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Loneliness, Social Anxiety, and Introversion–Extroversion

Loneliness, social anxiety, and introversion-extroversion - watercolour of a blue elephant

I started writing this when thinking about the COVID pandemic being better suited to introverts than extroverts, although the social isolation isn’t necessarily easy for introverts either. I thought I’d treat to tease apart the constructs of loneliness, social anxiety, and introversion/extroversion.

To start off, what’s a psychological construct? It’s a representation of an intangible thing that gives us a way to talk about that thing and distinguish it from other intangible things. Loneliness, social anxiety (disordered or not), and introversion/extroversion are distinct constructs, although they may have areas of overlap. Because they’re distinct, the presence of one doesn’t automatically mean the presence of another.

Defining the psychological constructs

Now, let’s look at some definitions, from the American Psychological Association.

Loneliness is an “affective [i.e. emotional] and cognitive discomfort or uneasiness from being or perceiving oneself to be alone or otherwise solitary” (APA). Depending on the theoretical perspective, loneliness can arise from the emotional distress from unmet companionship/intimacy needs, or the uncomfortable experience when there’s a discrepancy between one’s desired and actual social support. The UCLA Loneliness Scale is a self-report scale that can be used to measure loneliness.

Social anxiety is the “fear of social situations in which embarrassment may occur… or there is a risk of being negatively evaluated by others… Social anxiety involves apprehensiveness about one’s social status, role, and behavior” (APA). When it’s severe and pervasive enough that it causes significant distress and functional impairment, that gets into the territory of the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder/social phobia. However, people may experience anxiety in social situations without it rising to the level of a mental illness.

Introversion–extroversion is “the range, or continuum, of self-orientation from introversion, characterized by inward and self-directed concerns and behaviors, to extraversion, characterized by outward and social-directed concerns and behaviors” (APA). Introversion and extroversion are personality traits (you can read more about them in this post on the Big Five model), and most people don’t fall at either extreme of the continuum. Introverts don’t necessarily want to be alone all the time; most introverts aren’t hermits like I am. They prefer socializing with a few people they know well rather than have small talk with a bunch of strangers at a party, and their mental batteries are recharged by having alone time afterwards, while extroverts are re-energized from being around people.

Effects of the pandemic

The pandemic has meant more time at home, so introverts have had more of their social mental battery recharge time than extroverts. They’re also not having social time that uses up some of that social mental energy, so the recharge time isn’t as needed as it might normally be. More than that, though, none of us are simply that one personality trait; there’s a lot of other stuff going on.

Exposure is an important part of managing social anxiety and other forms of anxiety. The pandemic made it very difficult, if not impossible, to keep up exposures. It could be a potential social anxiety disaster waiting to happen as people are being shoved back into social situations after having gone for so long with minimal exposure.

The pandemic has also been bad for people who are prone to loneliness, who may be introverts or extroverts, or anywhere along that continuum. It’s been harder to connect, particularly for people who don’t feel able to effectively connect virtually. Social isolation isn’t just about who’s around; perception plays a big role. Someone can still feel lonely even with crowds of people around, but the pandemic reduces the options to access support.


I was particularly well-positioned to put up with the pandemic given where I stand across all three of these characteristics. I’m highly introverted. I dislike people. I don’t have social anxiety disorder, so lack of exposure isn’t an issue for me. I’m also not particularly prone to loneliness, nor have I ever been. I’m quite content in my own company, and it’s not difficult to access my desired level of social interaction and support online.

How easy or difficult has it been for you to deal with pandemic-imposed isolation? Have introversion–extroversion, social anxiety (illness or otherwise), and/or a propensity towards loneliness been a factor for you?

Mental health coping toolkit

The Coping Toolkit page has a broad collection of resources to support mental health and well-being.

37 thoughts on “Loneliness, Social Anxiety, and Introversion–Extroversion”

  1. Pre-pandemic, I thought I was an ambivert. During the pandemic, I learned that I was the kind of extrovert who couldn’t find the motivation for basic hygiene if I wasn’t seeing people. When I started video and in-person interviews, I had to chop my hair significantly shorter because it had gotten so horribly tangled from failure to wash and brush it properly.

    I don’t know that I would describe my experience as truly isolated. I am married (which had its pros and cons, honestly). I had coworkers, family, congregants, friends, etc to interact with virtually and in-person. The challenge was that many of these interactions were not particularly satisfactory (although some of them were!) But I wouldn’t say that I was isolated.

  2. I have really changed over these past few years. I realise how naturally introverted I am. I do get energy from people but I also find it draining if I can’t have any time alone. I’m alai surprised by how much satisfaction I get from online connection. It is sometimes all I can manage but it stops the feelings of loneliness creeping in. It’s a life saver for me! Xx

  3. I discovered that I need more social contact than I thought, despite being a socially anxious, autistic introvert! I’ve been lucky to be working in an office for the last nine months or so; that’s given me contact with a couple of people twice a week. And I live with my parents, so I haven’t been totally isolated even in the strictest lockdown. Since about last October, I’ve been going to synagogue once or twice a week, but there’s a lot of discomfort there – some that was there before, to be honest, but also feeling a bit like I’ve forgotten how to socialise. I haven’t been staying for refreshments since they’ve restarted and that’s partly because of COVID-spreading fears with food, but perhaps also social avoidance from social anxiety.

  4. Interesting, for me it wasn’t great as I am introverted but suffer major social anxiety and depression as well as a recent diagnosis of ptsd so the pandemic was a bit of a shit storm for me mentally, so to speak.

  5. I did start to really hate not being able to go places but not to be with people. I just missed not being at my house for so long. I think it helped as i stayed working and though i use to be extroverted highly I’m more introverted now and rather enjoy my own company. I don’t really have social anxiety other then a worry about my body image but even that is just slight.

  6. This was an interesting read. I would say I’m an introvert but extrovert with people I know and love. I do enjoy time on my own and am happy in my own company( or with my 2 kids). Lock down for me was an opportunity to come out my comfort zone and have to get use to video calls/ zoom etc. It really gave me time to sort out some deep rooted trauma and have 6 months of therapy . I can honestly say I feel less lonely now in my 39th year with fewer people around me , than I did when I was younger and surrounded by people.

  7. Most of us inside are introverted, have social anxiety and feel lonely. The pandemic has been awful, devastating, especially for the introversion because we are almost never alone: Younger Child’s school was online, Spouse works from home, and now it’s summer so everyone is home. No time to breathe and recharge. That will change *dramatically* in a month as we become empty nesters, especially if Spouse’s job goes in-person again.

    We have support now but lost two of our three therapists due to quarantine.

    We are definitely lacking exposures for social anxiety. Last night was neighborhood block party. Hell no: small talk, insecurity around our gender presentation. Spouse went alone. We can’t go to grocery store at all. Too overwhelming for senses. Can’t go by ourselves alone anywhere except therapy.

    DJ feels the loneliest. During and after abuse, we were neglected—the feeling hasn’t gone away. T-2 is trying to build skills so inside people comfort inside people. Then we wouldn’t have to rely on other people to sustain us. Sounds impossible and we’re still trying.

    We will look at that ucla loneliness link.

    1. I hope it gets easier in September. And it’s great that you’re working on helping insiders support insiders. Hard work, but definitely a goal that could really help with meeting needs. ❤️❤️❤️

  8. Great post Ashley 🙂 I _think_ I might be an ambivert, or at least that I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert. I didn’t mind the part where you were not supposed to go out in public places unless you really had to (I don’t anyways and NEVER go to say a mall without a game plan of what needs to be done so I can get out of there quickly 😂).

    That being said, I had the opportunity to work a bit from home and as a teacher…I really missed being in my classroom and seeing my colleagues IRL. Sure, meetings in Teams work, but I missed the small talk when leaving a meeting instead of meeting just being done and everyone gone in an instant.

        1. 1) In the WP app, go to “Me” at the bottom of the screen, or in the browser version, click on your Gravatar image near the top right of your screen.
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          1. I’ve tried changing this both in the WP read and in the app. The right URL is used in both places, but for some reason it still points back to my WordPress.com site that I no longer use 🙁 I don’t even have that site added to my Gravatar profile anymore. I’m usually pretty decent with tech, but this annoys me a lot 😟

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