The phrase “second pandemic” has become a catch-all term for the many phenomena that have been exacerbated or revealed by the COVID-19 crisis. From a rise in anti-Black and anti-AAPI violence to increased gun violence and partner abuse, our society has certainly had to bear the brunt of trying times.
One such pandemic, and arguably one of the least talked about, is fatigue; the kind that hits closest to home for many of us is student fatigue. Of course, it is important to note that the ability to attend a prestigious university on campus is a mighty privilege. However, the mental and emotional strains that many have been facing are valid and very worthy of discussion.
According to a study done by Active Minds, 75% of students from high school to doctorate level have experienced worsening symptoms of mental health from the start of the pandemic. This staggering statistic can be attributed to several causes.
For one, we have been isolated from those outside of our households. This has had a surprising effect on what can be termed “productivity of the mind,” that is, the ability to transition from one mental state to another facilitated through external dynamism. Moving to a new location with fresh faces can help change one’s mood, thoughts, and mental frame of reference. During periods of isolation, the ability to move to a new location with new people is removed. As a result, any unwanted thoughts, be they intrusive, self-deprecating, or imposturous, have the time and space to ruminate and amplify.
For another, worldly responsibilities of work and school have not gone away, but instead are now added to the taxes of dealing with distant relationships and often loss. The completion of rigorous college courses on one’s own, without having the freedom to communicate with others in physical spaces or in diverse settings, can begin to feel vague and unmotivating. Our responsibility has diverged from merely succeeding in a course to both learning how to navigate an online course and how to do so in an uncomfortable environment, physically and/or mentally.
While schools and companies have offered consistent access to support, in doing so they have established a “new normal.” That is, many institutions have not evolved their platforms to the present moment’s distinct needs. For instance, burnout is more likely to occur now than it was in May. Similarly, the effects of remote work become compounded with time, change sporadically in nature, and increase in volume very quickly.
One action step we should take after absorbing this heavy reality is to care for ourselves and one another with dignity. This can often mean stepping out of our comfort zones in vulnerability. That is, it may feel difficult or tiresome to schedule an online meeting with a friend or to exercise outside, but the transition in space may provide a break from negative mental energy.
We should look after one another and watch for signs of “unhealthy social isolation,” such as fear of social interaction, preferring to be alone, or distress when in a position of isolation. We also should care for and respond with empathy to those who experience frustration, grief, or feelings of “mental stuckness.”
Although the world will be different on the “other end” of the COVID-19 crisis, I am hopeful that we will emerge with more acute social and emotional intelligence. This involves being more aware of our own mental needs and being more attuned to the ways that we can offer others our support and affirmation. Based on recent experiences on campus and in the greater world, I have faith in our ability to unite together in companionship, and I feel that our positive intentions will cut through the darkness that lingers in the days ahead.