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Yes, pandemic restrictions are harder on extroverts, study shows

Research results could help inform government and health authority messaging around COVID-19
Sam Liu, UVIC assistant professor of kinesiology.
Sam Liu, UVIC assistant professor of kinesiology.

How have the pandemic and its associated restrictions impacted you, Squamish?

A new University of Victoria study confirms what most of us already know from watching our family and friends struggle over the last few months — the degree of stress and how each person reacts to it are at least partially dependent on each individual's personality type.

For extroverts, for example, isolation has been harder.


"Individuals with higher extroversion are usually associated with lower perceived levels of stress," said Sam Liu, UVIC assistant professor of kinesiology, who led the study, in a news release.

"Extroverts are known to seek out social stimulation and opportunities to engage with others, and we know that social connectedness mediates the well-established relationship between extroversion and perceived well-being. So, the quarantine during the pandemic may have made it more difficult for extroverts to fulfill these needs. Alternatively, the higher stress experienced by extroverts may also stem from a lack of ability to regulate their emotions."

But the study also found that this isn't necessarily a "golden age" in which introverts are thriving.  

"Thriving is a very strong word for this time period," Liu said. "What we are looking at is a relative change. The media is portraying this as a golden age for introverts, but what we are seeing is that yes, there is a difference between introverts and extroverts but we are not necessarily measuring whether they are thriving or not... It seems like the better you are at preparing yourself not to get COVID or prepare yourself for wearing masks and washing hands — the regulations the Canadian government has put forward — ... you are less likely to experience stress-related to COVID during this time."

The research involved an online survey of more than 1,200 Canadians undertaken from May 1 to 7 this year.

Long-lasting stress can lead to poor mental health, lower quality of life, and even death, the study notes; thus, understanding ways to manage stress is "critical, particularly during a pandemic."

The research could be informative for government agencies and public health officials as they create future guidelines and policies and messaging around the pandemic moving forward, Liu said.

"It is important recognizing when we are providing messaging about wearing masks or even social distancing or portraying how threatening this situation is — it is obviously very serious — but there are people who will react to the message differently so some tailoring of the messaging might be important throughout this," Liu told The Chief.

But how do you know which personality trait you are?

The traits for the study were broken down into: neuroticism — the tendency to be emotionally unstable, and to experience such feelings as anxiety, worry and fear; conscientiousness — responsible, organized and goal-directed; extroversion — sociable, assertive and with a high activity level; openness — perceptive, creative and reflective; and agreeableness — co-operative, altruistic and generous.

"Certain personality traits such as conscientiousness, extroversion and especially neuroticism, have particularly strong associations with perceived stress and they tend to perceive events as highly threatening and often have limited coping resources, self-regulation and perceived efficacy," Liu said in the news release.

"Our study findings confirmed that individuals with a strong neurotic personality experienced higher levels of stress during the pandemic due to higher levels of perceived threat related to COVID-19 and lower levels of perceived efficacy to follow government recommendations for preventing COVID-19. "

How can individuals use this information? Liu says making use of video conferencing for extroverts is one way that social connections can be maintained.

For employers, understanding that different employees require different types of stress management during this time is another implication of the study.

"Employers need to be a little bit more caring in terms of providing, if necessary, an environment where you still allow the workers to feel supported throughout this entire process."

An example of an employer initiative could be providing a happy hour over video conferencing for workers to connect socially, and checking in on employees more often.

Researchers also looked at predictors of physical activity.

"Because physical activity and lifestyle behaviours are particularly important at this stage, to take care of yourself."

Researchers found a dramatic decrease in terms of physical activity, but there were a small group of people who maintained and even improved their physical activity, Liu said.  

Liu was surprised to find many people are using YouTube videos for exercise.

"That was something I didn't expect. I thought more people would be using health apps," he said.

Online personal training classes were quite popular with respondents as well.

"We didn't anticipate that, " he said.

Find the fill study here.

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