Journeying Toward Wholeness

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We Need to Think about Social Anxiety and Coronavirus

May 25th, 2020 · social anxiety and coronavirus

As a society, and as individuals, we’re going to have to deal with the realities of social anxiety and coronavirus.

As the picture above of our individual enjoying his socially distanced day at the beach might suggest, it’s likely that we’re going to be dealing with the effects and after-effects of the COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” policies for some time. How is that going to impact us?

One the things that is having the most dramatic impact is the increase in levels of social anxiety. It may be that some people are bursting at the seams, almost, to rush back into social interaction. However, as depth psychotherapists know very well from experience with clients, there are as many, and quite probably more, individuals who face the prospect of increased social interaction with genuine anxiety and dread.

Coronavirus Heightens Social Anxiety

For two and a half months now, we have lived with the realities of “social distancing” and “shelter in place”. Most of us “know the drill.” We avoid others on the sidewalk, wear face masks; wash hands frequently; submit to controlled passage through grocery stores; and disinfect after handing anything from outside the home. In short, we’ve adapted to a new environment. As we’ve done this, what was once a benign, friendly and inviting world has become, not exactly menacing, but uncertain, and many people find that difficult.

It’s clear that, for some people, going out into the coronavirus world is proving challenging. A surprising number of people have kept almost entirely confined to their homes. It’s not uncommon for clients to tell their analysts or therapists that they haven’t been outside of their homes more than a handful of times since “shelter in place” began. Some people add that they don’t even go to the grocery store, choosing to have all their groceries delivered and/or to have many of their meals delivered.

It’s particularly concerning when you ask individuals who are facing these issues about the future. As one person put it, “I can’t imagine going outside again, when this is all over. Even if there’s a vaccine, I’m going to have trouble getting out there.” There are strong grounds for concern that the impact of the lockdown on our psyche is going to be substantial. As has been said, perhaps the recession we should be most concerned about is not the economic one, but rather the social recession — people retreating into their private spheres, and finding it difficult to emerge.

Our Social Instinct

To be ourselves, to be fundamentally human, is to be social. Although the social instinct is expressed in a different way, this is just as true for introverted folks as it is for extroverts. We may not crave the concert of a pop superstar, or feel a great sense of solidarity with the fans at Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game, but even the most inward of us relies on social connection with others to obtain food, shelter, clothing and transportation, to make a living, and to feel appreciated and validated, through interaction with others.

Since our days in Africa’s Olduvai Gorge, and even before, we and our ancestors like the famous “Lucy” have been fundamentally social creatures, who exist in relationship to others. If we’re impaired in our social functioning, we lose part or all of our ability to live a full human life, and, in Jungian terms, to individuate (or, “journey towards wholeness”).

Surveys on mental health and COVID-19, such as that done by the Australian National University have shown that the social disruption caused by the lockdown is substantial. The data would suggest that people are feeling anxious about the prospects of social re-connection. Also, people who fear germs, such as people with obsessive compulsive issues, are concerned about going back into public spaces. It’s also quite possible that people who haven’t really experienced anxiety or depression could actually have a more difficult time than those who have, because they haven’t had to deal with this type of thing before.

It may well be important for people who haven’t had to deal with much anxiety or depression to monitor their own reactions as they go through the remainder of this lockdown process. If people are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression as this process goes on, it could be very important to reach out for help. Fortunately, in the age of online therapy, this can be easily done, even in the midst of lockdown conditions.

Through Social Anxiety Toward Meaning

It’s important for all of us to seek to stay socially connected, and to firmly but gently challenge ourselves to explore our anxieties and fears, as we get back into social interaction. It’s important for us to be kind and self-compassionate, if we notice any linkage in ourselves between social anxiety and coronavirus, but also to not be passive or complacent. Quality depth psychotherapy, such as Jungian therapy, may well be of great assistance in this process, which for all of us is a major life transition.

With best wishes on your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Some rights reserved by Jay Huang (Creative Commons Licence)

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Extroverts and Coronavirus: Coping with “Shelter in Place”

May 11th, 2020 · extroverts and coronavirus

We started to look at issues around COVID-19 and personality type last week; this week’s post explores extroverts and coronavirus.

There are significant differences between introverts and extroverts when it comes to their experience of the coronavirus lockdown. Granted, it’s true that even strong introverts can have too much social isolation in similar ways to extroverts, and also that both introverts and extroverts struggle with the mixing of private home space and work space. Yet the strong extrovert runs into some issues that are quite unique to her or his personality type.

What exactly do we actually mean when we say that someone is an “extrovert”? It’s not widely known that C.G. Jung actually developed the concept of extroversion. As he described it, an extrovert is someone who seeks to be involved with other people and the external world with “a desire to influence and be influenced by events.” He was referring to the person who is brought to life by social interaction, quite possibly in groups and who is often “the life of the party”, the “people person”. Jung also defines an extrovert as someone who is energized by social interactions.

What Happens When You Lock Down an Extrovert?

If you’re an extrovert, you thrive on engagement with other people and with the wider world. Socializing with others gives you energy and makes you feel good. As an extrovert, you likely value being around different people, socializing with them, and doing a variety of activities.

Unfortunately, being around people, face-to-face socialization, and getting the chance to switch from activity to activity are just the things that the current COVID-19 lockdown situation makes difficult. If we abide with the lockdown restrictions, we can’t mix with people other than our immediate family. Social distancing at 2 metres apart is not the same thing as face-to-face interaction and the brain knows it. In addition, if you have each person in a conversation wearing a protective face mask — well, let’s just say, party’s over.

Extroverts and Coronavirus — and Denial!

One important way in which we see extroverts attempting to get the social connection that they need is by using various technologies to get it virtually. We’re all aware of the advent of online happy hours, Netflix viewing parties, Zoom group meetings, virtual yoga, Tai Ch’i and exercise classes and all the other varieties of virtual interaction which have arisen — including the true heyday of online therapy.

These virtual techniques can offer assistance with the effects of social isolation. They can actually help extroverted individuals to feel a little more at ease and more positive about their life situation during the lockdown period. However, they are probably not providing enough gratification to truly be sustaining throughout an extended lockdown.

The danger might be that outer-directed individuals might not notice the emotional effects of the lockdown. In fact, one of the features of the lockdown that seems very prevalent is a sort persistent tiredness and lack of energy that many people are experiencing. This seems like it might well be rooted in a kind of low-grade depression.

Expressing Extroverted Energy During Lockdown

If as an individual, you are experiencing this, it’s very important to acknowledge this feeling, as it may well be one of the accompaniments of extroversion and coronavirus lockdown. The Washington Post quotes human resources research scientist Dr. Michael Wilmot:

being active, engaging in activities that are new and exciting, and experiencing positive emotions are [all] important for extroverts.

While opportunities to do these things may be more limited during the lockdown than previously, they do still exist. Staying active is something of great importance to extroverts, so, if you live in a place where it’s still permitted, like Ontario, walking, hiking, running and biking are all great ways to do this. It may be, too, that there’s joy and life in dancing or playing “air guitar” while listening to loud music, and if you can do this with someone else over Facetime or another app, so much the better!

Another thing that might have meaning for extroverts in the course of lockdown is doing things that have a positive or valuable effect on the outer world, such as:

  • contributing in some way to your favourite cause or charity;
  • being active in some way such as letter writing for some political or social cause that is important to you; or,
  • expressing thanks in some meaningful way to first-line responders or essential workers.

Finally, it may be valuable and meaningful to extroverts to consider therapy such as Jungian depth psychotherapy to help explore their own feelings, and to discover particular things that each person can do to express their own feelings and to allow themselves to feel truly connected with others and with the world.

With very best wishes to each of you as we make our way through this period towards its hopefully rapid conclusion, and as you move on your journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS:

Some rights reserved by Jay Huang (Creative Commons Licence)

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Inner Life and the Lockdown: COVID 19 and Introverts

May 4th, 2020 · covid 19 and introverts

I’m looking at COVID-19 and introverts this week as part of a two-part series on personality type and the lockdown.

Understanding the ways in which the lockdown situation impacts different personality types is important As introverts and extroverts, it’s essential for us to understand how this strange situation is impacting us. It’s also vital for us to know how we can take care of ourselves, hopefully grow, and possibly flourish, under the present conditions.

This week the focus will be on introverts. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the impact on extroverts.

Is Lockdown “Introvert Heaven”?

In speaking with quite a number of clients, it’s striking to hear the kind of messages that people recall receiving from the media and other sources back at the start of the COVID-19 period, when we were all just starting to think about lockdown. Many of us wondered, “How are people going to manage all the spare time they will have on their hands?” Often, observers and experts like therapists and psychologists also observed that introverts would probably have less anxiety and an easier time managing a stay-at-home environment than would extroverts.

It seems intuitive that introverts would have an easier time than extroverts with lockdown conditions. With more focus on the inner life, and less need for outer social interaction, wouldn’t a stay-at-home world be better for introverts?

Well, it may be that the lockdown is “better” for introverts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “good”. There are things that introverts are finding very hard about being locked down.

For an introvert, “home” has typically been a sanctuary from the outside world, a place to get away from all the external social interaction. Yet now, home has become something different. As Abby Ohlheiser recently wrote in the MIT Technology Review, for many people, “[l]iving rooms that were once a sanctuary from people-filled offices, gyms, bars, and coffee shops became all those things at once.” As she goes on to say, people are attempting to virtually re-create what lockdown has taken away, but,

…[t]he new version, however, only vaguely resembles what we left behind. Everything is flattened and pressed to fit into the confines of chats and video-conference apps like Zoom, which was never designed to host our work and social lives all at once. The result for introverts, extroverts and everyone in between, is the bizarre feeling of being socially overwhelmed despite the fact that we’re staying as far away from each other as we can. [Italics mine]

So, it seems as if, under lockdown conditions, introverts may not be getting what they really want or need. So then, what do introverts actually need?

COVID-19 and Introverts: Awareness Needed

Pretty clearly, the capacity to get away from social contact and to relate to one’s inner thoughts and feelings, is fundamental to what it means to be an introvert. Whether you’re out in the busy entertainment district of a huge city, or on your own in the wilderness, the ability to connect with your inner self is the hallmark of an introvert. So, even if we’re in our homes on our own, and ostensibly “in private”, an introvert is going to need self-connection.

What is startling about the COVID-19 situation is the ways in which it can interrupt self-connection. In the midst of “social self-isolation”, the introvert can find him- or herself in the midst of his or her own home, surrounded by technologies that intrude on personal space, together with kids who can’t go to school, dealing with an endless flow of work. As one such introvert working from home put it, “I used to use two hours a day commuting. Now I don’t do that, but that two hours has just become part of the endless flow of work.” In this boundariless space, in the midst of the “privacy” or one’s own home, it’s easy for the personal dimension to get completely lost.

In the midst of lockdown, there is a great need for an introvert to be aware of the things that intrude on the space inside of her or him, and to safeguard that space. It’s a time when, for themselves, and for the people to whom they are connected, introverts have to be aware of, and faithful to, their innermost voices.

COVID-19 and Introverts: Staying Faithful

The challenge for introverts in the midst of lockdown is to connect with their inner life, to stay in touch with it, and to increasingly express that reality in the way they live their lives. This is really the same challenge that introverts face every day of their lives, if they wish to a satisfying life with integrity, that is a reflection of who they uniquely are.

These formidable challenges can also provide an opportunity, despite the fact that this particular period is so demanding. Never has the need been as great for introverts to accept, listen to, and live out who they most fundamentally are. To be faithful to oneself in this period may form the basis of a very significant major life transition.

Psychotherapy in the context of trusting and secure depth psychotherapy can assist the introvert greatly in his or her personal journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS:

Some rights reserved by Jay Huang (Creative Commons Licence)

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