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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

College and COVID-19: dealing with stress in unprecedented circumstances

College is notoriously stressful. Heavy workloads, excessive tuition costs, and new social challenges are only some of the troubles that plague college students. With the recent emergence of COVID-19, college students are experiencing more stress than ever before. As a student myself, I deal with a lot of stress. Between my job, school, participating in extracurricular activities, and trying to spend time with my friends, I spend a lot of time feeling overworked and overwhelmed. I wanted to know how some of my friends were dealing with their own stressors, so I reached out to a few of them to ask them some questions about the difficulties they’ve been experiencing and how they’ve been coping. 

One of the first people I spoke to was Ashley Pierce, a political science student at UMass Boston. “Coping with online school has been very difficult,” she said, mentioning that online school has led her to struggle with a shorter attention span and less motivation to learn. “It’s really disheartening,” she continued, “because last year at this time, I was really excited to start college and learn the information that I wanted to learn and be really involved in my education. The format of online school doesn’t allow me to truly learn how I hoped.” Ashley cites exercise as her primary stress-relief method. “When I’m stressed, it feels nice to relieve my tension by working out,” she said. She also mentioned that exercise makes her feel better about herself physically, noting that it makes her feel good to know that she’s improving her health, too. 

Ashley isn’t the only one who exercises to relieve tension, either. “I feel so calm afterward,” said one student, “It’s like my school stress is this big knot in my chest, and working out helps me untangle it a little bit.” 

Another student I spoke to also mentioned physical activity as a stress relief method, alongside spending quality time with her family and friends. “I go out to eat with my family,” she said, “And we go on long drives. I take my dog on walks, too.” She noted that it’s important to make an effort to stay connected to the people who are important to you. “I went apple picking with my mom this weekend,” she added, “It felt good to just be outside and spend time with her.”

Other students have chosen to focus on organization and time management as stress reduction methods. “I’ve been using Task Manager for my assignments and planning my days out on a whiteboard,” says one student, mentioning that they also try their best to keep ahead of their assignments by finishing them before the due dates. They also try to break larger projects up into more manageable, less intimidating pieces. 

For many, these stress reduction methods make a lot of sense. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a busy schedule and a heavy workload, especially when the tasks set before you are in disorder. Breaking them down by priority, due date, and difficulty can make them seem a great deal more manageable. Keeping them organized on your schedule ensures that you never miss a deadline. 

Another student who wished to contribute anonymously cited meditation as their main stress outlet. “Sometimes I get so stressed that I literally can’t think straight,” they said, “And I have to tell myself to take a step back from whatever I’m trying to do and just breathe, you know? I have to force myself to relax. I meditate. It was frustrating at first when I was first learning how to do it right, but I’ve gotten good at it, I think. The hardest part is learning how to guide your thoughts and avoid that stress spiral.” 

To me, this makes sense. As someone who has struggled with anxiety problems my whole life, I’ve practiced meditation on more than one occasion. I’ve found that the thoughts that cross your mind when you’re meditating are the thoughts that dwell in your subconscious and stress you out the most. In this way, meditation can be scary. It forces you to be alone with your thoughts, something that many people are uncomfortable with. It’s easy to get caught up in any one of these thoughts and obsess over it, falling into a “stress spiral.”

When done correctly, though, meditation allows you to acknowledge these anxiety-inducing thoughts, consider them for a moment or two, and then let them go. It really is a matter of guiding your thoughts. I’ve also found that practicing meditation can begin to reflect on the rest of your life. After some practice processing your anxieties in a healthy way while you meditate, you begin to do it automatically in your day-to-day life. 

Meditation, outreach, and physical activity are all great ways to deal with stress, but sometimes they don’t feel like quite enough. Some students need more personalized help, and there are options available to these students, too. The Advising Center at UMass Boston is one such option. Staffed by social workers and mental health professionals who are dedicated to providing support to students in need, the Advising Center has made an effort to remain accessible even as many students continue remote classes. Whether you have questions, need

advice, or want to request individual counseling, their services are open to you as a UMass Boston student. 

Overwhelming stress is a feeling that nearly all college students are acutely familiar with. It can be debilitating, even crippling, and it can impact every facet of their lives. In an ideal world, students would be just as familiar with the avenues available to them to manage that stress. As it is, our top priority should be education. Teaching students what resources are available to them and ensuring that they understand how to take advantage of those resources are vital to students’ overall health and success. 

For students who are struggling, the most important thing to remember is that your stress is manageable and that you are not alone in the difficulties you are experiencing. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends, family, UMass Boston faculty, and the other members of your community that are here to support you.