By Samantha Cantrell
As COVID-19 continues to spread in a world where inconsistency is the only constant, it
is to be expected that some people will struggle more than others to process the consequential changes. For some people, this time of being forced to slow down and readjust has been beneficial. However, for others the lack of structure and change to long-awaited plans have had devastating effects. This is especially true for people who struggle with various mental health issues, since isolation often worsens depression and the many unknown factors that come with a pandemic are major sources of anxiety. For many people, the virus itself is the biggest source of anxiety. It can be hard to find accurate information since many news sources are reporting conflicting, biased information, which leads to confusion and fear of the unknown, especially for people with family members who are at risk or on the front lines. This is often made worse when those family members are in other states, or even other countries, since travel restrictions have made it nearly impossible to connect in person. This can be overwhelming, since it adds another layer of fear to an already stressful situation. Healthcare workers seem to have become especially overwhelmed, since medical facilities are becoming overcrowded, so they are working much harder than they may have worked before. Many are also in graduate school, so they have challenging coursework on top of an already exhausting job.
Healthcare students are far from the only students struggling to adjust to changes in the way education is handled. Many students are struggling to find motivation while working from home with significantly fewer resources, and the fear of failure is one of the few things that seems to keep students working towards their degrees. However, this leads to other issues, since what may have been seen as a minor inconvenience before becomes magnified. “I found myself having a whole breakdown because I missed one question on an assignment, and looking at myself as a failure,” one student writes. This sentiment was echoed by several students, some of whom are beginning to struggle to see the value of a degree under such uncertain circumstances. This is worsened by the fact that directions from leadership are less clearly defined, since unprecedented circumstances lead to inconsistent expectations. Not all classes have translated well into an online format (such as labs that require in-person interactions), so many professors have started to add more assignments, which leads to more confusion, and seems to have turned into a vicious cycle for many students who are falling behind.
Unfortunately, these problems are often magnified in self-isolation. Many people have expressed that quarantine adds to feelings of loneliness, especially as events are cancelled and milestones are missed, taking away potentially life-changing memories. It also takes away many methods of escapism, allowing negative feelings to be manifested and magnified without access to common coping methods. While many people find themselves with extra time on their hands that could be used to catch up on work, it is often hard to find the energy to get out of bed and complete simple tasks, let alone learn an entirely new skill or undertake a large project.
However, in some cases the extra time provided by isolation has been somewhat positive. For some students, the transition to online classes has been beneficial since recorded lectures allow them to learn at their own pace by pausing and rewinding to review challenging concepts, removing the anxiety of having to ask for clarification in front of their peers. The extra time at home also allows for connection with family and pets, and personal development through new skills and exercise. Many students have been able to reconnect with their passion for art, which can often be neglected in the midst of busy day-to-day life. As one student stated, “I want to be able to see beauty in the midst of everything going on, so art has been a great outlet.”
While the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly been harmful, it is important to continue to look for ways to turn a tragedy into an opportunity for growth. There are countless chances to provide positivity in the lives of family and friends, especially those who are struggling. While social distancing is essential to slow the spread of the virus, there are plenty of ways to reach out electronically to remind others that no one is alone even in times of uncertainty. It is important to reach out for support in low moments, and know that communities can be made stronger through turmoil.