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Opinion: The transition back has been harder than the initial pandemic

I don’t know about you, but last semester kind of sucked.

Many students experienced more stress during the Fall 2021 semester.
Many students experienced more stress during the fall 2021 semester. Photo credit: Weber State University

I mean, I got through with some good grades still, but it was hard. We talked about this fairly often here at The Signpost, how none of us understood why, but it was extremely hard to feel motivated and everything was really stressful. Good mental health was not a highlight. What was going on?

Usually I like fall semesters more than spring semesters, so what was different about this one? Was my class load heavier? Yeah, a bit. Was the senioritis kicking in? Yeah, definitely. Am I burnt out? Probably. But it felt like there was more.

I think a large part of last semester’s stress can be associated with all things COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic, especially the beginning in 2020, and all of the changes it brought were extremely stressful. But what if this transition back has been worse?

Last semester my colleague Marisa Nelson interviewed Aaron Jeffrey, associate director of clinical services at the Counseling and Psychological Services Center, about this apparent increase in student stress.

Jeffrey said a fourth of the center’s clientele during the heat of the pandemic were specifically reaching out for pandemic-related stressors, including isolation, loss of motivation and missed opportunities.

However, the statistics from the return to in-person are interesting. Jeffrey said while not as many people are coming in specifically for pandemic stressors, the stress and severity of stress in the clientele have increased.

Jeffrey said this could be the result of the pandemic’s lasting nature. Most people are equipped to handle acute stress and short-term challenges, but in this instance of chronic stress, people’s coping mechanisms were worn out early on. When we’re burnt out, the things we could normally deal with are suddenly harder.

On top of everything, the pandemic still drags on. Changing infection statistics, new variants, changing policies, mask-off then mask-on again, vaccines and boosters — it’s hard to keep up.

Last semester, my broadcast classmate Kim Kassner interviewed students Elmer Acevedo and Tayden Hilton about how they felt returning to more in-person classes in the fall and how they feel about the spring semester.

Coming back to campus was difficult for students after more than a year online.
Coming back to campus was difficult for students after more than a year online. Photo credit: Weber State University

Acevedo thought it was very fun to be back in-person and to be able to meet people he would not have known otherwise, but Hilton had more reservations.

Hilton said while in-person school has been nice, the format and transition was stressful. Sometimes you have to be online, sometimes in-person, sometimes the classes are hybrid. Or if a classmate gets COVID, you have to be prepared to move online again. The transition has required a lot of flexibility from faculty and students.

In addition to burnout and the required flexibility of the transition, I personally think another big cause of stress this last semester was that pandemic-school was kind of easier!

When everything was switched to online during spring 2020, a lot of my professors deleted assignments and shrunk down project requirements so that we had less work to worry about. Some of this ease remained into the following fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters.

Once we got used to the online and Zoom class formats, another relief was presented: less time in class. My classes that usually followed a Monday, Wednesday, Friday format were instead held only once a week on Zoom and the rest of the work we were able to do almost at our own leisure. My night classes that would normally be held for almost three hours were shrunk down to half that time spent on Zoom, and the rest of the time made available to us for completing assignments at our leisure.

In addition to less time in class, we spent less time commuting to school. Rather than have to wake up early to have enough time to get ready and catch the bus or drive to school, I could instead just roll out of bed five minutes before class and easily join the Zoom call. And if I did have to actually go to campus, I didn’t have to worry about finding a parking spot.

Less time in class or in transit meant more time to take care of our own needs at home.

Sometimes I would even turn off my camera so I could eat lunch or fold laundry during a lecture.

Heck, we could even join school events online without worrying about our social anxiety.

Now that we’re back, our days are filled again with commutes, classes and homework, with less downtime. It’s easy to get burnt out that way.

I know that my experience as a communications major is probably very different from other majors. Not every field of study can be accomplished so easily from home — I can think of some medical students who had a hard time completing clinical requirements during the heat of the stay-home movement — but I think that some of it can still apply.

We were all heavily praised in 2020 and 2021 for continuing and completing school during unprecedented times, but I can’t help but think the transition back has been harder. It’s important for us to acknowledge our struggles and mental health and make time or changes to take care of ourselves and our needs.

But, as Hilton later said, maybe now that we’ve experienced this last fall, we’ll be more prepared for what spring 2022 has in store for us.

Good luck, Wildcats.

Students found workloads more difficult during the fall 2021 semester.
Students found workloads more difficult during the fall 2021 semester.
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