The Pandemic’s Invisible Symptom

Managing Rising Student Stress and Anxiety

Riley Maynard , Staff Writer

If you have found yourself suffering from lack of sleep, constant feeling of fatigue, agitation, anxiety, procrastination, or feeling overwhelmed, you may be experiencing symptoms of a less talked about effect of coronavirus and its impact on our mental health. The mental tolls of the pandemic can be seen at nation, state, and even the school level.

School Psychologist Mrs. Molly Fraleigh said although the caseload for herself and other counselors has not seen a dramatic increase, it does look very different. 

“Not necessarily more, you’re looking at different issues. There’s less of the social stuff that we might see, less of the conflicts and peer pressure issues, and more along the lines of anxiety, and a sense of feeling out of place,” said Fraleigh. 

On a national level, the CDC reported in August that “during June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes. ” This same CDC study found that of all participants surveyed the rate of suicide ideation was more than double at 25.5% for those 18-24.

The effect of this increase in adverse mental health conditions can even be seen in our local community. Elliot hospital has reported the necessity to increase the number of beds in the psychological care unit. In a WMUR interview, Tate Curti of the Elliot Health System reported, “ This is really in response to community need. We’re seeing an increase in severe and persistent mental illness, and oftentimes, patients will be referred to us, either directly to the facility or through the Emergency Department.” 

In terms of how the pandemic and the resulting changes are affecting our mental health, Fraleigh believes “there’s a lot of changes that have had to happen because of the pandemic that are difficult for people to adjust to. There’s trying to get used to a hybrid schedule, motivate while working at home, fear and concern about the illness and those who are at risk. There’s a lot of different factors but I definitely think the pandemic changes a whole lot about our world and we’re having to change the way we react to things because of it.”

Some other ways the pandemic has affected the student body can be examined through the model of Maslow’s hierarchy, a model most students who have taken health, biology, or psychology will know or understand. Maslow’s hierarchy layers physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and self actualization as tiers in a pyramid. Each tier requires the one below it to be met or fulfilled before one can move onto the next tier. This means that if you are struggling to find your next meal to fulfill your physiological needs, there will be difficulty maintaining social interactions to fulfill a need for love and belonging. 

For example, many larger event closures such as cancelled sports seasons, family vacations, as well as difficulty with new hybrid schools have taken away potential for self actualization and self esteem. The needs for love and belonging being threatened as social interactions with friends and family are strictly limited due to the dramatic increase in cases nationwide, changing holiday traditions for many. Safety and security in the student body changes with the risk of contracting Covid-19 or exposing family members in choice between hybrid or remote as well as how to uphold social distancing in social circles. Students’ potential have been pushed back to tiers one and two, as these other tiers are threatened from fulfillment due to the changing nature of social interactions, safety concerns, and the widespread cancellation of events. 

In these changing times, it can be difficult to find a way to stay on top of the seemingly endless stream of assignments coming the way of students. Stress can come from all sides, a changing job market creating serious economic turmoil, safety concerns in remote and hybrid educations, as well as how to manage exposure risks while still finding ways to interact with friends. There is no doubt that students across the country are seeing increased levels of stress and anxiety as they adapt to the new way of learning and way of life they have been thrust into. 

Fraleigh explained a variety of ways to manage this anxiety both progressively, reactively, and calming techniques. 

“A lot of the work I do is how to manage stress. Anxiety, depression, all of these mental health issues are really how we are responding to different stressors in our lives. With someone who has a diagnosis of  anxiety of depression it becomes more difficult, there’s something going on in their head that makes it more difficult,” said Fraleigh.

 She continued by discussing proactive ways to manage stress. 

“Some proactive ways we’re managing stress in our lives might be how are you planning and organizing your time  to make sure you can get everything done you need to get done, or taking care of yourself physically so you don’t feel crappy and have a hard day because of it,” said Fraleigh.“Getting enough sleep, eating well, doing that feel good for you, exercise even if it’s just a quick walk.”

Some reactive measures to combat stress are where Fraleigh said “distractor” stress management techniques fit. 

“When you’re thinking about distracting yourself sometimes there are things in your world you can’t change. Sometimes the best you can do is do something to make yourself feel better in the moment and move through it. It might be doing something you enjoy, drawing, writing, playing a video game, talking to friends, taking a walk, and taking care of a pet,” said Fraleigh.

Combatting stress before it happens and managing stress can often be difficult, but there are other ways to manage that stress in the moment that don’t include proactive or destructive techniques. 

“There’s also the ways you can help to calm yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed. That looks more into the mindfulness realm. Some deep breathing techniques you can use, there’s some positive thinking meditation work that can be really helpful to center yourself and make yourself as present as possible and take away some of that worrying about the future,” said Fraleigh about calming techniques to help combat feelings of strong stress when it feels too much. A quick Google search on stress breathing techniques reveals more about specific techniques including belly breathing, roll breathing, and more. 

When students are feeling overwhelmed by these emotions and as though it is becoming too much, it is important to reach out for help. Fraleigh described herself and others in the counseling department as “compulsive email checkers.” Students should reach out to school counselors regardless if they are remote or not. If students are feeling inundated during this ever changing environment, counselors are providing guidance and assistance for those who need it.  

At times when things are difficult, help from a professional is always the best idea. 

“During this time when there’s a lot out of control, think about things you can control,” said Fraleigh.