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With COVID 19 vaccines working and an ongoing mass vaccination, it’s time for those who’ve been vaccinated to change out of sweatpants and emerge from their Netflix dungeons. However, your brain might not be as excited about returning to your former social life.

Impact of social distancing on mental health

Social distancing proved to be an effective method of containing the spread of COVID 19, preventing 500 million new infections in the process. But although it was essential, separating people from each other has immensely affected their mental health.

In a recent poll, 36% of adults in the US, including 61% of young adults, admitted to feeling lonely during the pandemic. Such statistics suggest that people are dying to get back into the social scene.

But surprisingly, close to half of all Americans reported feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interaction regardless of whether they were vaccinated or not. How then can people be so lonely yet uneasy about returning to their former social lives?

Well, the brain is amazingly adaptable. So while we can’t be sure what our brains have gone through for the past year and a half, neuroscientists have some ideas on how social isolation can affect the brain.

From primates to insects, maintaining social networks is key to survival in the animal kingdom. This means that man is instinctively a social animal. Social groups in the animal kingdom provide mating prospects, protection from predators, and cooperative hunting.

All about social homeostasis

However, social homeostasis- the correct balance of social networks- must be met. Small social connections cannot deliver all those benefits, while overly large ones increase competition for mates and resources. As a result, human brains learned how to gauge our social connections and make the necessary adjustments.

Social homeostasis uses many regions of the brain and has the mesocorticolimbic circuit at the center. This circuit is a reward system and is the same one that motivates you to eat chocolate when you crave something sweet.