The consequences of change: Learning to cope with and appreciate pandemic-induced change

It’s okay to have changed during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Lauren Hough.

LAUREN HOUGH | OPINION COLUMNIST | lhough@butler.edu

Let’s get right to the point 

The past 12 months have been absolutely brutal for most college students. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are feeling lost, numb or disoriented. The sudden, dramatic changes in our world have completely altered how our day-to-day lives are conducted.

Like many students, the past 12 months have brought me identity crises, increased anxiety and a lack of motivation. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made it easy to focus on the negative, there have also been many positives to come from this year. I made a dramatic career-path change, gained new hobbies and learned the value of self-reflection. But these accomplishments have been overshadowed by the overwhelming amount of scary unpredictable change.

Here’s the thing: change should be embraced and celebrated, so why aren’t we doing that?

I have taken the liberty of analyzing common facets of student life that have changed during the pandemic. It is my hope that this analysis will inspire you to appreciate what we may refer to as “negative” changes made to your physical, mental, social and academic life over the past year. 

Academic Changes

Since the pandemic started, have you experienced a lack of motivation in regards to your studies, feelings of disinterest towards topics that used to interest you or a sudden drop in your usually-high letter grades?

Yeah? Me too.

Changes in our academic environment caused by the pandemic are bound to alter how we absorb and react to the information we’re learning. You aren’t used to learning through a Zoom call, breathing through a mask during class, or sitting 6 feet away from every peer in your classroom. The collaborative, interactive education we are used to cannot exist in the presence of a pandemic — so it’s okay that you feel differently about your academics. Not to mention, a lack of spring break is bound to lead to burnout.

 First-year marketing major Elle Fleenor is feeling the effects of a pandemic-altered semester.  

“It’s so hard to keep my GPA when there’s no fall break, no spring break, stuff like that,” Fleenor said. “I am a very visual learner and a lot of my classes that are on Zoom are very much teachers talking and not a lot of visuals.”

Until classrooms can return to their normal state, it’s important that you cut yourself some slack — you’re processing a lot! As finals are approaching, try finding new places to study, schedule time for breaks and seriously, get out of your room.

Social Changes

Over the past 12 months, have you found yourself longing for social interaction, but getting worn out shortly after socialization starts?

Morgan Kohler, a senior elementary education major, is usually a very social, extroverted person. But over the course of the pandemic, Kohler has noticed a change:

“I am normally a really outgoing person, but I think in the last few months I’ve really transferred into a homebody,” Kohler said. “My energy sources kind of changed; I do miss people interaction, but I don’t need people interaction all the time now.”

Difficulty meeting new people, being scared to socialize and a lack of social events have become the new norm over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increased anxiety of leaving the safety of your home is naturally going to drain your social battery faster than normal. 

Grace Johnson, a junior psychology and sociology double major, is researching for her senior honors thesis on psychosocial adaptations to COVID-19. Part of her research includes information about social identities as a coping mechanism after natural disasters.

“A lot of people usually cope with resilience and social identity,” Johnson said. “The social identity you can create after a disaster usually relates back to your own individual senses of agency and autonomy… [The disaster] can potentially destroy your identity as well.”

Johnson goes on to say how either the identity you have intact, or a reshaping of your identity is used as a coping mechanism. She observes that many students seem to be adapting their social identity to current times because the pandemic has turned into a prolonged state.

Suddenly, extroverted individuals are being forced to distance themselves from others and introverted people are pushed deeper into a sense of isolation. The pandemic has seemingly destroyed many social identities. It is perfectly okay to have a drained social battery; like I said before, you’re processing a lot and the world is scary right now.

Until the fear of sickness or punishment from socializing during the pandemic is gone, make time in your schedule for small doses of socialization — whether that be eating dinner with a new friend, ranting to your roommate, or FaceTiming friends and family back home while you walk around Holcomb. When you begin to feel drained, it’s okay to give yourself time to recharge!

Physical Changes

Before I even start this section, keep this in mind: your body got you through a global pandemic. What more needs to be said? If you’ve gained a few pounds, eaten a little more or lost some muscle you were proud of, so what? You survived a pandemic.

Don’t talk down on your body if it’s done nothing but protect you during this scary time. Instead, try to drink a little extra water, take the long way to class or get a few extra hours of sleep. Maybe find fun ways to move your body: play spikeball, do some yoga or — like my roommate and I — hop on the hula-hooping TikTok trend.

Thank your body by treating it well, but most importantly, don’t look down on the changes it has gone through over the past year — it, like you, has been through a lot. 

Mental Changes

Perhaps the most substantial change college students have experienced is a collective decline in mental health. Johnson noticed changes in her own mental state as the pandemic progressed.

“The first thing I noticed was a feeling of being numb,” Johnson said.

All of the changes I mentioned above have a huge impact on your mental health. During these unprecedented times — with an unknown timeline at that — it is rational to feel a heightened sense of anxiety, depression and loneliness. 

According to a study conducted by the CDC, between January and June of 2019 — before the pandemic hit  —  symptoms of anxiety disorder or depression disorder were present in 11% of adults over the age of 18. As of January 2021, that statistic has raised above 40%. 

While increased levels of anxiety and depression can be anticipated in our current world of unknowns, you can take this opportunity to learn about mental health, analyze what aspects of your life impact your mental health the most and learn coping mechanisms that may help you and your loved ones in the future.

Learn to accept change and appreciate what it teaches you

Understand that it is okay to seek out help, whether that be from friends and family or professionals. There is no shame in noticing changes in your mental or physical state. More importantly, there’s no shame in wanting to understand why those changes have happened or how to help yourself cope with them.

Use the “negative” changes you have noticed in yourself as a lesson — they will help you learn how to analyze, cope and approach change with an open mindset.  All of the challenges and changes college students have faced over the course of the pandemic will shape a generation of mentally strong, perseverant individuals with experiences unlike any other. Be excited that you get to be part of that generation. 

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