Social isolation is wearing down college students

Photo courtesy of engin akyurt, Unsplash

Socialization is a fundamental part of each person’s life, but many students are only realizing this due to COVID taking away their opportunity to see people. The isolation that students are now having to deal with is a lot more serious than it may seem on the surface. Now, students are losing out on the positive health benefits that socialization brings them.

“Social isolation is the public health risk of our time," psychologist Susan Pinker on the TED radio hour. "Now a third of the population says they have two or fewer people to lean on. Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters. And like a vaccine, they protect you now in the present and well into the future. Shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your stress.”

What this means is when people interact in person, the brain releases chemicals that carry a number of benefits for people. This beneficial release of chemicals however is not transmitted through interaction that isn’t in person, such as online conversations.

But we are in the midst of a pandemic and people are working to be responsible and limit their in-person interactions to reduce the spread or transmission of COVID-19. Some college students like Kelly Branco, a sophomore at Fairleigh Dickinson University adjusted their living plans due to the virus.

“I loved dorming, personally I love dorming, I thought it was the best experience of my life," Branco said. "But I wanted to be safe.”

She explained her decision not to dorm because of the pandemic. Socially, she hasn't seen many people, and the bulk of interactions with her friends have been online. This being a far cry from when she was on campus where so much of her time was spent with her friends.

Beyond hanging out with your friends, college typically presents the opportunity to meet new people. But students new to college, like Sarah Krauze, a freshman at Binghamton University, are finding meeting new people to be hindered by the pandemic.

“It’s harder to meet people with similar interests because if classes aren’t in person and you’re not meeting people who are taking the same classes as you, you’re not meeting people who are in the same extracurriculars, so it’s a lot harder to meet people,” Krauze said.

Natalia Jamiolkowski, a freshman at Drew University, echoed a similar sentiment.

“Initially and even to the end of the first semester I was on edge as to what I was experiencing with everything being online, clubs, social activities also being online it was really discouraging in terms of actually trying to participate in social life,” she said.

Jamiolkowski even went on to describe her fear that during her sophomore year, assuming the pandemic has ended, she will be left behind socially as people may already have established friend groups.

Socialization is important for people as it offers the benefit of reducing your stress. But with the ongoing pandemic, people are taking necessary steps to stay safe, including limiting in-person social interactions. Although it is a necessary preventative step, it is still having an adverse effect on college students.