Mental Health and Covid-19: Teachers and Students Battle Chronic Stress
Updated: Feb 11, 2021
With Covid-19 being just over a year old in the United States, no one has opted to throw a birthday party for the much dreaded and despised virus, especially educators and students. Life inside the walls of our schools and colleges has changed drastically for both student and faculty. It is a time of great uncertainty, stress, confusion, and experts do not agree on whether or not the Covid caused changes within schools will be permanent.
At the start of Covid-19, the stay at home order forced all education online. As the new school year began in the fall of 2020, some educational facilities reopened and many students and teachers trickled back brick and mortar buildings hoping the virus was behind us. As new strains appeared, and more and more cases were reported, more learning returned to the online arena. The new normal of, both in-person and at-home-online, hybrid type education was born.
Due to the need for greater social isolation, teachers took on additional responsibilities at home. Acting as both teachers and home-schooling parents of their own children, they juggled their roles while working from home with entire families, who were also home. For some, this has become a difficult transitional adjustment. It’s not easy to be full time at work and home at the same time.
Where is the me-time?
Students and educators have hit speed bumps as they have navigated through the new online academics, experienced technology issues, felt the lack of resources and many times needed what could not arrive fast enough to keep up with all the changes as they moved from an in-person setting to a virtual one. Students and teachers lost the control to choose whether they wanted to teach or learn online or in-person.
Within this realm of less control and work-from-home, both teachers and students have experienced a lack of supplies and resources, feeling less physical and emotional support, but increased loneliness, heavy uncertainty, and growing financial struggles. For the sake of brevity, I won’t continue. There are too many to list.
According to research studies, depression and anxiety have increased among educators and their students since the start of Covid, resulting in withdrawals from school and many teachers changing professions. Reports show that utilizing substitutes for online classes is both challenging and new. Many substitutes are hesitant to expose themselves to the risk factors of entering a physical classroom, therefore, there is a shortage.
Despite what we know about the virus and the need for social distancing, people thrive through interaction and social connection, thus the deprivation of human contact has caused an increase in mental health issues.
Covid has taken many prisoners, forcing people into isolation and removing entire in-person support systems in one sweep.
Loss of human contact within face to face discussions, the void of shared laughter, peer support, lounging outside together with friends, exercise and enjoying hobbies with others, the enjoyment of socializing in groups and dining together has left an emptiness, a great chasm where anxiety and depression now bloom.
We all cope in different ways. Having someone to talk to, lean on, and share coping strategies with is helpful and improves well being.
Healthy coping is always the better choice, yet difficult during unexpected and distressing transitional phases of our lives. Slowing down and examining your needs and options are part of good self-care.
Within the lingering stressors of Covid, it’s important we do not:
· Compartmentalize and ignore our own needs and feelings
· Mask feelings and stress through substances/addictions
· Blame, react to or project our feelings onto others through relational conflict
· Shut down or utilize avoidance strategies
· Procrastinate good self-care
It’s important not to wait until you are in full-scale meltdown to implement self-care. Pushing yourself to multi-task in an attempt to control what you can might seem like the only way to survive, but living in crisis-mode for too long will have serious side-effects:
Living in crisis-mode results in:
· Shutting down
· Health issues (hypertension, fibromyalgia, heart disease, IBS & more)
Acknowledge your stress and give yourself some grace. Our world is upside down right now. Feeling as though you have no control of your surroundings is a scary place to be.
It’s okay to own that.
Ways to cope:
· Get outside every day
· Pace yourself with to-do tasks
· Implement boundaries and learn to say no and ask for help
· Eat healthy
· Reach out to peers, friends, life coach, counselors
· Create goals: short-term, mid-term, long-term
· Be accountable to someone; share your concerns
· Examine values and the inner conflict you might be experiencing; feed your faith
· Utilize local programs and mental health benefits
· Take time for yourself and find a new hobby that fits your new normal
Implementing relaxation strategies will help you relax and find calm.
During these times, it’s difficult for experts to pinpoint when the uncertainties will end or what our new normal will end up being.
For now, trust that you can only do what you can do. Your need to do it all, to be perfect, to perform, is just that, a need. This desire doesn’t have to be the reality that defines you and keeps you in stress-mode.
Maybe it’s time to step back, take a breath, and change direction within the space you’ve been given. If you are managing well, reach out to someone and encourage them. Be an ear.
After all, it is still your life and you do have control of your reactions.
I’d love to hear about ways you are taking care of yourself, adapting to the chaos in a healthy manner, and finding time for self-care.
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Lori C. Helms M.A. LMHC