Kristen Rowe, BBC Worklife
Published on 08/29/2021 6:53 PM
as a podcast host Dear cautionDaniel M Lavery often gives advice straight from New York. But he also reveals his own fears now and then, as happened in a recent episode when he was responding to a lone college student who was afraid of socializing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lavery defined himself:
“It’s really hard to think about being around people again. One of the things that shocks me when I think of the possibility of being in a room full of unmasked people again is that I spent so much time desperately waiting that day. And now I sometimes find myself struggling with kind of From panic… I don’t want to be afraid, after all that I want., Who is terrified.”
Many of us are in the same boat. We’ve been forced to be antisocial, at least physically, for a year now.
As a result, many people find any personal social interaction strange – it seems that we have to re-learn how to sit in a room with another human.
Even dreams have changed in unprecedented ways, with a tendency toward nightmares related to social distancing.
So when the restrictions are over, will we have to go through a learning curve to feel “normal”? Have our social muscles somehow atrophied, and will we have to “exercise” them again?
Fortunately, these muscles are extremely resilient, and reports from places least affected by COVID-19 suggest that it doesn’t take long for some forms of social life to return to normal.
However, some setbacks are expected along the way. So it may be helpful to be prepared for them.
Your brain is in isolation
Not surprisingly, many of us feel “rusted” socially.
We all feel, to varying degrees, loneliness and social isolation during an epidemic, two conditions that can be linked to cognitive decline in specific ways.
For example, people with smaller and less complex social networks tend to have a smaller amygdala, the emotion-processing center in the brain.
Chronic loneliness can affect hormone levels related to stress and social connections; One effect may be a greater tendency to be depressed. In general, lonely people tend to feel paranoid and negative.
Prolonged isolation also affects memory and verbal recall. Social beings, including humans, need a lot of interactive stimulation to keep their brains in good shape.
So, if you are currently having a hard time finding that word on the tip of your tongue, closure may play a role.
In my case, 90% of the time now, I only talk to my partner, in a conversational style I’m used to.
I feel a little trembling when talking to a friend, as if I need to discover a language that was previously familiar.
Once people are allowed to spend time together again, it can be difficult to find the right words.
Of course, with individual circumstances varying widely, the transition back to social life after the pandemic.
An unemployed and clinically weak person who has spent all of their time living alone may feel more confused in the next phase than a financially stable person who lives and works in a large shared home.
In general, some behavioral changes can be quickly reversed with a return to more common social patterns.
But Daniela Rivera, a biologist at the University of Mayor de Santiago in Chile, believes physical changes in the brain, such as those related to memory, will not go away easily.
With some parts of the brain shrinking, memory function can be compromised for years after periods of social isolation — and with it, our ability to easily communicate with others.
But it’s not just about how our brains change.
In general, psychologists see more adults reporting stress related to social interactions, from not knowing how to end interactions without a handshake or hug, to running out of conversation.
But certain groups are specific sources of concern.
The situation is particularly sensitive for people with social anxiety disorder.
Explains Marla Genova, a former researcher in psychology who is now a coach for people with social and speech anxiety.
There are also concerns about school-age children who have lost social synchrony during the uncertainty of the lockdowns.
“At this age, the brain is still developing and improving neural connectivity, so it’s a critical stage for developing social skills that will determine your interactions with your peers,” Rivera explains.
She fears that prolonged isolation will cause some people to develop social phobia.
Older adults, in turn, are more likely to live alone and may feel less comfortable with technological devices to maintain social contact.
Rivera predicts that a period of social reintegration can have some effects on vulnerable people, such as hyperactivity, intolerance, irritability, and anxiety, among others.
How do we get back slowly
Extended lockdowns and different cultures will provide diverse experiences as countries release restrictions. But some commonalities and lessons can be noted.
Physical contact, an aspect that was once taken for granted with the presence of other people, is likely to feel awkward for a while.
For Andre Robles, who runs a travel agency in Quito, Ecuador, where some restrictions have been lifted, “It’s a bit strange to see such a warm community somewhat apart in their greetings.”
“The elbow belly has become the new hello,” he says.
Others find it difficult to hug again.
A problem that requires some calibration for Melanie Musson, an insurance professional who lives in Montana, is knowing each person’s different attitudes toward disease risk.
Cases are slowly declining in the state, which is deeply divided over the use of masks.
“It’s weird when I meet people who care about the virus,” Mawson explains. “Because I mostly surround myself with people who don’t (who care), I live in a bubble of normalcy. There are a lot of people who disagree with that and don’t feel comfortable, though. My bubbles burst when I realized a lot of people weren’t back in it.” natural “.
In fact, disguised socialization helps make things feel more normal in Singapore, says Roger Ho, a psychologist at the National University of Singapore: “Life as usual, with only a mask on.”
Previous experiences in the use of masks, such as the SARS epidemic, and high compliance with government requirements have helped.
Hu suggests that more public education in places where there is resistance to masks could help socializing in this way to appear less awkward.
One way to reduce dating judgment and stress about crowds is to narrow your social circle, and many people report doing just that.
“Maybe it’s not the year you’re going to introduce some of your friends to other friends they don’t know. So that’s part of the sensitivity and embarrassment surrounding covid-19 — not wanting to expand the circle of friends so much,” says Matilda Marcelles, a French cultural blog writer who lives in Adelaide, Australia.
In fact, many people have stated that they are more selective about who they choose to communicate with, as a matter of both physical and psychological comfort.
Research conducted by psychologist Richard Slatcher and colleagues at the University of Georgia, USA, indicates that the significant loss of informal social contact is partially compensated by the strengthening of immediate family ties and close friendships, which people generally value more.
Part of social readaptation can mean learning how to reallocate the time and energy invested in the family to friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, without losing the closeness that has been built with loved ones.
During the process, it is important to be patient and kind to ourselves.
As the US National Center for Social Anxiety advises, “Keep in mind that all of us are now, to some degree, socially awkward.”
There is no need to rush to get rid of the estrangement as well.
One of the few positive aspects of the long vaccination campaign is that “the slower pace of this process will aid in re-adaptation,” says Slatcher, stressing our resilience.
“Some of the pressure coming in, like the guests coming home again, it’s going to be a nice pressure.”
And for those who think they may have a hard time reintegrating into society, treatment for social anxiety disorder may offer some perspective.
This often includes exposure therapy, that is, gradual exposure to uncomfortable situations in order to develop a greater tolerance for them.
Despite the rules of social distancing, there are still ways to get that exposure — you can, for example, exchange comments on social media or share opinions to practice assertiveness.
Avoiding social situations can only lead to more avoidance.
So, Jenova, a social anxiety coach, encourages people to spend no more than a few consecutive days in isolation whenever possible. But this does not necessarily mean that there is physical contact.
Biologist Rivera, for example, recommends “different types of ecological enrichment” to relieve isolation stress.
This can include physical activities such as riding a bike, social activities such as virtual “cafes”, cognitive activities such as brain training games, as well as emotional activities such as therapy.
Finally, even if we have to get ready today to answer the phone, do a goofy imitation of a hug, or see if we feel comfortable when a friend suggests a date, remember the social flexibility that begins to emerge around us. I can help.
Featured images of crowded swimming pools during a music festival in Wuhan, China, where the epidemic began, show how the world will be able to return to social life when it is safe to do so.
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