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The Lonely Brain

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    The Lonely Brain

    We are not born with many instincts. The instincts we are born with, however, in keeping with the purpose of instincts in all creatures serve the need to help us survive. They do that by enhancing our ability to cope with vital environmental emergencies. Humans have three basic instincts: self-preservation, finding a mate and social behavior.

    A pretty strong argument could be made that during the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and lockdowns across the globe the last one was severely circumscribed and, there was a majority of the global population for whom the last two were heavily impacted.

    Our instinct for self-preservation allowed us to cope for a while. But not without side-effects. The rise in aggressive behavior, unfiltered social interactions, inappropriate social responses and generally poor decision making was not the result of the rise in perceived toxicity in newsfeeds or the use of social media or remote contact technology. All of this predated Covid-19 without our seeing a spike in anti-social behavior.

    What we never had before this century was an experience of a restriction that starved our brain from the information it acquires during socializing in order to calibrate the norms within which it operates. The brain’s operational parameters guide choices and decisions that result in our everyday behavior.

    Loneliness affects the brain the same way as trauma. But because we don't acknowledge it, it becomes even harder to deal with. As we are gradually coming out of the pandemic the question that should most consume us is how do we learn to behave socially again? So many of us are out of practice. Some of us are damaged either through personal loss, pandemic anxiety, isolation and loneliness, sudden changes in circumstances or, a combination of all of these. None of us are sure we can behave appropriately all the time, any more.

    If you've been troubled by any of these questions, if you have been quietly thinking about them you can at least find some solace in that you're not alone. The answers are neither easy nor definitive, The problem is new and complex. There are ways, however, to make the transition into the post-pandemic world better.

    If you are struggling here are some guidelines that will help:

    1. Accept that things will feel weird. Much of our internal struggle comes from the mismatch of what we perceive and what we expected. The pandemic was a global stressor that stripped much of everyday reality from us. It will take time and perseverance to rebuild our understanding of what is emerging. It is key here to accept that things will feel weird for a while.

    2. Be open about how you feel. We have all been bruised by what we've been through. Pretending we are OK is lying to our self and putting up a brave front that only makes others feel inadequate. If you are feeling uncomfortable about being social again. If you are experiencing anxiety about rejoining life. If the situations you encounter cause you stress. Speak to someone about it. Keep a journal, talk to a friend, start a thread. Just don't keep it to yourself, it only gets worse that way.

    3. Be tolerant. While we are all supposed to be adults and polished and accomplished, accept that we have all been through a tough time regardless and none of us are sure how to behave any more. We are all trying but we will make mistakes. So if something triggers you, if you are not sure about something or you see behavior that feels odd, think that getting it right will take practice.

    4. Be kind. The voice inside our head is more often a critic than a cheerleader. Right now we need the cheerleader more. So be kind to yourself first. Then be kind to those around you.

    These are just four short steps that, applied, consistently, will make the entire experience of rejoining the external world feel better. I really hope this helps and a big thank you to the thoughtful Bee whose suggestion resulted in this post. You know who you are.

    It is interesting because a lot of activities or habits are vying to be labeled as the "new smoking" - sitting too much, sugar, too much screentime, not enough sleep. Those are all valid (not to mention that smoking hasn't really gone away) but among them is also the lack of social contact. It is proven that social contact keeps us healthy as well. I have always struggled with it, I have always had to force myself to interact with people. but I think more so now that it is more important than ever.

    Interacting with people is not something that I am comfortable with, but neither are burpees. I regard the opportunity to interact with people as an additional means by which I can be healthy. It is not easy, but the healthy path often isn't.


      This is a great explanation for why people are behaving the way they are. I come from a field where we never took a break during the whole pandemic so we were interacting in person the whole time with people who were frequently lashing out at us. Some of them our regular clients that had always been wonderful and were suddenly so rude. It's good to read this, it gives some perspective. Three out of the 4 people in my family worked at our jobs the whole time. We are all wanting to become hermits now bc the interactions we've had over the last year have been so frustrating and exhausting. This explanation helps better understand why people are behaving the way they are. I work with animals so understanding why the behavior is happening is crucial in dealing with nervous, stressed, sick pets etc that can't speak for themselves. Understanding why the humans are behaving as they are might help me to have a bit more patience.


        CaptainCanuck it is the effort involved that changes us. Always.


          VLogan I didn't think of it while I was writing this but the emotional spectrum of our reactions is something we do share with animals. We too react adversely when traumatized without meaning to. Your comment adds an additional and very valuable layer of perspective here. Thank you!


            Damer thank you for the post. I've recently tried with my therapist to record my social interactions, and she made me notice that this is a quite important weak spot for my health.
            CaptainCanuck I love your comparison between human interaction and burpees... I'm unconfortable with both, too


              A lot of food for thought - thanks a lot Damer, CaptainCanuck VLogan
              Great texts.