Early effects of Covid-19 on human relationships | Sunday Observer

Early effects of Covid-19 on human relationships

26 September, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has redesigned and restructured personal relationships and interactions in unprecedented ways since early 2021, forcing everyone to live in a close circle together with a finite number of acquaintances. The situation continues to pose dramatic negative effects on human lives, including relationships with others in communities, families, homes, and workplaces.

Pandemic stress caused by working from home, school closures, social isolation, loss of personal revenues, and other important psychological and social factors have led societies to a range of negative behaviours.

Unique behaviour changes

The experience came from the pandemic has been unique to the world, creating significant effects on human relationships. Some of the relationships were strengthened while some others have suffered severe strains. Prolonged restrictions have generated isolation directed people to personal conflicts on some occasions.

A pandemic of the magnitude of Covid-19 not only demands intrapersonal behaviour change but also produces highly volatile and complex challenges, socially and psychologically. The infection is spread easily through social contacts and attack human relationships by severely adjusting the way of human interactions.

In the current scenario, the future of the timelines of Covid-19 is uncertain and unpredictable even with the vaccines roll outs in Sri Lanka and many other countries. In the meantime, new and more contagious variants of the virus are being discovered continuously. The complete annihilation of the virus is still a long haul and disrupts human relations in time to come. Therefore, the social cost of the pandemic was beginning to surface with the existing related mental health issues that have already reached a considerably high point.

The initial reaction to the virus in Sri Lanka was hasty, mainly aimed at reducing the spread of active cases and mortalities. At the time, the experience of the world and Sri Lanka was minimal and the answers were uncertain. Almost all countries, in the beginning, responded through their limited experience and basic instincts.

There was little time to consider social or psychological implications, including interpersonal a community relationships. Until it was too late, the common belief was that the threat will cease to exist in a short time. However, ironically, the new pandemic has proven to be deadlier than all previous virus attacks in the near history and the spread also was excessively rapid.

The new terminology of compulsory ‘social distancing’ became entrenched in public discussion. Maintaining physical distance from the others in the society was the most important criterion as only the physical proximity caused the viral transmission. Although some of the outdoor activities were producing minimal threats and risks, the medical experts either completely banned or restricted such activities.

Social networks characterise the individual and social connections that makeup systems such as workplaces, communities, or societies. Social relationships range from family, co-workers, friends, relatives, and other acquaintances. These relationships vary in several dimensions such as frequency of communication and contact and scale of emotional closeness etc.

During the Covid-19 restrictions, face-to-face interactions were mostly reduced to family members, neighbours, and colleagues in the workplace. Feeble attachments with some of the acquaintances were lost and interactions were limited only to those who are intimate. Thus, the pandemic restrictions impacted personal social networks more than any other time in the known history.

Social support

Social support provided through personal interactions was known as one of the most important resilience factors in society during or the aftermath of stressful events. In comparison, although the entire Sri Lankan community has been under stress due to a few civil unrests from time to time in the past several decades, there were hardly any long-term curfew periods.

Therefore, the social support obtained through interactions was not disrupted as in the current magnitude. In the context of prevailing Covid-19, social support was severely affected where the general public became more cautious in interacting with others in the community.

For example, conversations with colleagues at the workplace provide people an opportunity to socialise and share experiences. These non-official conversations are tremendously vital to reduce omnipresent work stress. Hence, these peripheral casual dialogues provide a form of social support. The absence of spontaneous interactions may reduce indirect assistance to cope-up with situations and lessen fatigue.

Many Sri Lankan companies have sought the work-from-home concept since the inception of the pandemic breakout. This relatively new model became exceedingly useful to organisations to reduce operational costs substantially. Therefore, even after the initial lock downs, companies encouraged their respective staff to abide by the same practice.

However, even though the work-from-home was initially accepted with open arms by the majority of workers, they later complained that they prefer to be physically present at the workplace and have emotional interactions with their colleagues. Nevertheless, most of the organisations, except where the physical presence of workers is compulsory, are still practicing the work-from-home model to some extent.

In the context of personal intimacy relating to emotional connection and closeness with other human beings, in general, the pandemic has delivered a huge blow. The passionate bonds through friendship, familial relationships, and romantic associations fulfill basic human needs that immensely help both the mental and physical health of people. Intimacy can only be fostered through the feeling of understanding and the feeling of acceptance by others who are closely associating.

Intimacy through companionships is the most basic human mental well-being. On one hand where the Covid-19 pandemic created a negative impact by limiting close physical relationships socially while offering opportunities for individuals to reconnect and re-strengthen relationships within households on the other hand. Spending quality family time automatically took place in many families as a positive effect because of the restrictions.

Online connectivity, not the answer

The effect inflicted by the pandemic on the student population in the country was immense. Since March last year, the children were deprived of physical classroom presence creating a massive gap in relationships. Much needed physical interactions were denied to the students generating a substantial psychological impact.

The children have already lost nearly eighteen months period of intimacy and inter-relations with other children due to the closure of schools. The damage caused by the long layoff from schools can be detrimental to not only the students themselves but also the future of the country at large.

The young adults who usually are fond of social interactions have been dispossessed of their time with acquaintances. Almost all of them switched to online activities due to relational instability. As everyone knows, online activities have both positives and negatives and the addictions can lead to various mental health issues in time to come.

While some of the discussed effects caused by the Covid-19 will self-repair after the pandemic, others require deliberate efforts to build back social and community relationships. Specifically, the psychological setbacks of young adults during the past eighteen months sans proper social interaction may require the engagement of professionals for long-term rectifications.

A new way of common thinking also may be needed for the entire citizenry to overcome the long-term repercussions that may emerge after the complete annihilation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is known that ‘getting together is an essential ingredient in a physical sense is in human well-being. Physical comfort, reinforcing interactional customs and standards, and providing support are fundamental human requirements for sustainable relationships. Rapidly emerged online connectivity among people is not simply an alternative for the issue by any means.

The visible danger is that the almost near addiction to online platforms due to the absence of constant physical interactions has posed an imminent threat to societies throughout the world, according to psychologists. Hence, the intelligent balancing process of online and offline usage in communication is a necessity that the government should focus on immediately.

The effect of the pandemic and the other relevant concerns on the general mental health of the public must be considered and addressed by all stakeholders including the government. Mental health professionals believe that there can be another health crisis by way of mental illnesses behind the pandemic. Therefore, if everyone does not concentrate adequately on human relationships, soon there will be extended and overloaded requests for mental health services.