Op-Ed: Why Breaking the Quarantine Bubble is So Hard

By Ellyn Fritz || News Editor

Did anybody else feel socially awkward when arriving back to school? After close to six months of (almost) house arrest, transitioning to life around others during a pandemic was some combination of unnerving, anxiety provoking, and exciting, for those fiending for social contact.  

When I arrived back to school, the first thing I noticed was that I was no longer able to go running and screaming up to my friends after not seeing them for six months. This may be more relatable for girls, but not being able to make a fool of myself in the parking lot during move-in was actually quite upsetting. Instead, I had to try to decipher who the person was behind the mask for a solid 10 seconds, begin to slowly approach them before stopping 6, maybe 5, feet away from each other, then make small talk that inevitably turned into covid talk. Covid talk being the comparison of your quarantines, what things you were supposed to do over the summer that either got canceled or you did from the luxury of your couch, the common question “Have you been tested yet?” and, possibly, an offer to have lunch socially distanced outside.

As much as we are accepting that in-person class is now accessorized with masks, that you will always have the whole elevator to yourself, and daily screening checks where you overanalyze if your “tired/fatigue” is from staying up till 2 am or something much much worse, the adjustment to interacting with people with varying levels of anxiety surrounding covid presents new challenges to everyday life. Due to the pandemic, whether or not your quarantine ‘pod’ was immediate family or extended out to friends, we all subtly lost some of our agility to navigate social situations. Biologically we crave human interaction that makes us feel connected to the wider outside world making the type of isolation we all experienced unnatural. For some extreme extroverts, navigating Facetimes and socially distanced hangouts seemed like a piece of cake through quarantine, and for some introverts, six months at home was one palm tree short of paradise.

However, now that we are back on campus and haven’t been around one another for an extended period of time, social circumstances may have changed. For introverts or those with a more severe fear of contracting or spreading corona, existing in your room back at school with just your roommates or a small group of friends may make for an easier adjustment. The extroverts may be struggling more to adhere to social distancing guidelines and self-regulate their behavior after being starved of social contact for the past few months. 

From a neuroscience perspective, feeling socially isolated consequently leads to a diminished ability for self-regulation for thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Not only does it impair our decision making, but the physical implications of loneliness are equivalent to physical pain, hunger, and thirst as the desire for social connections quite literally stems from our biological need for genes to survive. So, if you are feeling ‘off’ after quarantine or feeling a little ‘weird’ since arriving back on campus, here’s your justification. 

Whatever position you are in, remind yourself that not only did everyone have unique experiences and struggles through quarantine, but that everyone, for the most part, is doing their best to adhere to the guidelines put in front of them. You might not understand why you are seeing a group of people “suspiciously” walking somewhere on a Friday night, but odds are they are following the rules. If we start attacking one another or making it evident that we are passing judgement, that type of behavior is cultivating an unhealthy community environment. Similarly, voicing our opinions can relieve built-up frustration; however, if we all collectively get caught up in focusing on the negative and solely discussing everything that is going wrong, we are all destined for a downward spiral. 

As a starting point, I think that all we can do is take care of ourselves and make personal decisions that feel true to who we are. Before my first in-person class I found myself debating if wearing an N-95 mask was ‘too extreme’ and if I would be overdoing it by wearing it. Then I realized that it doesn’t matter what other people think, especially in this somewhat disastrous alternative reality we are living in currently. 

Everyone needs to have some compassion for themselves and others as we are making this adjustment. Think before you act to protect yourself and think before you speak to protect others. 

Ellyn Fritz is the News Editor. Her email is efritz@fandm.edu

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