Being a student during a global pandemic has taken its toll on many students throughout the past year, forcing them not only to adapt to the new online format that school has taken on, but to also change how they cope with mental issues brought on by the stressors from everything that has happened for this past year.
According to a study by Mental Health America, the number of people screening with moderate to severe symptoms of both depression and anxiety has increased throughout 2020 and continues to be higher than rates prior to the pandemic. Also, in a survey conducted by the Jed Foundation, they found that 43% of college students surveyed were dealing with worsening emotional health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While that news is disheartening, it’s important for students to know that they are not alone in dealing with the stress and anxiety that the past tumultuous year has induced. There are many different ways to cope with the stress brought on by life in the pandemic and being a student during the lockdown.
Before the pandemic, Orange Coast College music major William Newell stabilized his mental health prior to COVID-19 by taking mental health days when he needed to recharge. Newell picked the days that he had less schoolwork in order to prevent falling behind, and spent them doing something that allowed his brain to rest.
“I found that this was the best way for me to take a breather and collect my thoughts. The next day I find myself in a better mood and I find that I am more productive,” Newell said.
Newell also surrounded himself with his friends as a coping mechanism. Once pandemic restrictions began and social life came to an abrupt halt, he was forced to deal with his thoughts head-on.
“Things I didn't like about myself, I started to change so that I wouldn’t be constantly hating them,” Newell said.
Newell’s solid mental health improvement alongside the beneficial distraction of school landed him in a better state in comparison to life before quarantine.
“Music has always been an outlet for me,” Newell said, “I started playing the violin in middle school. Orchestra is where my love of music sparked.”
He was inclined to play the piano more frequently during lockdown since it was the only instrument he owned. This made Newell realize his love for the piano is much greater than any other instrument, and it became an outlet he looks to when experiencing feelings of sadness or stress from school.
On top of a global pandemic and school, a lot of people have also faced social situations outside of their control. Medical Assisting major at OCC, Wren Morris, struggled with losing friends during the beginning of the pandemic.
“I lost a lot of friends due to either a bad falling out and having them be [living] far distance. Also some of them moving back home with their parents and losing touch after a while,” Morris said.
Losing friends at such a fast pace took a major toll on Morris’ mental health too. “It made me feel unlovable, in a sense,” Morris said.
Loss has been a major factor throughout the pandemic too, not only from losing people due to COVID-19, but also losing people due to the social strain of self-isolating and being unable to go out and see them.
However, Morris has outlets for whenever their mental health starts to decline. “I journal, and I seek out my fiancé and my friends. I reach out to people who would reach out to me if their mental health was in the gutter,” Morris said.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling is a great way to cope with stress, depression and anxiety, as getting your thoughts down on paper can help clear your mind. Journaling can help control symptoms, prioritize concerns and track stressors in your life as well.
“I kept my mental health in check before COVID by always hanging around my friends and doing stuff with them,” said Sophia Williams, a film and television major at OCC. “It helped to create good memories with them and bonds.”
For people who coped by spending time with others like Williams, COVID-19 hit especially hard. Without being able to see people, friendships got harder to maintain.
“Once it hit, a lot of people’s true colors came out and I ended up losing a lot of my friends,” Williams said. “But on a positive note, it brought me closer to the people who are genuine and were always there for me.”
During the pandemic, Williams had to readjust how she worked through her mental health by doing it on her own, like many others. Ever since COVID-19, instead of coping with depression and anxiety through spending time with her friends, she now uses her creativity as an outlet.
“Now I tell people dealing with any sort of anxiety or depression, like what I deal with, is to put that energy into something beautiful, like crafts or music or writing,” Williams said. “Channeling that energy into something productive and turning it into something that can even help and inspire others.”
While it’s an unlucky time for students during a pandemic, there are multitudes of resources online where we can find help. Visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for more information for healthy coping mechanisms as well.