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Has Our Time Behind Zoom Made It Harder to Interact in Person?

By Joanna Reid

After spending years trapped mainly indoors and attending school online due to the pandemic, many of us have become more anti-social. We have been forced to attend online everyday events that would normally take place in person. Zoom and other video chatting programs allow their user the option to keep their camera and microphone on, so most of us are familiar with seeing black screens fill what’s supposed to be our classroom. Now that mandates are being lifted and schools and businesses are opening up, we are finally getting the chance to attend in person events.

But are things still the same? Is it just as easy to strike up a conversation as before? According to a poll on The Delphian Instagram page (@the_delphian), 45 percent of students voted that they felt more socially anxious now that events are returning in person.

Personally I have always been anxious in social situations, but before the pandemic I had been doing my best to overcome this. My therapist suggested coping mechanisms and taught me that the best way to confront my social anxiety is to do what I feared most, talk to others. When everything shut down I was no longer able to do this. I feel that the pandemic has set me back and now I think I have a harder time carrying on conversations and approaching people. Even pre-pandemic I struggled to talk with peers and teachers, so one can imagine how difficult it is now that I’ve been out of practice for months. I wonder if I would have completely gotten over my fears surrounding social anxiety if the pandemic had never gotten in the way. When I returned to events in person it’s almost like I had to restart.

When I asked an Adelphi counselor and social worker, Karen Lopez if she noticed any students struggling with anxiety after the pandemic, she said, “ I absolutely think the pandemic has had a major impact on students' mental health overall. Last year, when we were completely remote I remember the focus of a lot of my sessions dealt with processing student’s anxiety and depression due to the pandemic. A lot of anxiety stemmed from the modalities of synchronous and asynchronous learning like, logging onto class the right way and at the right time or participating in front of a camera.”

Lopez offered some tips to help people struggling with this issue as well. “My advice for students who are struggling with in-person events/classes is that your professors understand that the transition back to in person learning and events will take time and they are willing to listen and work with students. They truly have your best interest in mind when making decisions about how they will teach class. I encourage all students to be kind and patient with themselves and each other.”

The reason that the lack of socialization can be so dangerous is because humans are meant to interact. Many were used to meeting new people and having face-to-face conversations daily, but the pandemic has made this more difficult. This has taken a toll on the strong relationships we are to build. Some experts say that if these connections are not made it can damage our mental health and impact how we learn.

The pandemic isn’t the only thing that has caused us to feel more anxious. Many have gotten used to conversing online. In the 21st century social media takes up a big space in our lives. As of last year, the Pew Research Center reported that about 72 percent of adults in the United States use social media and that number is only rising.

Constantly staring at images of seemingly perfect people on a screen and worrying about our presence on the internet can feel like a huge pressure. This can make many feel intimidated to approach others in person. However, it can make it easier to form connections online. Social media has allowed me to talk to people who live states away and even form close bonds with them. I have made a few friends who I started messaging on Instagram, and later met in person. I find it to be less nerve-wracking to get to know people online, rather than just directly approaching someone in person. Social media has allowed me to discover what I have in common with others. To me, this is more comfortable because things are already laid out for you. I can easily come up with things to talk about if I already know what someone is interested in. Also I do not have to worry about what I’m going to say to someone within seconds. I get time to plan out my response, unlike talking in person. And for whatever reason it makes it easier to experience rejection when I don’t have to see someone’s face.

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