‘Lockdown’ has been a familiar word in our vocabulary since March 2020, and for those lucky enough not to have been directly affected by the coronavirus’s destruction to health, the defining feature of this period has been an inability to socially connect.
Unsurprisingly, one in four Britons have admitted to breaking lockdown rules intentionally, and the true figure is likely to be higher.
We are genetically hardwired as humans to interact with each other for our survival, posing the inevitable yet uncomfortable question: can you blame people for defying lockdown rules?
An innate desire to belong
Humans need social interaction to stay healthy. Mixing with others helps to lower the level of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the bloodstream, decreasing the risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases. It heightens our brain performance and increases overall mental sharpness. Communication plays the role of our personality architect, with our encounters socialising us into the people that we are.
Social baseline theory states that the human brain craves regularly maintained relationships with other humans because these interactions lessen the severity of risks that individuals might face – a problem shared is a problem halved. We have an innate desire to belong because it makes us feel secure.
The ‘spirit of March’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address to the nation instructing us to ‘stay at home’ on 23rd March 2020 introduced a new and unexpected tranquillity of life for some on a personal level, despite the national turmoil induced by the pandemic.
The first lockdown seemed almost adventure-like, giving us the chance to do things we did not have a spare moment for in our normal lives. Some chose to soak up the unusually glorious weather whilst guzzling alcohol. Avid couch potatoes took advantage of a clear schedule to binge-watch Netflix. By stark contrast, the motivated few began a workout regimen; Chloe Ting and Joe Wicks became household names. Naturally, however, this was a position in which only those privileged enough to be able to work from home found themselves.
Digital media was used to a greater extent than ever before to maintain our relationships. The inability to party in the conventional sense was somewhat eased with many choosing to make use of Netflix Party (through which viewers watch a film simultaneously, and can type comments into a live chatbox). The closure of cinemas and clubs, for a short time, was no longer quite so tragic.
On both an individual and social level, going from everything to nothing instantaneously provided a forced break from normality which was welcomed by those who could afford it.
“Too much of anything isn’t good for anyone” – Ray Bradbury.
After a few months at a social distance, the disconnect from our usual behaviours became tiring. It is for this very reason that a lack of compliance with the rules was sparked. It is no surprise that people began to flout them either – humans are not wired to be so isolated.
Interestingly, it seems adults found lockdown ‘easier’ than younger folk. Whilst many could work from home on a full salary, eliminating their commute and giving them more time to explore their hobbies, the same could not be said for teenagers who missed the simple joys of seeing friends their own age. A longitudinal study conducted in the first lockdown revealed that 24% of UK adults felt lonely due to the pandemic, compared to 48% of young people (aged 18-24 years) (via mentalhealth.org.uk, 2020).
The pandemic remains the focus of public debate, but loneliness is a killer also: indeed it can have the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Arguably, the overt pandemic sweeping the globe has created a covert one, but one still of great concern. Though enshrined in law by the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the UK generally being a country of law-abiding citizens, loneliness made people more willing to become criminals and break out of their own homes.
A personal choice
We must couple behavioural fatigue with a sense of individualism when analysing people’s social choices throughout the pandemic. Modern democracies such as the UK uphold this individualistic culture in which the rights and freedoms of people as single entities are prioritised over that of the common experience.
Our peer group plays a vital role in shaping us. Those who are more extroverted are almost certainly going to feel like the pandemic has left their social life in tatters. This introduces a newfound rebelliousness within, pushing them to break the rules to get their social fix. On the flip side, an introvert will be subject to heightened isolation at this time, perhaps choosing to break the rules to alleviate the extremity of their feelings.
For those without personal experience of the virus’s effects, it can seem less threatening compared to those who have tragically lost loved ones to its grip. This in itself will determine whether an individual will be complacent, or solidify the importance of complying with the restrictions. Compliance is not helped by some media personalities, such as the numerous influencers jetting off to Dubai and kindly inundating us with footage: if it’s ok for them to break the rules, why not me?
Depriving people of their relationships will cause social devastation from which no vaccine will help us recover. At such a difficult time, it is important to stay open-minded. Rather than immediately judging someone for breaking the rules, let us see that different people are esteemed different privileges in our society, and so it is both counterproductive and insensitive for anyone to make face-value verdicts about the behaviour of others. Everyone has their boundaries when trying to survive the circumstances in which the pandemic has placed us; boundaries that continue to be pushed to breaking point.