Hello, sunshine! Yes, spring is springing, the evenings are longer, beer gardens are once again viable without puffas and parkas, and the clocks are about to go forward, meaning even more time for al fresco-disco fun.
In theory, anyway. Obviously, we can’t trust the weather to be onside with our socialising plans. But nor, it seems, do we fully trust ourselves.
Today, we published a survey of more than 300 young people across the UK to find out how the pandemic has impacted their lives. For many of our respondents, two years of stop-start lockdowns have adversely impacted their ability – or willingness – to be sociable. Some of this is undoubtedly functional, confusion arising from things like the on-again-off-again-my-head-hurts pub rules: six people from two households at a table, max. Have you downloaded the ordering app? Masks to go to the bogs? Don’t dare stand at the bar!
All that faff directly hit us where it hurts.
Then there’s the more abstract but no less important impact. “I’m a massive extrovert,” said Aliona, 18. “I need people to cope with my mental health struggles and I just feel more energised after I socialised – I love people! So being away from human contact was definitely unnatural.”
“It was a bit scary how easily I retreated into myself. I didn’t realise how prone I was to hermetism,” admitted 17-year-old Jess. “Whenever I was told I had to go outside by my parents, I got so affronted by it. That scares me a little. Also feeling really abandoned by my friends. I missed two birthdays and no one really remembered, which is quite wounding emotionally.”
But now that human contact is no longer restricted and birthdays can be publicly celebrated, the hangover persists. Chloe, 21, rued Covid’s damage to their love for nightlife and meeting new people. And now, “I have developed social anxiety whereas before I was an overly confident person.”
Ella, 19, also acknowledged what we might call a social dysphoria: “Losing touch with reality – it feels like a blurry dream or a hallucination. Social battery also runs out significantly faster than before.”
For 23-year-old Greg, the challenge now is “reconciling the voices in my head – the one that wants to be a social butterfly and the one that wants to isolate.”
And Sarah, 23, a self-proclaimed introvert, is probably far from the only person whose biggest challenge about lockdown life is simple but stark: “It ending.”
For others, “long Covid” took on a different meaning: a general unease about the risks inherent in any public gathering. What if a rebooted social life is actually bad for your health? As 17-year-old Aaliyah put it: “Now that gigs and other live events are opening up again, the past 2/3 years have set this paranoia into me that I have to take many precautions pre these events.”
“It has fuelled some of my least favourite qualities about myself,” said Ellie, 23. “I’ve lost a lot of self-confidence, impulsiveness, energy and sociability. At 23, it’s scary at a point where you can feel habits start to solidify and you worry that you could be like this forever. You have to fight to be who you want to be now.”
And, then, bringing it back to the fundamental reason why THE FACE wanted to interrogate the effects of two years of Covid in this week of stories, is the broader, generational impact. So, the final word goes to 17-year-old Janine. In answer to our survey question, “what have you personally found most challenging about the pandemic?”, she wrote the following.
“That as a teenager, I’m being robbed of my last years of being a carefree kid. Soon enough, I’m going to be in college and an adult – I’m a 17-year-old with the life experience of a 15-year-old. Yes, I still have many many years ahead of me, but I’ll never be able to have these precious, last few years of freedom and fun. I’m also very concerned that the youth now is overexposed to the internet. They don’t know how to socialise in real life and they aren’t learning important life skills. This scares me.”