By Daniel Tihn
For those who haven’t noticed, we are currently in a pandemic. And yes, the pandemic has hit everyone hard as we locked ourselves away, closed the shutters, barred the doors, and hid from the virus but a group that have certainly had a hard time over the past year are students. This obviously isn’t to say that they are the only ones that have been affected, but this article is going to focus on problems that most students have faced and ways to combat our collective slumps that everyone can keep in mind as all of us try to maintain a state of healthy well-being.
A major issue that everyone has faced over the year is the blur between workplace and home. As online schooling has become the new norm, students have been forced to take lectures from their homes and/or bedrooms, which is worse than it actually sounds. Where a normal routine would consist of waking up, getting ready for school, and then getting to class as your day begins, everything simply happens all in a single area, maybe even a single room as some students don’t even change out of their pyjamas. This blending of work and play can have serious consequences.
Where before there was a divide between working and relaxing, there is no longer this physical separation which can lead to one bleeding into another. For example, when returning home after classes a student might do some work at their desk, yet there is still a clear image in their mind of where the school is. Now, school lacks a physical body and is fast becoming associated with whatever preferred conferencing software your school uses. There is no longer that little sigh of relief when returning home after a tough day, instead school is constantly at the back of your mind as what was once a place of relaxation has now become the source of a lot of stress.
This constant stressor can lead into serious levels of demotivation. As many students already struggle to meet assignment deadlines and consistently study for exams, the extra weight is certainly not welcome. Another side effect of the current online schooling system is the major lack of communication. This might be a product of the lack of physical interaction, but more and more students feel that they are in the dark; lost in the mountains of deadlines that are beginning to pile up. The irony is this: the less motivation, the more last-minute work, meaning the more stress there is which reduces motivation even further.
The University, 6th Form, and later secondary years aren’t just formative years of learning but also key moments of social growth. The lack of social interaction isn’t just missing the odd weekend with friends, but also encompasses the simple brief moments in class sitting next to your friends. Currently, most mature students are missing out on the “Uni experience”, something which many graduates look back on fondly, nostalgic moments that are carried beyond youth.
This feeling of missing out can often lead to frustration and anger which isn’t really aimed at anyone but is caused by the situation. With nowhere to place the negative emotion, many students may and have begun to bottle this up, carrying it with them every day as more and more frustration builds up. Although most 6th Form and University students in Malta are attending school without paying fees and receiving stipend, many students who are paying for their education (specifically abroad where many have to take out loans just to attend) have this specific stress increased as they feel cheated, paying for an education and experience that they are not really receiving.
All of this is combined with the normal student levels of stress: worries of the future, financial issues, maintaining grades, balancing relaxation and work, and figuring out oneself. Yet there are ways that help at keeping everything at bay; positive ways that not only help in reducing stress but can also create more positive outlooks.
Establishing a routine is key during a time where all forms of scheduling are a thing of the past. Waking up at regular times (whether you have school or not) and creating a daily timetable are both ways at regulating the day to day, directly attacking the monotonous feeling that each day is turning into a quick series of blurs. Something to keep in mind is that timetables are not just for scheduling work but establishing a routine of relaxation is also very important. Stress relief isn’t something we should simply allow ourselves but is something we need to form a healthy mental state; even if it is simply allotting some time to read before going to sleep, relaxing isn’t a luxury but a necessity.
Another fundamental problem is that of segregating professional from personal, a good solution being to treat school and work simply as that. To avoid mixing the two, dress up for lectures instead of staying in your home wear; the physical change maybe altering the inner perception of the lessons. The same goes for doing the work as finding a separate place to attend classes and do work can go a long way, even if it is simply never attending lessons or writing essays in bed (no matter how warm and comfy it may sound).
Like any other situation, finding catharsis in physical exercise can greatly help your attitude, changing the perspective of the coming day to be more positive. Yet, in a socially starved scenario, finding time to simply talk and call friends who you may not have seen in some time can really help the feeling of isolation. It may not be as amazing as meeting up but finding things to do together online may ease some frustrations that have been building up, especially any centred-on insecurities of losing friends over the lack of communication (a feeling that isn’t helped as students are constantly trying to fit in).
Whatever happens, something to keep in mind is that, although you may feel alone, you are not. Many people are struggling to get out of bed early so staying positive may be an even taller order, so talking to those around you about how you are feeling and creating a safe space to talk to each other about what is going on may help ease the loneliness.
There are many factors at large and although there are ways to help reduce stressors, in turn reducing the risk of falling into a depressive state, speaking to a professional is always the best solution if things begin to feel overwhelming. Some may feel that speaking to someone is going to add to their stress but the aim of professional sessions are to help; to be able to work through these periods of stress and contextualising how you are feeling into a positive view. Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time, and right now we all need a bit of support.
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