Online Learning and Mental Health
Written by Sophia Smith // Illustrated by Devin Benko
After the COVID-19 pandemic became a dark reality for students, the inevitable switch to virtual learning came with a toll on their mental health.
Last March, students were thrown into something that none of them had experienced before — shutdowns, closings, new rules and regulations — all within mere weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the United States. They went from thriving on campuses to moving out and heading back home within hours.
No one was expecting to make the switch from what was considered traditional styles of learning to fully remote online learning.
While students have begun to acclimate themselves to the new routines that come with going remote, one cannot help but question how this massive change has affected the students themselves. The pandemic has pushed everyone away from social interactions and onto their computers, putting pressure on the mental health of these young adults.
So how does being online and remote take a toll on the minds of students? Are the screens and lack of social interaction that big of a difference in the overall well-being of individuals?
Remote — or distance — learning has been linked to an increase in stress and anxiety levels of students. In a survey by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, 32 percent of students said that their mental health needs have risen since COVID-19 closures began. The loss of structure and routine is a contributing factor to this. People thrive on routines and feeling like they are in control of situations in their daily lives. The switch to remote learning has thrown this completely out of balance, resulting in the added stress of trying to develop new personal routines as well as staying on top of school work.
Not only have students lost their feeling of control while learning remotely, but they have also begun to lose their sense of belonging in some cases. University is community — friends, family and social interaction is a major part of attending higher education. The notion of no longer belonging or suddenly having an overwhelming sense of loneliness can lead to a plethora of other issues.
"Remote — or distance — learning has been linked to an increase in stress and anxiety levels of students."
A loss of routine, an overwhelming sense of loneliness — but what about the hours that students all spend on electronic screens now? As the technology industry has boomed over the years, more studies have come out investigating the correlation between screen time and depression and anxiety. The correlation is direct: those who spend more time on computers, tablets and phones are more likely to develop symptoms of depression and anxiety.
What exactly does this mean for students during this time? Acknowledging the fact that, due to remote learning, students are more susceptible to experiencing a decline in their overall mental well-being is the first step. The next is to avoid falling into bad habits or prolonged periods of negative emotions. Students can do this by checking in on their own well-being as well as that of those who are close to them. Encouraging self check-ins, as well as check-ins with friends and family who may also be learning or working remotely, is just one easy way to practice self-compassion and look out for the health of others.
If you are checking in with yourself and you notice that you are beginning to feel unusual or are recognizing a decline in your mental health, here are some ways that you can combat these feelings and get back on top of things.
Taking a step back from class work and other tasks to take a deep breath and to grab a glass of water can ease so much stress. Sitting in front of a computer or at a desk for too long takes a toll on your mind and body. Be sure to give it the love it needs by taking small breaks between studying and work and resting when your body needs it.
Simply going outside, while it may seem a bit foolish and simple, can be extremely beneficial for both our physical and mental health. Being outdoors can combat numerous health issues. Getting that breath of fresh air can clear your head while also clearing your lungs, lowering your blood pressure and heart rate, and even reducing anxiety and stress.
Make sure your workspace, whether it be a desk or table in your home, is clean and stays organized. Having an organized workspace can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Using desktop canisters for organization of pens, pencils and everything in between is a great way to get your things neat and tucked away.
Get the blood flowing! Working out and staying fit is so crucial to the well-being of your body. When someone mentions working out, everyone pictures a hard workout at the gym, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Exercising can be as simple as going for a walk, biking in the park, or skating to class. Physical activities stimulate endorphins, dopamine and serotonin within the brain. These chemicals are important in regulating mood. Regular exercising has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep and ward off symptoms of anxiety — all of which can be helpful as we deal with remote learning.
Meet up with friends!
Sometimes all you need is a little social interaction to boost your spirits. Getting together with your friends is a perfect way to break out of an online learning rut. Even if it's just a short walk or a small, socially distant picnic, having social interaction with those you care about is great for clearing the head and reducing stress.
While all of these are great examples of ways to combat a mental health decline, if symptoms persist, seek help from a professional. You can look for options near you that cater to your individual circumstances or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Cleveland State offers services for mental health therapy at the Counseling Center, both in-person in Berkman Hall and online.
While you’re busy busting out classwork and trying to balance everything that life may throw at you, remember to check in on yourself. We’re living in a time of high stress, so giving your mind the extra attention it needs to perform at its best each day is crucial. Practicing self-compassion and giving your body what it requires should be prioritized just as much as that assignment due at 11:59.