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With the one-year COVID-19 Anniversary arriving this month, it’s important to analyze how social isolation has impacted our social skills. At the beginning of lockdown, working from home had its perks. As college students, we had the option of waking up right before class started and taking lecture notes in our pajamas.

However, as time passed, college life as we knew it was disappearing. There were no more parties, no more campus events, no more exploring what Charlotte has to offer. As time progressed, face-to-face interaction diminished, along with our ability to take care of ourselves. We relied on social media apps and texting to stay in touch with our friends and family. But digital communication and isolation have proven to impact our social skills.

The Journal of Community Psychology considers social interaction to be a fundamental need, especially for development. Long-term isolation will ultimately affect mental health. With the on-going pandemic, our social needs have not been fulfilled. “Physical interactions are an essential part of human social experience, and they are particularly important for the social development of young people… this affects their ability to make quality connections, which impacts personal growth.” Coming to college is often associated with finding yourself and building relationships that last a lifetime. Unfortunately, the pandemic has interrupted those plans. The insane freshman experience referred to as “a movie” is non-existent. Upperclassmen’s plans to build upon their memories have been halted, and seniors cannot exit “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 the basics like toilet paper, water and Clorox wipes. As we kissed our college life goodbye, we temporarily parted 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 contact we have with other people, the more we become suspicious of other people. This can make others more defensive and lead to a vicious spiral where isolation leads to suspicion which begets defensiveness, which reinforces the suspicion and leads to further isolation as a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Physical separation has led to defensiveness and apprehension when we encounter others. Whenever I go out in public, I cringe when a stranger slightly crosses the six feet indicator. I have become conscientious 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 can 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 has not gravely impacted social interaction because digital communications have been on the rise over the years with platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and dating apps like Tinder. Yet, digital communication has been our preeminent way of communicating for a year now. As reported by Very Well Family, the stress of a major crisis like COVID-19 increases hostility toward others along with self-preserving and self-defensive behaviors. As a result, cyberbullying has risen during the lockdown. L1ght, an organization that monitors online harassment and hate speech, found a 70% increase in cyberbullying in the early months of lockdown. They have also attributed this rise to boredom. Engaging in cyberbullying may relieve stress or gather attention that individuals may seek, even if it’s negative.

Therefore, if you are experiencing anxiety, loneliness, or becoming content with isolation, don’t feel alone. A basic need has been extremely compressed. It is normal to feel unsociable in our current climate. Just be aware that your social skills may need some practice before we reclaim “normalness.” Keep an eye on your mental health and maintain your relationships the best way you can.

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