Student burnout and self-care in the age of COVID-19

By Anika Luteijn

I am exhausted. Sure, this is typical of any university student reaching the end of the semester, but I’m certain that I’m not the only one when I say that after this monumentally unprecedented year, I am particularly exhausted. To be honest, I may have actually been mentally and emotionally done with the semester back in October, especially while trying to juggle all of my other commitments outside of school, but anyway, this time the feeling of burnout feels significantly different.

I was just about to finish my second year of studies at the University of Victoria when the COVID-19 pandemic brought life to a standstill in March 2020, and nothing has felt normal since. All of our classes moved online, our friends and family became faces on screens, and trips into the outside world became both terrifying and luxurious. Even though I was excited to return to in-person classes after a year online, the process of re-entering the world during the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the more difficult experiences of my life. I endured multiple panic attacks and even considered deferring a semester so that I could figure out what I needed to do to feel okay again. I decided what I needed was some help, some structure, and to find a way to slowly ease myself back into doing schooling in-person. I achieved this by having half of my classes online, and the other half in-person. I’m happy to say that, with the help of counselling, as well as the support of my family and friends, I’m on my way back to feeling okay again.

This experience has really opened my eyes to how COVID-19 has affected us all in regards to our mental health. Factoring that in with the other major events and worries that have been on our minds throughout this year, such as the increasingly obvious toll that climate change is taking on our world, it’s completely understandable why some students are struggling to focus on their studies. Personally, I have found myself constantly struggling to stay on task with projects and assignments. Every morning, I tell myself that I’ll get so much work done that day and be so productive, but frequently end up losing the fight against the urge to open up YouTube and watch endless Saturday Night Live video compilations to take my mind off things. This has become especially more frequent in the lead up to the end of the semester, as my interest in my courses is waning and the days are getting shorter and colder, all I want to do is ignore my responsibilities and cozy up with a cup of hot chocolate and embrace the Christmas spirit by suffering through some cheesy Hallmark movies with my mom.

What I’m ultimately trying to get at is that it’s OK to not feel OK, and to take a break for a while to get yourself back to feeling better. Everyone is basically in the same boat, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over having difficulties focusing on your studies with everything that is going on in the world. It has been a tough two years, and I’m proud of us for all trying to get through it in the best ways we can. Be gentle with yourself, don’t be afraid to get help if you need it, and remember to treat yourself to a cookie of your preference every once in a while to remind yourself of what a great job you’re doing.