the social atrophy of 2020.
When I hear something a few times from my students and friends, I know there’s a theme brewing and that’s exactly how I feel about today’s pep talk on social anxiety. As humans we are hardwired for connection. Even the most introverted of us still wants friends, but now hanging out with people comes with a new set of anxieties mixed with being out a practice being with people.
We are all going through a collective experience, meaning we are all going through this Covid-19 2020. It’s happening to the entire planet so even if you feel alone, you’re to some degree, not the only one affected.
Ever heard of social atrophy? Just like muscle atrophy, or decline in strength, the same thing can happen to your social skills too. Hanging out with people is like working out your social muscle. When you interact with people, you’re practicing your social skills. You build that muscle. If you were in a quarantine situation, if you’re not going to classes that are in person, if you’re a post-grad and work is now all remote, or maybe you’re looking for a job on the computer all day, you are having a social atrophy moment.
Be really gentle with yourself. When you’re not with people you’re not practicing being social so when you finally see someone in person it’s going to be like using muscles you haven’t used in a while. Imagine going to the gym after not working out for a while. Usually, you’re sore the next day. Some of the “after hanging out with people social anxiety” is like emotional soreness. You haven’t worked out muscles in a while and experience soreness. Also, hanging out once with people on the weekend and then your back by yourself for the rest of the week is not enough practice. As humans we’re used to getting a lot more social interaction then for a few hours a week.
So what can we do? This is not my favorite advice, but it’s still good: you have to accept the awkward weirdness everyone is going through including yourself. It’s all about giving it grace and space.
A practical tip: recognize what your own boundaries are around covid and hanging out with people and respect those boundaries. Learn about the boundaries the people you’re hanging out with have and respect those boundaries too. When there’s clear communication around that, it can make hanging out with people a little bit easier. It’s a really weird time to be on planet earth right now.
Connection is so important to human beings. Social interaction sends signals to your brain that you belong and that you’re in community so when you’re in an isolated state it could be sending signals that you don’t belong in you’re not in community. Be really gentle with yourself. Humans need human interaction.
First Semester Sophomores PSA!
Advice to first semester sophomores right now. There’s something I’ve made up known as the freshman year second semester phenomenon that I believe to be true. It’s when you see people for who they really are in the second semester of your freshman year. First semester everyone shows you their best selves, but by second semester you can kind of see who people are on the inside. Everyone’s masks come off and you can’t pretend to be anything other than who you are. This is an important part of the freshman year friendship discernment experience. If anyone was a freshman during the covid-19 situation you might not have reached the important second semester freshman year phenomenon. I’m finding that a lot of my first semester sophomores are kind of learning this stuff now. I know that campus and classes all look really different. It’s just having a lot of grace and space for yourself. Your mantra can be: I give myself space and I give myself grace. Sending everyone a big hug!