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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Anxiety and Burnout in the Age of COVID-19

For most people, this year has been spent in limbo: not knowing what the future holds, and not much to look forward to. At colleges across the country, students are facing an amplified version of this stress, and it’s easy to see among Boston College students. Whether it's due to a lack of breaks or an increase in workload, many students at BC are experiencing intense burnout, anxiety, and lack of motivation.

With the BC administration forcing students into 14 consecutive weeks of courses, there is little to no time for a break. When the midweek break replaced spring break, students found themselves doing homework all day. Sophia Carter, MCAS ‘22, believes “the fact that [we] only got one day off as a wellness day and that some professors responded to that by giving extra work since their classes got cancelled, contributes to the rapid mental health decline of the student body.” 

On Herrd, a new Reddit-esque app for BC students, it is apparent that burnout is real amongst students. A lot of the most popularly upvoted posts relate to the lack of breaks, intensity of coursework, and stress of online courses. In addition, students have voiced that they have found themselves perpetually waiting for the weekend. It seems as though the pandemic has resulted in more work rather than less, which seems backwards to most students. Slowly but surely, students are beginning to voice concerns to their professors and administrators. Many students have even observed professors allowing their students to take “mental health days” because of the burnout that has come as a result of not having breaks.  

All of this burnout is a direct result of the pandemic. After virtually an entire year of being inside, students are beginning to seriously miss life as it used to be. In addition, the stress of testing positive or getting contact traced has heavily contributed to the anxiety this academic year has brought. Teresa Capella, MCAS ‘23, believes that, for students, “it’s been especially disheartening to watch what everyone says are ‘the best 4 years of your life’ pass by during a time that we can’t really enjoy to the same extent.” As a sophomore, Capella still has two years left, while seniors have the threat of missing out on two of their last 14 weeks at college looming over their heads. Megan Carter, MCAS ‘21, says that “our college careers are ending with awkward zoom breakout rooms and spending hours in our dorm sitting through online lectures.” Additionally, Carter says that most seniors feel as though “making any plans, whether it's committing to reservations or planning a graduation trip, feels futile and waiting for test results leaves us all on edge.” 

Vaccines have provided a light at the end of the tunnel for many students, but while vaccination rates are on the rise, the fear of the unknown is exacerbating the stress of the pandemic and academic year. There is an end in sight, but most Boston College students still have no idea where they will be in the fall. Many schools, such as Northeastern University, have already announced a complete return to in-person classes in Fall 2021. In addition, Northeastern is requiring that all students be vaccinated by the start of the Fall semester. Northeastern is just a short 4.5 miles down the road from BC, yet they are miles ahead on their plan for Fall semester. The lack of transparency and lack of a plan from Boston College’s administration has been a huge source of concern for students. The meek glimmer of hope for Boston College’s vaccinated students came with the announcement that those who received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna at least 14 days earlier are exempt from quarantine after an exposure. Although this is exciting for vaccinated students, for the majority of students on campus who have not yet received their vaccine, this news doesn’t change much. 

While many students are experiencing the burnout that comes with constant academic work, those with anxiety disorders are at risk for even more stress. Because burnout is defined as a period of prolonged stress, it can be especially detrimental to students with anxiety disorders. In a time of Zoom classes, which Capella states “have created such a monotone experience for everyone,” professors must make efforts to adjust their teaching to benefit anxious students. By making this effort, close-knit relationships  and a less tense classroom environment will be created. Specifically, teachers can space out assignments, rather than having one busy week, followed by a non busy week. Sofia Lind, LSOEHD ‘24 states “I feel like there’s always anxiety- some weeks because you don’t feel like you have enough time to get everything done and some weeks because you don’t have much to do and you’re worried that you’re not doing enough.” Sofia proceeds to discuss a technique adopted by many of her teachers—instituting Zoom breaks. The breaks are usually 5 minutes in length and provide students with time to stretch their legs or grab something to eat. 

While both Zoom breaks and a better spacing out of assignments are effective in reducing stress, the overwhelming factor which causes stress among BC students is the excessive workload. Though students signed up for the “work hard” atmosphere upon handing in their deposits after admission, professors instituting exams and tests due the day after one of the few breaks this school year has resulted in spending rest days working. One student, MCAS ‘24, speaks about how a professor assigned a test the Thursday after “Spring Break,” and had an essay due the Tuesday after Easter. This student states her professor told her class, “I'm expecting you to work on the essay over Easter, it is due Tuesday.” Professors taking advantage of the few times designated for rest contributes to feelings of anxiety across campus. COVID should be a time with increased mental health resource availability. However, due to the small number of breaks and excessive workload, students believe there has been an increase in work, and therefore more anxiety. The BC administration and professors alike should take students’ heightened anxiety and burnout into effect when planning the course of this semester—especially since this year, students’ mental health has suffered immensely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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My entire personality is being from Buffalo, NY. I like to think I'm a Buffalo Bills major but here at BC I’m studying Applied Psychology and Human Development with a minor in Marketing. WHEW that’s a mouthful. Iced Tea enthusiast. go bills 🙂

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Crossword puzzle and Wordle expert, lover of White Mountain death by chocolate ice cream, and the best prankster you will ever meet.