By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Over Christmas I spent some time with family – family that I adore and, apparently, the feeling is mutual. So, theoretically we should be able to spend endless hours together catching up and socializing. But as it happened, after about three hours together it was clear we were all ready for a break. Or, as my college-age great-niece put it: our social batteries were depleted. I had never heard that expression but definitely could relate to it. We concluded that we are all introverts at heart and enjoy time alone. I got to wondering whether this is a Covid-related issue or something more universal. Turns out, this phenomenon has been around a while; Covid just made it more apparent.
First, according to the Urban Dictionary (the term hasn’t made it to Webster’s yet), “social battery” is defined as a metaphor for a person’s capacity to intermingle with groups of people in one setting. If you love having a day to yourself or are relieved when someone calls to cancel plans, it could be because you are an introvert with a low social battery. Being around people – friends, colleagues or family – is a challenging task that takes energy. If you start the day with a low amount of social battery it doesn’t take much to drain it. Spending time alone, being creative, is one of the ways that introverts re-charge.
As it turns out, our family was about average in terms of our battery capacity. According to a 2016 study published in The Journal of Personality, introverts experience fatigue after three hours of socialization. If we exceed the capacity of our social battery, we tend to become irritable, inattentive and mentally and physically exhausted. Boy, that goes a long way toward explaining why I’m grouchy at a long cocktail party!
Extroverts, on the other hand, need to be with people to charge their social battery. They start the day like a phone that hasn’t been charged: they need some juice to get going. They revel in a full calendar of events and meetings, and often volunteer their time in order to create more interaction with people. Extroverts will keep in touch with friends and family on a frequent basis to share the stories that they need to get out of their systems. We all know some of these people – the ones that call just as you’re getting dinner on the table and talk for 30 minutes about their round of golf. Extroverts seldom like to do anything alone, whether it’s going to the grocery store or grabbing a cup of coffee.
But the world isn’t so simple that we can just be introverts or extroverts, there are also ambiverts and omniverts. As you might guess, these are people that float between being an introvert and extrovert. Ambiverts will change according to the external situation they are in, while omniverts will change depending on how they feel that day. Researchers say that most of us fall into the ambivert or omnivert spectrum because we have learned over time what different social situations require.
So, now that I’ve probably depleted your social battery by droning on about this, I’ll conclude by observing that whatever your personality type, Covid has had an effect. Numerous studies have been done over the past two years about how people have handled isolation during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, extroverts have suffered more acutely from the lack of activities and interaction with others. And while some social scientists called the Covid lockdowns “Springtime for Introverts”, that isn’t accurate either. While lockdowns were more bearable for people with low social batteries, even introverts feel frustrated because their choice to isolate was made for them, and not by them.
Let’s face it, regardless of your type, we’re all tired of this damn virus. At least now you may have a better understanding of why you’ve been grumpy.