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We’re All Socially Awkward Now

Research on prisoners, hermits, soldiers, astronauts, polar explorers, and others who have spent extended periods in isolation indicates social skills are like muscles that atrophy from lack of use. People separated from society — by circumstance or by choice — report feeling more socially anxious, impulsive, awkward, and intolerant when they return to normal life. Psychologists and neuroscientists say something similar is happening to all of us now, thanks to the pandemic. We are subtly but inexorably losing our facility and agility in social situations — whether we are aware of it or not. The signs are everywhere: people oversharing on Zoom, overreacting to or misconstruing one another’s behavior, longing for but then not really enjoying contact with others.

It’s an odd social malaise that can easily become entrenched if we don’t recognize why it’s happening and take steps to minimize its effects.

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