OPINION | Coping with pandemic stress

Jaclyn Olds, a freshman Business major from Kuna, Idaho, sits in her classroom stressing about the pandemic. This can add a lot of extra weight on students going into our second year of a pandemic. Photo illustration by Annie Sorensen.

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We’ve been in a pandemic now for two years, each year seeming worse than the one before. 

There have been times we aren’t sure how things are going to end or if they ever are. It has been stressful for all of us not knowing what will happen each week, holding onto hope that it will get better. 

Stress can tear our worlds apart. We may find ourselves hiding from those we love, not wanting to interact with people the way we normally would. There comes a time we need to realize those reactions aren’t good for us and find better ways to cope. 

When the pandemic first started and school was cancelled, I felt like my life had been taken away from me. I had multiple dance performances canceled, prom, and I never got to perform my senior solo. I wasn’t sure how the year was going to end or what college was going to look like.

As the pandemic continued and I found my new normal, stress was a big part of it. At first, I was scared to go out with my friends, I didn’t want to risk getting myself or my family sick. So, I would make up excuses so I didn’t have to put myself in an uncomfortable position, but that wasn’t healthy. I was isolating myself from loved ones and it was only making things worse.

Once I got over that fear, new ones arose. With each fear and stressor that became a part of my life, I had to adapt and find ways to cope. Some of those coping methods became what I used to be afraid of. Hanging out with my friends or going to get food at a favorite restaurant.

One of the biggest things that has kept me going through these hard times is the people around me, even if I may not get to see them as often as I’d like to. They keep me grounded, just knowing they will be there.

According to the article, Coping with Stress by the CDC, “Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient.” 

We all cope with stress in different ways: starting new hobbies, finding time to get away from our responsibilities for even just a few minutes. Some people turned to gardening and cooking, learning new recipes or how to grow their own food. I turned to my friends, family and work. I didn’t need to see my friends all the time, to avoid risk of the pandemic, but I stayed in contact and made sure we didn’t lose touch.

Staying in contact with friends and family, even if we may not be with them physically, is a great way to feel connected to the world that we may feel disconnected from. Even texting them once a day to see how they’re doing and what they’ve been up to can be a great mental help.

When I’m going through a hard time, talking about it helps me get through it. So, if I’m ever stressed about what the pandemic may mean for school, I’ll turn to my friends and family. They help me understand my stress and how to cope with it. An outsiders point of view can help clarify a lot of things. We can get stuck in our own views and not see any differently.

As the semester begins and we start adding homework into our mix of life, things can get more stressful. Now, we have to try to find time to do homework between work, going to class, and still be involved.

We’ve been doing this for two years now, but sometimes it feels like the beginning. Not knowing if we’d get to go to class, activities or any fun events planned is hard. We went into this semester knowing we may not get to finish it the same way. That kind of stress can hurt how we’re doing in school and in life. If we focus solely on the pandemic or what’s going on with the world, we’ll lose ourselves to it. Don’t cause panic in your life over something that is generally uncontrollable.

I think, at this point in the pandemic, the best thing we can do is focus on where we are now, not where we might end up. By going into this semester expecting the worst, we’re only setting ourselves up for failure. Fear can hinder our success. Times are stressful right now, there’s no changing that fact, but we can work through it and still do our best. Find those methods that work for you, they’ll be different for all of us, but we can all find our own ways of coping that will get us through this semester.  

One of the most important things to remember during these hard times is that any reaction we may have is OK. We all react to things differently and it doesn’t mean you are over or underreacting to something. Some people may not be worried if someone close to them has been exposed to Covid. Others will quarantine themselves. Shaming others for how they react to these types of things isn’t going to help anyone.

According to 13 Ways to Cope With Pandemic Stress and Greif by the Center for Nutrition Studies, “And here is another thing: if you try to shame it away (or allow others to), or pack it away, or numb it away, it will only get worse for you emotionally and physically.” 

They also said that repressing these feelings can make your mind and body sick. We’re dealing with enough sickness these days: we don’t need to make it worse on ourselves. If you feel overwhelmed or anxious, it’s OK to take a step back and breathe. We don’t need to force ourselves to be all right when we’re not; it won’t help our health or wellbeing.

My freshman year was one of the hardest years of school I’ve had so far. It was my first year at a new campus and I barely got to experience anything. I tried not to let it affect me, pushing all my emotions down so that I would feel OK. I didn’t feel like I could confide in anyone about my fears because I thought it would make them more real. In doing that, though, I was only bottling up my negative feelings and I felt worse. Doing this, though, was not good for me. I wasn’t feeling well physically or mentally and didn’t know how to fix it.

Bottling up my emotions was the worst thing I could have done for myself. It was only when I allowed myself to feel the fear and anxiety and be able to talk about it that I started to feel better, more in control of my life. I knew I was scared, but I didn’t let it hold me back anymore. I let it drive me to work harder and go after the year I really wanted.

Accordning to 4 Strategies for coping with pandemic stress by MedlinePlus Magazine, “Just as you need to get enough sleep, you also need mental rest to recharge your body.”

There’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen in the world every day, but one thing we do control ourselves is our lives. Take charge of your life; don’t let the pandemic rule it. Even though we may not be able to do much, we can do enough to keep our minds and bodies healthy. Just remember to do what you need for yourself.