You might not be replying to texts. You might not want to commit to summer plans. You might not feel up to socialising in any shape or form right now.
If this is the case, you’re not alone. Psychologist, author and yoga teacher Suzy Reading admits she feels like she’s lost an ability to socialise like she used to. Speaking on The Calm Edit podcast, she said: “Throughout this period of being at home, I feel like I’ve lost some social stamina.
“I don’t feel like I have the same energy to connect with people like I used to.”
There’s a reason why this happens. We haven’t been able to socialise as much due to the various restrictions and fear of a virus taking people’s lives. We’ve shied away from calls on Zoom after becoming fatigued by them, and like any unused muscle in the body, our social skills and desires have slowly withered as a result.
At the same time, we’ve lost the habitual bonding we’d become so used to in our day-to-day lives pre-pandemic – the chats with colleagues near the office kettle, the hugs with best friends, the weekend shopping trips with parents – so our desire to love and connect has diminished, says therapist Dee Johnson.
“We create a powerful neurotransmitter called oxytocin – a behavioural hormone [when we socialise], which some call the love hormone, as it’s responsible for sexual bonding,” explains Johnson. Oxytocin is important for social bonding, “driving us to want to hug and cuddle, and re-engage with people”.
And “if we don’t use it, we lose it,” so you may find you’ve lost that loving feeling over time.
“As we start to see and engage with others and activities again, this will improve our moods.”
There is some good news, though, which is that with time, patience, a little kindness to yourself and practice, you can get that desire to socialise back. “As we start to see and engage with others and activities again, this will improve our moods and give us better emotions,” Johnson explains.
“The key to this is, the more we produce happy hormones such as serotonin and dopamine from the rush of the non-essential shop or first football match, it motivates our brain to want more. Therefore, the stale, heavy, wading-through-mud feeling will lift the more we slowly and carefully re-enter a world that we feel was so long ago we had started to lose hope.”
Social connection is fundamental to us feeling healthy and whole. Studies have shown having five close friends – no more, no less – can help minimise the risk of depression.
As lockdown eases, it’s normal to feel anxious about meeting up with people again – after all, we’ve been warned against doing so for the past 12 months. So the key to making it work is to take your time, push yourself to see one or two close friends, and build up from there.
You don’t have to throw yourself in at the deep end attending parties or big social events. Instead, book in a pub outing or a meal with one pal, invite your parents for a barbecue outdoors, and – like a houseplant that you water every now and then – you’ll start to see your desire to socialise bloom once more.