With COVID-19 vaccines working and restrictions lifting across the country, it’s finally time for those now vaccinated who’ve been hunkered down at home to ditch the sweatpants and reemerge from their Netflix caves. But your brain may not be so eager to dive back into your former social life.
Social distancing measures proved essential for slowing COVID-19’s spread worldwide–preventing upward of an estimated 500 million cases. But, while necessary, 15 months away from each other has taken a toll on people’s mental health.
In a national survey last fall, 36% of adults in the U.S.—including 61% of young adults—reported feeling “serious loneliness” during the pandemic. Statistics like these suggest people would be itching to hit the social scene.
But if the idea of making small talk at a crowded happy hour sounds terrifying to you, you’re not alone. Nearly half of Americans reported feeling uneasy about returning to in-person interaction regardless of vaccination status.
So how can people be so lonely yet so nervous about refilling their social calendars?
Well, the brain is remarkably adaptable. And while we can’t know exactly what our brains have gone through over the last year, neuroscientists like me have some insight into how social isolation and resocialization affect the brain.