With the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 arriving this month, it’s important to analyze the impact of social isolation on our social skills. At the start of confinement, teleworking had its advantages. As students, we had the opportunity to wake up just before class started and take class notes in our pajamas.
However, over time, university life as we knew it was disappearing. There were no more parties, no more campus events, no more exploring what Charlotte has to offer. Over time, face-to-face interactions have diminished, as has our ability to take care of ourselves. We have relied on social media apps and texting to keep in touch with our friends and family. But digital communication and isolation have proven to impact our social skills.
The Journal of Community Psychology views social interaction as a basic need, especially for development. Long-term isolation will ultimately affect mental health. With the ongoing pandemic, our social needs have not been met. “Physical interactions are an essential part of the human social experience, and they are particularly important for the social development of young people… it affects their ability to form quality relationships, which has an impact on personal growth. Coming to college is often associated with self-discovery and building relationships that last a lifetime. Unfortunately, the pandemic interrupted these plans. The insane freshman experience called “a movie” is non-existent. The plans of upper class students to rely on their memories have been interrupted and the elderly cannot go out “with a bang”. Outside of school, it was a surreal experience to see the country shut down, leaving only essential businesses open. The scariest part was becoming scavengers trying to locate basics like Clorox toilet paper, water, and wipes. As we said goodbye to our college life, we temporarily parted ways with other favorites, like getting a hot plate of food placed in front of you at a restaurant.
According to UAB News, “One impact is that the less we have contact with other people, the more we become suspicious of others. This can make others more defensive and lead to a vicious spiral where isolation leads to suspicion which breeds defense which heightens suspicion and leads to further isolation as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Physical separation has led to defensiveness and apprehension when we meet others. Every time I go out in public, I grit my teeth when a stranger slightly crosses the six foot mark. I became aware that the person in front of me or behind me could be a carrier of the virus. Handshakes or high-fives have become foreign, and there will never be enough hand sanitizer. Social behavior is risky and undesirable.
The pandemic has also resulted in avoidance and exclusion. Some may argue that the pandemic and digital communication have not seriously affected social interactions, as digital communications have increased over the years with platforms like Instagram, Twitter and dating apps like Tinder. However, digital communication has been our means of communication par excellence for a year now. As Very Well Family reports, the stress of a major crisis like COVID-19 increases hostility towards others as well as self-preservation and self-defense behaviors. As a result, cyberbullying increased during the lockdown. L1ght, an organization that monitors online harassment and hate speech, saw a 70% increase in cyberbullying in the first months of the lockdown. They also attributed this increase to boredom. Engaging in cyberbullying can relieve stress or gain the attention that individuals may seek, even if it is negative.
Therefore, if you experience anxiety, loneliness, or are content with isolation, don’t feel lonely. A basic need has been extremely compressed. It’s okay to feel unsociable in our current climate. Just be aware that your social skills may take a bit of practice before you return to “normalcy.” Keep an eye on your sanity and nurture your relationships in the best possible way.