March 23rd, 2020 marked the day that life as we knew it changed completely. The UK’s first official lockdown brought dark clouds of fear, doubt, and anxiety across the country. They locked us up in our rooms with nothing to do but wait and see what was going to happen.
Almost a year and a half later, the country finally begins to see some remnants of normality. The government has released most coronavirus safety guidelines. The new world we see around us, although not entirely free of covid, is learning to live amongst it. Yet, while most of the country is welcoming these new freedoms with open arms, others are struggling to come to terms with how to navigate this stage of life.
After over a year of comfort in our homes and being joined at the hip with those who inhabit them with us, we have forgotten how to interact with new people.
I started a new job last week. I realised that this would be the first time since covid entered our lives that I would have to socialize with entirely new people. That thought filled me with dread. I have spent the past year with the exact same group of people: family members, close friends, and my colleagues. That’s why the thought of getting to know anyone new riddled me with anxiety and unease. It made me wonder, have I lost the ability to make new friends?
The pandemic has undoubtedly left its mark on mental health deterioration, but have we thought about its effect on our socialisation skills? Numerous studies have shown that there has been a significant deterioration in population mental health during the periods that the country was in complete lockdown, looking into symptoms of mental health distress such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Anyone that has experienced these kinds of mental distresses will know how seriously they can affect our sense of wellbeing and purpose of self.
When we are experiencing depression, anxiety, and loneliness, we feel less like ourselves. We feel less outgoing and confident. We struggle to perform day-to-day tasks without feeling mentally exhausted.
When we are struggling with these feelings, we surround ourselves with the small things that bring us comfort, the things we are familiar with. We reach out to the people we know will understand, or if they don’t understand, we know they will show kindness and support.
So it’s understandable that with so many people still feeling anxious about things going back to normal, the idea of having to meet new people and find new support systems is overwhelming.
A study by the Medical ID Charity, MedicAlert, in July 2021 showed that almost 80 percent of UK adults were anxious about the easing of lockdown restrictions.
35 percent of the 2,006 adults polled that they plan to stay away from large crowds and gatherings, even after the rule of six was due to be relaxed.
Those with existing struggles with anxiety also reported a more significant deterioration in their mental health during the pandemic and undoubtedly are feeling stressed and overwhelmed with the idea of returning to society. Thus, after having the most valid reasons not to socialise, we have now essentially had our safety blankets ripped away from us as we are thrown out into a world that we barely recognise, still reeling and dizzy from the whirlwind of the pandemic.
The most important thing for us to remember as we navigate this post-covid world is that we don’t have to rush. More people than you realise will understand the anxieties you are experiencing; they may even feel the same way themselves. There is no typical response to life after the pandemic, so take your time, feel your way through and if something is too much, communicate it with someone you trust.
For those struggling with meeting new people, there are many online peer support groups to start with to build up confidence in interacting with new people slowly. In addition, we often find that communicating online is easier than in real life, so try this out if you feel anxious about social situations but want to expand your circle.
There are several online resources available through the Mind and NHS websites tailored for those struggling to readjust, like eg., Mind.