Why we need to remember what lockdown taught us about the importance of social connections

Evidence

There is plenty of evidence in positive psychology of the benefits of social connection. Having strong social ties makes us healthier, happier, more resilient and can even make us live longer. Most people would agree with that friends and family are more important than money and success, but in a busy world it is easy to forget this fact.

Heaven or Hell

When lockdown happened it affected us all in different ways. Some people had to  self-isolate alone, some were furloughed and enjoyed the benefits of having more time to spend with their families, parents working at home juggled work and home-schooling and key workers struggled with stressful jobs and trying to keep their families safe. Some people enjoyed the change of circumstance and having time to slow down, others were bored rigid and just wanted to get back to normal, or found new ways to busy themselves, making scrubs or masks or shopping for others.

Common Ground

What lockdown initially gave to us all,  was a shared sense of humanity and the fact that we were all in this together, whatever part we could play. Facing a common threat brought us together and we developed new ways of connecting socially to fill the gap left by the need for social distancing. We talked to our neighbours every Thursday when we clapped for the NHS, we learnt how to use Zoom, we looked out for our neighbours and when we saw someone we knew whilst out exercising, we stopped and took time to have a proper conversation at a safe distance, and appreciated the chance to speak to someone different.

A Struggle

As lockdown went on, it got harder. The novelty wore off and we missed more and more the chance to see friends and family face to face. In particular, I could see the young people I knew struggling. Teenagers and young adults whose important ‘family’ is their peer groups found the isolation particularly hard, and to them a few weeks felt like a lifetime. Some families faced the added burden of financial pressure and people were expressing concerns about people trapped in the house with an abusive partner.

Eventually, the tide started to turn and lockdown was eased. We met up with a friend at the park, then in the garden, and shops and then pubs started to open and things started to return to ‘normal’.

Challenges

But we are still far from the norm in lots of things and in particular when it comes to social connections. We might be able to reunite with our nearest and dearest, but we are left with a feeling of ‘is it safe?” as we venture out and are still having to manage physical distance and face coverings, which makes interaction feel strained. In the meantime, as we start to return to our routines, life gets busy again.

Extrovert and Introvert

It’s easy for us to underestimate the value of short social interactions with people we don’t know. In a paper entitled ‘Mistakenly seeking solitude” (Epley & Schroeder, 2014), Epley & Schroeder provide evidence that whilst we don’t think we will enjoy talking to a stranger on a bus, train or waiting room, we actually enjoy it much more than we think. Even if you are introverted, the evidence shows that you will find a conversation with a stranger a pleasant experience. Epley & Schroeder hypothesised that the reason we think we prefer solitude is that we think our conversation may be unwanted by the other person, but the evidence also shows that the other person enjoys the conversation too.

Wellbeing

Whilst we recognise the importance of close friends and family, it is easy to overlook all those other little connections that give us a positive experience and contribute to our wellbeing. So while it feels like life is starting to get back to normal, if we can’t even sit by someone on the bus let alone strike up a conversation, or are still avoiding unnecessary shopping trips and interactions with others, then we need to consciously make an effort to connect with others to keep our spirits up.

Uncertainty

As we move forward into a different uncertain world and start to get busy again, it’s really important to continue to prioritise social connection to keep us mentally healthy. Try arranging to safely meet up with a friend that you haven’t seen for a while, keep an eye on your older relatives or friends who are still nervous about venturing out and remember to stop and talk when you see someone you know, or exchange a few words with someone you don’t. Reach out in person or continue to use technology where you can’t speak in person. Make an effort to go out somewhere safe but different and smile at the people you see. Or even better, meet a friend there and catch up on how you’ve both been.

Remember that lockdown taught us that whether we are extrovert or introvert, young or old, we are all in this together, and the more socially connected we are, the better we will all feel for it.

 

References: Epley, N., & Schroeder, J. (2014). Mistakenly seeking solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5). https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037323

About the author: Sarah Cramoysan is currently studying the MAPP course at Buckinghamshire New University.  Sarah is loving being a student again and enjoying drawing on her own experience of trying to find the good life for herself and her family whilst exploring positive psychology. She is also a long-time Oxfam volunteer and has an interest in climate change and environmental issues. Sarah’s blog is at  http://fledglingproject.blogspot.com

 

‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

 

 

 

 

 

Share This