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In the thick, humid heat of September, 15-year old Mark Perez sits hunched over on his living room couch, furiously typing away on his school Chromebook. He winces, rubbing the back of his neck to ease the dull ache from sitting in one position for so long. His phone buzzes for the fifth time that evening and he yawns as he picks it up, squinting at the bright screen which read:
‘You have fifteen new course updates from Schoology’.
He sighs heavily and tosses his phone aside, sinking his back down and melting onto the soft foam of his couch.
Since the beginning of quarantine, a constant cycle of stress has become routine for Perez. Countless lives have been turned upside down by covid-19, some of which being high school students trying to juggle school work, social distancing and missed opportunities like prom or graduation.
With the entrance of a new school year, students have been facing various challenges as they adjust to a completely different environment in online school. One of the major hurdles Perez has had difficulty overcoming is staying focused.
“Usually, my house is really noisy,” Perez said. “There’s always some sort of interruption, no matter what time of day it is. When your family’s loud and busy all the time, that’s something you just can’t control. It’s been kind of hard to keep up with schoolwork because of the distractions. I get that I have to get rid of them, but there’s really not much I can do.”
For Perez, it’s been particularly difficult transitioning from an active and engaging setting at school, to the passive and isolating environment of remote learning.
“There are moments where you have to teach yourself a subject because you might not understand the topic,” Perez said. “Say you got lost during class and have no idea what’s going on because the call lags, your wifi goes off, or you get some other weird technological error. When I’m learning from home, it’s so much harder to take in information compared to learning in a classroom.”
The result of these newfound difficulties soon led Perez to lose motivation for nearly everything–his schoolwork, his chores and even his favorite hobbies. He began to spiral into a cycle of procrastination. What was once a minor inconvenience, quickly morphed into a detriment to Perez’s mental health.
“The first few weeks of school were just the worst, I literally couldn’t get out of bed to do anything,” Perez said. “I’d wake up early, get on my laptop, and by the afternoon I’d feel so exhausted. It got to the point where I’d just lie on my bed and scroll through Tiktok for hours until I fell asleep midday. Then I’d be doing assignments at like, three-am, and then the cycle would just repeat. I wasn’t eating properly, I wasn’t sleeping well at all, and I never felt like I was being productive. I did anything to avoid doing work.”
According to Van Nuys High School’s school psychologist Ellen Herndon, a handful of students nowadays have been facing a similar loss of structure in their lives during the pandemic. She says that the most common concerns from students have gradually changed from academic stress to overwhelming feelings of loneliness as well as anxiety about the future.
“Before covid-19 school closures, the most common mental health or emotional problems that students were experiencing was anxiety; anxiety about grades, social issues, and family issues,” Ms. Herndon stated, “Since the school closures, some students continue to experience anxiety, but for different reasons. Now, the sources of anxiety tend to be related to health concerns, lack of social interaction with peers, and general concern about the future and when life will return to normal.”
When considering the mental health of high school students, stress is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Whether it be academic, social or family, stress is one of the most pervasive feelings that constantly plague the minds and bodies of teenagers in today’s world. The constant feeling of exhaustion, headaches and sleep deprivation are some symptoms of stress you’ve probably heard of, or have experienced.
Based on the data from a nationally representative survey about emotional and cognitive health in students during quarantine done by the Center for Promise, a research center for America’s Promise Alliance, more than one in four young people reported an increase in losing sleep because of worry, feeling unhappy or depressed, feeling constantly under strain or experiencing a loss in themselves.
Despite the initially stressful start to the new school year, Perez was able to overcome his struggle with procrastination and lack of focus spurred by the difficulties of online school. A change in mindset and the help of friends brought about a strong determination to get back on track.
“I think what pushed me in the right direction was my friends,” Perez said. “They kinda just told me right off the bat that if I kept setting aside my work, nothing was going to get better for me. It came to a point where I had to accept the fact that online school was going to be the new norm, and that sitting around and doing nothing wasn’t going to make school any less stressful. I started making checklists of things to do and tried doing my work ahead of time and that really helped me feel more productive.”
Perez looked to other ways in relieving the pressure of remote learning rather than just idling.
“Since I’m taking rigorous classes this year, it does make it harder to set aside time to relax, but it’s doable,” Perez said. “I’ve been painting to get rid of the stress. It’s honestly really fun and it helps me forget about school for a bit.”
For Perez, it’s been a challenge trying to stay motivated to do schoolwork after relaxing for a while. For other students like 15-year old Janelle Castro, having some time to unwind actually gives her just the right push to get back into work mode.
“What I usually do to lessen the stress from school is put aside work for some time until I gain my energy back,” Castro said. “For example, if I’m studying, I’ll take short breaks in between and then go back in and start working again. Oftentimes I like to draw and listen to music, which are things I enjoy very much.”
In addition to creating time for hobbies and relaxation, social interaction has also become a great way to relieve stress, especially for those who feel isolated during quarantine. People may feel at a loss with the lack of daily social interaction they used to get in-person at school. 15-year old John Revilla is one of those people. In the midst of the chaos, he found solace in the people around him.
“In order to lessen the stress in quarantine, I’ve been keeping in contact with my friends through Instagram,” Revilla said. “We have our own little group chat where we can just talk about anything. They’ve really helped me during this pandemic, and I can’t imagine what I’d do without them.”
Ms. Herndon encourages students to take care of themselves during quarantine.
“As crazy as everything might be right now, it’s important to take care of yourself mentally, as well as physically,” Ms. Herndon said. “Try taking in deep breaths. Try to do activities you usually enjoy. Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade.”