled around, I said “Okay, I’m going now. Have a nice evening everybody”, and I got up and left. I wasn’t being anti-social, I had another commitment. That’s a legitimate reason, by the way, to leave a meeting. Online or in person, meetings are still mostly an extraverted thing.

So, how do you get out of an online meeting and avoid conflict? (introverts hate conflict, generally). Do what you’d do to get out of a bad date. You could say things like:

“Oh no, it looks like my internet isn’t working well. You guys are breaking up.”


“Sorry everybody, my kids are going crazy/ I just heard my doorbell (must be a delivery)/ my battery is dying and I don’t have a charger”.


“I’m going. Bye Everybody. Thanks for all your hard work.” And just leave.

Other Notes about Online Meetings

In an online meeting, if you need to blow your nose, make a snack (really, would you normally get up from a meeting to go make yourself something to eat?), or go to the bathroom, make sure you turn off your video. There are some people like me who are not always watching the speaker, and are sometimes instead watching what other people are doing. We see movements in our peripheral vision, and BAM we catch somebody kissing their spouse or their dog.

To wrap it up

While social and physical distancing are challenging for some, for introverts, life continues as normal. The only difference is that now their families are home all the time (unless you’re single). When we do need to go out, there are fewer people out there, which we introverts really like. Fewer people out and about means there’s room for our personal space bubbles. Crossing the street to avoid talking to somebody is now socially acceptable. There may be some people struggling with the double-whammy of social and physical distancing. So, fellow introverts, as uncomfortable as it may be you may need to reach out to some extraverts and let them talk to you. Just nod, smile, and say “Mmm hmmm” once in a while and give yourself a pat on the back for being so giving and outgoing.

Do you want to know more about what to do when you’re staying at home? Check out my article on “Indoor Activities” in winter (while it’s still winter).

Are you an introvert with ideas to share with us on social and physical distancing? Extroverts: how are you handling it? Let me know in the comments.

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