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Students' Social Skills After Lockdown

By Yasmin Low

Humans are a social species. Asking them to stay inside, locked away even from their family, is perhaps one of the hardest things one can ask a population to do. We’ve seen the effects of isolation on prisoners; we know it can be devastating. In this article, I’ll be discussing the consequences of lockdown on people at universityspecifically, how it has impacted our interpersonal skills. 

Globally, more university students experience depressive episodes and anxiety than ever before. Levels of these traits have been gradually increasing for decades, though, so this is not solely due to lockdowns. Still, a study on the impact of lockdown on Romanian students found that many students were abnormally stressed about the lack of everyday social interactionson top of worries about the virus. 

An unmade bed in front of a window facing a high-rise building. White curtains are pushed to the sides of the window.
Courtesy of Nomadic Ambience via Unsplash

An Italian study echoed this result. It emphasised that university students are supposed to have independence from their parents. When this doesn’t happen, familial relationships suffer, and rates of depression increase. Interestingly, the women in the study noted the lack of normal social interaction more than the men did. They were also the most likely to experience depression. 

Research into the overall quality of life and mental health symptoms of university students worldwide during lockdown is now fairly comprehensive. However, specific studies on the impact it had on social skills are lacking. The only research of this type focuses on the impacts social isolation had on young children. But fear not; I have tirelessly interviewed the student population of Aberdeen’s fine campus to bring you the answers. 

Starting with myself: I went from being a confident eighteen year old, able to speak up in class and hold my own in debates, to a blushing twenty year old who stuttered every time I had to speak in front of people. It took years to get completely comfortable in social settings again. Surely, I thought, I can’t be alone in this experience!

Clearly, I’m not. Interviewing the students on campus and releasing a survey has made me realise a lot of us went through a similar change, or at least witnessed it. One third-year student joked, ‘I think we all forgot how to speak to each other after lockdown.’

I conducted a survey asking people whether their social skills got better, stayed the same, or got worse as a result of the lockdowns. The results are in:

A graph showing the percentages of people stating their social skills got better, stayed the same (both at about 25 percent) and got worse (50 percent).
Graph created using Survey Monkey

Eight out of sixteen studentsthat’s halffelt that their social skills got worse. Only four people said they got better. Later, I asked which specific skills worsened; the most common casualty seems to be our social confidence, with the second most common being meeting new people. Considering that university is supposed to be a time to develop these exact skills, this is a worrying result. 

One third-year student remembers stammering after lockdown. ‘I couldn’t form my sentences properly.’ She attributed it to a lack of practice speaking to people, which many of us experienced over that period. 

Another said, ‘I used to be far less anxious around people I didn't know.’ Many participants mentioned having a newfound ‘anxiety’ in social situations, that took years to return to pre-lockdown levels. 

Four people (two in the surveys, and two through in-person interviews) said that they had become more introverted. One person framed it as being a good thing, in that they now enjoy their own company. Others felt it was a neutral, or even negative thing:

‘I used to be very social and communicative, but have turned quieter and more reserved.’ 

Two participants mentioned that they leave their rooms a lot lesseven today, completely post-lockdown. The reason? If a plan isn’t pre-arranged, they ‘can’t be bothered’ anymore.

For some, it isn’t that simple. Was it the transition into universitya new environment where you didn’t know anyoneor was it the lockdown that caused the sudden shyness? One fourth year student attributes it to the former. It’s a good question for that year group, who began university in the peak of a lockdown. (Remember the Wavell house lockdown, anyone?) Of course you’d feel less confident speaking up in a room full of strangers than the teenagers you’d known for years. 

Especially so for those who moved into an English-speaking area for the first time, where the culture is significantly different. In his home country, one first year recalled, people go out of their way to be kind to strangers, lest they don’t feel welcomed. Moving to the UKwhere we don’t exactly share this notionmade him feel like he was doing something wrong. 

‘It’s taken me a long time to realise it’s not about me and brush it off!’

If I moved to a country where I thought people simply didn’t like me, I’d feel my social confidence curl up and die. Good on him for persevering! 

Clearly, the answer is not as simple as ‘lockdown is the sole cause of decreasing social skills’; there are other important factors, like culture changes and moving from high school to university. 

Still, I’d like to attribute at least part of the blame onto the months of isolation. It’s not a stretch to say that lack of practice communicating in person with anyone outside our immediate household will eventually make us rusty. 

For those who managed to avoid their social skills getting worse, they attributed it mainly to socialising through work (3 people) and online interactions (2). One person threw themselves back into socialising after lockdown to ‘make up for lost time.’ That’s an interesting statementI personally feel like I missed a few years, and I’m sure many of you feel the same. 

On a more positive note—two thirds of the people whose social skills suffered said they are fully recovered! Most respondents who mentioned anxieties or decreased confidence said that, with practice, they were able to get past these issueseven if it took them months or years to do so. For those of you who still feel affected, there is hope!


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