Why we’ve missed social connection so much during COVID-19

Why does the pandemic leave us feeling drained, depressed, devoid of motivation? What puts the ‘down’ in lockdown exactly?

Many of us are fortunate enough to have our health, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies. But nevertheless it’s been an unbelievably difficult year.

According to one study, 69% of UK adults reported feeling somewhat or very worried about COVID-19’s impact. Lives have been put on hold. Our health is at risk. We worry about loved ones and the future.

And this natural anxiety about the state of the world is only exacerbated by social isolation. When we connect with other people the hormone oxytocin is released, lowering our cortisol levels and reducing feelings of stress.

In lockdown, we lose that natural stress-release and we may find our worries multiplying. This is one reason why acute stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression are all on the rise.

The quality and quantity of our social connections impacts our health and happiness as much as diet, sleeping patterns, levels of stress. Loneliness and social isolation can feel like physical pain. A study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies saw an 8.1% increase in mental health issues since the start of the pandemic.

We do have digital ways to stay connected. We are blessed with internet connections and Zoom accounts and for now we make do. But if this year has taught us one thing it’s that online interactions are no substitute for the slightly messy, partly non-verbal, totally organic real McCoy.

As you might expect, one study of online and offline friendships concluded that offline friendships offer more depth, understanding, commitment and interdependence than online.

When it’s safe to get going again, we won’t take our friendships for granted. After a tough year, in-person, real-time social connection will have never tasted so sweet.