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Zoom fatigue during coronavirus quarantine is real: Why it's OK to say no

Commentary: Nonstop requests to participate in group chats and movie watching parties have worn me out. But as an introvert, I'm learning to say I need alone time.

Bonnie Burton profile photo
Bonnie Burton profile photo
Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
5 min read

Here's me looking much happier reading a book than being trapped in a Zoom video party.

Bonnie Burton/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

As an introverted writer who happily works from home, self-isolation has always been a snap. My pals sometimes have to bribe me with fancy cheese and Star Trek wine just to lure me out of my apartment. 

Family and friends haven't always understood my self-imposed hermit lifestyle. But with the world on lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, being an introvert finally makes me feel like a cool kid. My preference to stay at home is now the new normal. 

I no longer have to think up believable excuses to decline party invites. I can happily enjoy my usual solo activities like reading Sandman comicscrafting Star Wars puppets, watching horror films and contacting spirits with my Ouija board. What I appreciate most about this lockdown is that many people seem to be learning solitude isn't such a bad thing. Or so I thought. 

Lately, some of my more extroverted friends and acquaintances have been flooding my email, Twitter and Facebook inboxes with invites to join movie list exchanges, exercise challenges, poetry jams and more. 

It reminds me of those retro chain letters that existed during my teens that threatened bad luck if you didn't copy the text and send the letter on to five more friends. If you don't give in to the peer pressure to keep the chain email or Twitter/Facebook tagging going, you feel like you're letting your pals down or being a party pooper. 

There's also a weird new pressure to respond to email requests to share recipes and food photos. I like baking, but when it starts to be a competition to show off the perfect loaf of banana bread, I break out in hives. I have no desire to turn my life into The Great British Baking Show

Then there are all the Zoom/Skype/FaceTime/Google and Netflix viewing party requests. Video conferencing has become a kind of lifeline for people who feel anxious about their sudden lack of human contact. But putting on a constant happy face for those encounters when I'm feeling scared about my future due to the COVID-19 crisis has turned out to be exhausting.

Still, it's hard not to feel like a bad friend for turning down all those invites, and I worry about looking selfish and ungrateful. It's not easy to tell people close to me I need to have some alone time as part of my own self-care, particularly when, for some, social activity with others is as important to them as alone time is to me. But our ongoing lockdown is making it more clear to me than ever -- being honest with friends is more important than cringing your way through a Zoom dance party.

So I'm here to say it's OK to want to curl up and cry instead of joining a  Google Hangout  happy hour. Watching your favorite movie without mocking it with pals like a virtual Mystery Science Theater 3000 is fine. Declining to share recipes or take on a push-ups challenge doesn't make you a bad friend. We are who we are. We can be good friends without taking part in every challenge.

Don't get me wrong. I love my friends and I'm thankful they check up on me to make sure I'm not swirling downward into a pit of depression. But just because I don't accept every invite for video hangouts or recipe exchanges doesn't mean I'm about to jump off a cliff.

Enlarge Image

Please just leave me in peace to hang out with my Ouija board. 

Bonnie Burton/CNET

The excuse "I don't feel like being social" might seem like a cry for help to those who don't understand not everyone's clamoring for face-to-face contact right now. Just because introverts are stuck inside doesn't mean we suddenly want to constantly be socializing on Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Facebook.

While understanding of introverts has grown in recent years with high-profile books like Susan Cain's Quiet, we're often misunderstood as being anti-social. That's not the case. We love spending time with friends. But it's more about quality than quantity. 

I really appreciate one-on-one chats with friends, but a Zoom chat with 16 people at once feels like attending a crowded party inside a broom closet. Too many people talking over each other is a nightmare. 

Another misconception is that introverts are unemotional and cold. Not true either. We are an empathetic and emotional bunch. 

I've found myself trying to explain that feeling anxious and depressed about the effects of the pandemic (job layoffs, cancelled events, loss of life) doesn't simply go away by chatting with bored buddies about Tiger King. I don't want to be a Debbie Downer when all my friends are thrilled to hang out en masse online. But I'd rather be real than fake in times like these.

My Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of positive affirmations urging everyone to be their best selves during this pandemic, and it's starting to feel like there's an unrealistic pressure to become your ultimate creative self under lockdown. 

I admit I initially encouraged everyone to write comics, paint pet portraits and make puppets. If Shakespeare supposedly wrote King Lear during his self-quarantine from the plague, why can't I write the great American novel or some other masterpiece during my own isolation?  But the longer this lockdown continues, the less creative I feel.

I've already shut down mentally more than once. I've bawled my eyes out while organizing my craft supplies. I had a meltdown when I discovered the last piece was missing from the puzzle I took hours to complete. My paintings could probably double as Rorschach inkblots that determine one's sanity. Everyone wants to know what I'm working on, when in reality making my bed seems like a great accomplishment.

We're living in uncertain times, with a daily onslaught of bad news constantly flooding our social media feeds, so do what makes you feel the most comfortable. If you feel better with one-on-one chats rather than group Zoom parties, say so. If you hate recipe swaps but love sharing gifs of cute puppies, do that instead. You can reach out to someone without having to put it on a Google Calendar .

Telling friends and family "thanks, but no thanks" because you need time to process reality is totally within your rights. Those friends and family will still be there, whether you share photos of your elaborately decorated Doctor Who cookies or not.

Watch this: Coronavirus lockdown: Why social distancing saves lives