How social isolation affects our social skills

Social Distance
Written by Jenni Brooks

As lockdown restrictions are relaxing, many of us are rejoicing. We can go to pubs, restaurants and cinemas, see our grandparents, and go on holiday again. However, for those of us with social anxiety, we might find these new adjustments hard to cope with. This is not just because the threat of the virus is still present, but also because socialising itself is harder than ever to do.

It has been scientifically proven that isolation can weaken a person’s social skills. Due to this, in a Covid-19 world, where a lot of us have been deprived of face-to-face contact, this makes a lot of sense. If we don’t spend time with other people, eventually we can get out of practice. We might find it harder to detect sarcasm, or voice intonations. We might find ourselves interrupting people more than we intend to, or we might find it harder to read people’s facial expressions.

This is because we’re rusty. We’ve spent months alone with ourselves at home, where we didn’t have to anticipate anyone else’s needs other than our own. We’re out of practice with connecting to one another-quite literally if we’re used to seeing faces freeze on group chat meetings.

As a result, even the average person might find socialising harder to deal with. However, if you’re a person with social anxiety, this might be too much to bear. Whenever you meet up with friends, you might feel panicked by the fact that your social skills have regressed. You might return home early in a panic, thinking that you will never regain them. This can leave you feeling even more isolated than when you were in quarantine. But don’t worry.

This is all temporary. As you get more practice, and get used to a new normal, hopefully it will all come flooding back.

However, there are several things you can do in order to get back into the swing of things. First of all, if you don’t feel ready to meet up with six friends at the local pub, don’t do it. Start off with meeting one or two close friends. Maybe explain to them how you’re feeling. If they are good friends, they will understand and not force you to do anything you feel uncomfortable doing. Afterall, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, so it’s understandable that your anxieties will be high for a while. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re being silly or dramatic because you’re not. Just take it one step at a time.

Second of all, don’t be hard on yourself for struggling in the first place, even if you do find it harder than usual to keep up with group conversations. The chances are, even if you do occasionally interrupt those around you, or say the wrong thing, no one will notice, as everyone is too busy focusing on themselves to care.

However, the most important thing you can do is not to isolate yourself completely. Just keep on socialising as much as you can, whether that be in person, or through texts. You will make mistakes, and all of us will. It’s part of being human. But if you let every set back stop you, you’ll find each conversation harder instead of easier. Keep trying and keep learning. It’ll get better, I promise.