Learning to Re-connect after Covid
Reconnecting after Covid: Why Human Interaction May Take Time as Lockdown Eases
The easing of COVID-19 restrictions and being able to see more of your family and friends comes as a relief after months of social restrictions, but will this welcome change bring its own stressors?
One of the biggest challenges of lockdown has been the social isolation that many people experience physically as well as emotionally. Over the past year, people have had to adjust to life without social interactions in place that support and enhance their lives. This has caused major stress and harmed mental health. Covid crisis may have effects on mental health that last for years – Dr Julie Arthur.
But as the restrictions ease a new challenge arises. Social interactions may feel awkward – even anxiety-inducing. How do you re-integrate ways of living that were once second nature and now feel foreign, even unsafe?
As we take our tentative steps out into the world, will we need to re-learn how to socialize?
How Lockdown Changed Socializing
Socializing as we knew it came to a standstill during the pandemic. What we came to realise was not that we have a social life, but that our life is social. As we need each other - some to a greater degree than others, granted.
Being forced to restrict our interactions, whether that meant not being able to visit friends, meet for lunch in a cafe, go to work, exercise at the gym, volunteer, or attend a place of worship, brought sharply into focus the necessity for human connection. Video calls and social media have bridged the gap for some, but there is no substitute for interaction in person.
Neurological and Biological Effects
Human contact is a basic need, essential for all-round health including a healthy brain. Studies have discovered a relationship between periods of social isolation and decline in cognitive function. How Social Isolation Affects the Brain
Researchers have even found shrinkage in areas of the brain associated with social interaction, including the amygdala – the brain’s emotional processing centre. People with larger, more complex social networks have a correspondingly larger amygdala compared with those with smaller networks.
Other parts of the body are affected by our social life too: stress hormones have been shown to increase in people experiencing loneliness, which not only affects their health but negatively affects social bonding. This causes people to withdraw from the contact that would help them thereby reinforcing the problem.
Social interaction is mentally stimulating as well as being emotionally supportive. People experience the negative effects of social isolation subjectively as depression, anxiety, low mood, and poor performance.
You may find that if your daily interactions are only with a few individuals – your partner and kids, for example, you get bored of talking about the same things. Not only that, when you do get the chance to talk to others you may feel anxiety at being lost for words, not used to stretching yourself in conversation or just having nothing to report.
Anna, an artist living with her husband and their 2-year-old daughter said: “When I do see people and chat, I feel like the connection between brain and mouth isn't working. My conversation skills are a little rusty. It's definitely going to feel weird, especially when big groups are allowed.”
Will the Damage be Easily Reversed?
Once we can socialise in a more normal way, the trauma of social isolation can start to heal. No one knows how long it will take and who will be most affected. Children, as they grow, are shaped by their enviro