Mental Health and Online School

Mental Health and Online School

Nina Dorighi, Journalist

The ACLU survey asked students to grade their mental wellness before and after schools closed, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 indicating top mental health. Before the pandemic, 65% of students gave themselves a 7 or higher. After the pandemic, that percentage had dropped to less than 40% states EdSource. The pandemic has affected everyone of us, our education being the main aspect we have in common. This big switch to online learning has left us with a lot of adapting to do. Students all over have to relearn how to learn in this remote setting, and a lot of the time, it’s causing stress. Though it is difficult to maintain positive mental health during this time of increased screen time and heavy workloads, there are ways to help with stress and improve your mental health in ways that are effective to you. 

With the new move to online school, it is inevitable that students will be spending much more time on screens. While this is the only option right now given the world’s current circumstances, this change is potentially detrimental to students’ mental health. We are no longer switching from class to class, participating in in-class activities and collaborating with peers. Instead our days consist of switching from tab to tab and seeing our classmates as a small icon while we spend our time sitting on the computer. This shift leaves students feeling stressed, overwhelmed and isolated. Sophomore Kali Mick says the most challenging part for her is,” the workload”, explaining that, “ Some teachers have been panicking about timing and assign tons of homework to do in a short period of time as well as covering material very quickly and giving tests more often, so it’s been hard to keep up with the work. “ With online school we lose all the positive aspects of school like socializing and collaboration but keep the difficult aspects. It is a difficult feat to translate the in person content we were used to to the online format we see now.

 A lot of students feel it is more challenging to understand that content than it would be normally. With the new adjustment comes trial and error from teachers and students trying to figure out what is the most effective way to teach and learn. It’s a new phenomenon for everyone, but can be stressful trying to adapt. Caroline Turner says “It’s been isolating”  adding on that she’s “ been a lot more anxious being on the computer for an extended amount of time. All day you’re online looking at the screen then two hours for homework.”  This added amount of screentime makes it easy to get in a slump of staying indoors, getting stressed about workloads and not being able to socialize with others. “ The increased screen time can leave less time for movement breaks, making it harder to concentrate, and we may miss out on the in-person human connection which many of us need to feel whole and healthy. “ says South High school psychologist Mr. Stricker. The whole event brings on a new level of independence for students not only because of the school work itself, with time management and trying to understand the content, but also the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. In other words, a big part of this adjustment is learning ways that work for us to make it easier and figure out how we take care of ourselves through this time, trying to manage our stress, feelings and health. 

While this is a difficult  time there are numerous ways to manage our mental health. One of the most important things you can do is address how you are feeling. It’s okay to feel stressed or overwhelmed and trying to suppress those feelings won’t help. A New York Times article on managing stress in Teens explains, “You have been raised in a culture that is unnecessarily fearful of unpleasant emotions and which may have given you the impression that emotional distress invariably signals fragile mental health. This is not true. “  In order to deal with those unpleasant emotions, you must address them against the notion that they are not warranted. The article suggests that you ” Allow yourself time to be upset. Then try to direct the bulk of your energy toward that which you can control.” says Lisa Damour. There is so much happening in the world right now that you can not control. It’s easy to be overwhelmed, but reflecting on what you can directly affect makes everything seem or attainable and grounded. Another aspect of addressing how you feel is to make sure you have empathy for yourself. Mr. Stricker says,”  Don’t fight what you are feeling…it’s ok! Sometimes we just feel bad, but we make it worse by telling ourselves ‘ I shouldn’t feel this way’  and ‘ I need to just get over it.” It’s important to not be too hard on yourself during this time and recognize that if you are trying your best, that’s all you can do. There are multiple support systems in place in the south community to help if you are struggling. There are tutoring hours for every class and teachers have office hours as well as counselors and mental health professionals who want to help you. 

There are many things to do to try to help with this time. When Mr.Botnick was asked about ways to help yourself he gave 8 tips. The first tip is to value yourself, giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, addressing your health and doing things that make you happy away from the computer. Things like hobbies and sports are a great outlet away from the computer. For sophomore Connor Skeeters,” cross country helps.”  The second tip is to take care of yourself physically. Make sure you are eating well, getting enough sleep and getting away from your computer to move around. Tip 3 is to surround yourself with good people. It’s a very isolating time so it’s important that you are making an effort to be around those who support you and are good for you. Kali Mick, for example, leaves herself time to herself and to spend time with friends. It’s very easy to self isolate, so make sure you’re checking up on your friends and spending time with your family because we are all in this together. Next, learn how to deal with stress. Botnick says,” Practice good coping skills, take a nature walk, play with your pet or try journal writing as a stress reducer. Also, remember to smile and see the humor in life. Research shows that laughter can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body and reduce stress.”  It’s a stressful time and it’s easy to get in your head about things. Tip 5 says you should quiet your mind, allowing yourself time to think is good, however when it gets overwhelming and is inducing stress, it’s time to take a break. Breathing exercises and meditation can be very helpful. One of the most important tips is number 6: set realistic goals. This relates to valuing yourself and being kind to yourself, but you are expecting too much from yourself or others, it’s easy to be let down. “ Aim high, but be realistic and don’t over-schedule. You’ll enjoy a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-worth as you progress toward your goal.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your teachers” says Botnick. Tip 7 says to break up your routine. While a routine is good for consistency, it’s easy to get stuck in a loop of the same things day after day. Days blend together at home, so choosing different ways to change it up helps. Try a new recipe, go exercise in a new place- just try to create distinction. Last but not least tip number eight is to ask for help. ”If things aren’t getting any better, talk to your family, friends, teachers, counselors, or mental health professionals. We have a lot of support available. Seek it out!”  explains Mr. Sticker. These 8 tips are just suggestions to help you get through this time, but are important to keep in mind if you are struggling. 

It is an overwhelming time to be a student right now. Crossing global pandemic off the checklist was never anyone’s plan, however it is essential to prioritize yourself during these times. It’s difficult to continue with school and life with new routines so being able to recognize when you feel bad and be able to act on those feelings in a way that makes sense for you is the best skill to have. Students all over are dealing with negative impacts to their mental health due to the increased screen time and overwhelming circumstances. It’s important to figure out what helps you when dealing with these feelings and make an effort to help yourself get through these times. The most important thing to note is that everyone is different so you should participate in things that help you and make yourself feel valid!