Lockdown Mental Fatigue Rapidly Reversed By Social Contact

Emerging from isolation has a profound effect on our cognitive functions.
Emerging from isolation has a profound effect on our cognitive functions.
Koldunova Anna/Shutterstock 

Many of us are looking forward to a summer of relative freedom, with road-mapped milestones that will grant us more opportunities to see our friends and family. But we’ll be carrying the effects of months of isolation into those meetings, including a sense that our social skills will need dusting off, and our wits will need sharpening.

The mental effects of lockdown have been profound. Social isolation has been shown to cause people’s mental health to deteriorate even if they have no history of previous psychological problems. Alongside this drop in mood, loneliness has been linked with a host of cognitive problems, including fatigue, stress and problems with concentration.

In our recent study, we set out to understand how people recovered from last year’s period of social isolation, tracking their cognitive function as the UK transitioned from a full lockdown to reduced social restrictions in summer 2020. Promisingly, we found that people swiftly recovered from cognitive issues when given the chance to blow away the cobwebs by socialising once again.

Mass isolation

Lockdowns have given psychologists a unique opportunity to study the effects of social isolation on the general population. Such effects are normally only studied in older adults, or in very special groups of people such as astronauts, desert trekkers and polar explorers. But for over a year now, ordinary people of all ages have been experiencing prolonged periods with minimal social contact.

We know that humans derive many benefits from socialising. These range from preventing dementia and enhancing memory to improvements in concentration and the ability to think clearly. When our social lives shrank last March, we lost these cognitive payouts too.

To investigate what happens when these payouts return, we surveyed hundreds of Scottish adults between May and July 2020: a period when strict national lockdown restrictions were gradually eased. It was the perfect time to observe how the benefits of socialising might change how people think and feel.

Unsurprisingly, we found that people’s moods were lowest when we first approached them in May. Those who were shielding or living alone suffered the most and only began to feel better when the final restrictions were eased towards the end of our survey period in July. But our study was most interested in other psychological indicators: those that would show whether people’s cognitive abilities improved when they had more opportunities to socialise.

Psychological recovery

To measure this, we asked our survey participants to complete a series of online tests to assess changes in their attention, learning ability, working memory – and even their perception of time.

Attention, learning ability and working memory are all essential for tasks we might perform at work or while studying. They’re indicators of how well we remember things we’ve learned, how long we can concentrate on a task, and how many tasks we can juggle in our heads at one time.

All of these indicators improved rapidly as lockdown restrictions eased, with clear week-on-week improvements each time we returned to our study participants for more data. This suggests that we’re likely to enjoy a similarly speedy boost in our ability to work when lockdown restrictions ease this time around.

Socialising helps us sharpen our wits and boost our moods.Socialising helps us sharpen our wits and boost our moods. Maksim Shmeljov/Shutterstock

We’ve all been experiencing varying degrees of loneliness and isolation, so it’s no wonder that we’re running low on the benefits that socialising can bring. Our findings offer concrete proof that lockdown makes us all a little more distracted, sluggish and fatigued – cognitive problems that may be affecting our performance at work and our social interactions outside of it.

But the speed at which we witnessed cognitive function improve once people began socialising again last summer shows that there’s hope. As days lengthen, the weather improves, and society reopens, our study suggests that renewed social contact will quickly and thoroughly reverse any cognitive decline we’ve experienced during the most recent lockdown.

Our findings extend beyond the unique circumstances brought about by the pandemic. While there’s no denying that humans are social creatures, psychologists are only now beginning to recognise just how integral social interaction is to every aspect of our wellbeing and mental ability – and how isolation, whether for elderly people or those with extreme vocations, can affect our mental health and aptitude across so many measures.The Conversation

About the Authors

Dr Christopher Hand, Lecturer, Psychology, Glasgow Caledonian University; Greg Maciejewski, Lecturer in Psychology, University of the West of Scotland, and Joanne Ingram, Lecturer in Psychology, University of the West of Scotland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

You May Also Like

INNERSELF VOICES

full moon over Stonehenge
Horoscope Current Week: September 20 - 26, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
a swimmer in large expanse of water
Joy and Resilience: A Conscious Antidote to Stress
by Nancy Windheart
We know that we're in a great time of transition, of birthing a new way of being, living, and…
five closed doors, one pained yellow, the others white
Where Do We Go From Here?
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Life can be confusing. There are so many things going on, so many choices presented to us. Even a…
Inspiration or Motivation: Which Works Best?
Inspiration or Motivation: Which Comes First?
by Alan Cohen
People who are enthusiastic about a goal find ways to achieve it and they do not need to be goaded…
photo silhouette of mountain climber using a pick to secure himself
Allow The Fear, Transform It, Move Through It, and Understand It
by Lawrence Doochin
Fear feels crappy. There is no way around that. But most of us don't respond to our fear in a…
woman sitting at her desk looking worried
My Prescription for Anxiety and Worry
by Jude Bijou
We’re a society that likes to worry. Worrying is so prevalent, it almost feels socially acceptable.…
curving road in New Zealand
Don't Be So Hard On Yourself
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
Life consists of choices... some are "good" choices, and others not so good. However every choice…
man standing on a dock shining a flashlight into the sky
Blessing for Spiritual Seekers and for People Suffering from Depression
by Pierre Pradervand
There is such a need in the world today of the most tender and immense compassion and deeper, more…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
winter blues and broken bones: how to get enough vitamin d3
Winter Blues and Broken Bones: How To Get Enough Vitamin D3
by Kristin Grayce McGary
Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”. It is produced in your skin in response…
Embracing Nature: Gazing and the Dance of Touch
Embracing Nature: Gazing and the Dance of Touch
by Will Johnson
The practice of looking into someone’s eyes and holding his or her gaze stimulates the sensations…

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…
Taking A Step Toward Peace by Changing Our Relationship With Thought
Stepping Toward Peace by Changing Our Relationship With Thought
by John Ptacek
We spend our lives immersed in a flood of thoughts, unaware that another dimension of consciousness…
image of the planet Jupiter on the skyline of a rocky ocean shore
Is Jupiter a Planet of Hope or a Planet of Discontent?
by Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green
In the American dream as it's currently dished up, we try to do two things: make money and lose…

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.