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Losing Touch: How quarantine crippled our social skills and ability to communicate in-person

Isolation and changes in societal protocols reshape how people interact with one another face-to-face as individuals begin to lose everyday interpersonal skills.

By: Jake Maness

We currently live in a desolate nightmare, but unfortunately there is no waking up from this bad dream full of self-isolation, quarantining, and separation. It’s easy to see how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts our daily lives and continues to make us adapt; however, as we start to slowly trickle back into our old routines, it is becoming clear that our everyday socialization skills have taken a huge loss.

After months of self-isolation and eventless calendars, it seems almost delusional to imagine associating with others who aren’t our roommates, family, or zoom class. Just the thought of going into a public place and having to speak with others brings a wave of anxiety that, to some of us, is a feeling we may have never felt before. However, does this anxiety stem solely from the fact that we have been secluded for so long, or is there more to this apparent loss of social skills? While quarantine may have been a large catalyst for this problem, there are still a multitude of other factors that are changing how we interact with one another.

A major discomfort for some is the idea that we do not have our facial expressions to rely on anymore when we communicate in-person. No longer are we able to see a smile from across the street, nor are we able to tell if someone is frowning or laughing at something we just said. All of our expressions are now hidden behind facemasks and leave us relying completely on what is said rather than what is seen. We are forced to pay more attention to the conversation and hope that our words are enough to properly convey our emotions. Even passing a friend or acquaintance has become a task, as we make sure to squint our eyes extra hard in place of a smile now buried beneath our face covering.

This is not the only new obstacle, which has been added to our societal norms, but also the hard reality that ‘there isn’t anything new to talk about. When we run into old friends or someone we haven’t seen in a while, normally the first thing to do is catch up on everything that has been going on for the both of you, but when you’ve been locked up in your houses and the most traveling you’ve done is to the mail-box, the conversation can become bland quickly. We feel guilty just to ask ‘how have you been?’ when we already know the answer – considering it is the same as our own. Small things such as this become exhausting over time and lead us to think it’s easier to avoid these conversations entirely, so instead we just hide behind our masks and hope our passing friend does not recognize us.

However, it is imperative that we look at the bright side of this situation we have been pushed into. While we may now find it easier than ever to resist communicating in-person and are growing distant from others, we have all been given the time needed to work on ourselves without distraction. So yes, you may not be able to smile visibly in public anymore, but hopefully you were able to finish the book you’ve had sitting on the shelf for weeks or begin that workout regimen you always wanted to start.

When the day comes that life is ‘normal’ again and we begin to retrain our social skills, it will feel good to say that you continued to grow even while confined. Communicating in-person may be something that we will struggle with for some time, but it’s comforting to know that we will all be working on it together.

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