Author: Tarannum Rehal
Interview with Deepika Gidda (3rd Year Nursing student in the George Brown College Collaborative Nursing Program with Ryerson University)
Whether you are attending school in person or online this upcoming academic year, it is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic, which still persists, has had a great toll on our mental health. Although studying at home is convenient in terms of saving commute time, it is less than ideal as it limits the necessary physical and social interaction with peers. Similarly, those attending school in person during this pandemic are also more likely focused on keeping themselves safe compared to paying attention to lectures and activities. Despite safety protocols and modified curricula to suit online or in-person learning, several studies and articles have noted that students feel higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and an elevated feeling of being burned out compared to before the pandemic. These factors have proportionately led to an increase in requests for accommodations, and an overall lack of interest and engagement in school-related activities (Jalauddin, 2021).
However, as we prepare for back-to-school, it is important to remain optimistic and aim to make this school year better than the last. In my interview with Deepika Gidda, a 3rd year nursing student in the George Brown College Collaborative Nursing Program at Ryerson University, we discussed the importance of students’ mental health, how we manage to cope with burnout, and tips for avoiding feeling burned out as we head fresh into a new school year.
What is burnout and how do you recognize it? Burnout is a relatively common feeling among children and adults, typically associated with ongoing school or work stress where one gets negligible time to relax. While stress is also a positive thing as it helps to keep us focused and motivated, it can become negative when the work and associated stress is nonstop, back and forth with no breaks or time to recharge between completing tasks (Walters Wright, n.d.). The most common signs of burnout include feeling a lack of accomplishment, dissatisfaction with the work that you have done (regardless of how much time and effort you actually put into it), feeling disconnected from oneself and usual activities, and feeling constantly overwhelmed with the amount of work to do and finding it hard to focus on one task at a time. While burnout is not a medical diagnosis on its own, it can be linked to depression and other certain mental disorders that can be connected and understood through actual diagnosis (Mayo Clinic, 2021).
Question 1: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your academics? Do you find it harder to concentrate at home (online) compared to in-person?
Deepika: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected my academics in many ways. Being a nursing student, I believe that you need more hands-on experience for a better understanding of a nurse’s role and duties, which unfortunately is not obtained through online lectures and online labs. Considering the nature of my program, we do have some in-person tutorials and practicals which do allow for the necessary hands-on experience but the same is not provided for every academic program. Especially for students in STEM fields, the experience is gained by actually conducting experiments themselves and familiarizing themselves with the equipment and substances instead of just watching online videos and tutorials of someone else performing those experiments.
Question 2: Do you think you feel burnout more easily/frequently while studying during the pandemic than you did maybe before the pandemic?
Deepika: Yes, I definitely feel less motivated studying online. While I am saving time on commuting and I am able to study at my own pace, for the most part, I find it easier to get distracted since I am studying in the same environment the whole time; the change of scenery that was there in person is missing at home.
Same with me! Change of scenery is so essential to me because it makes me feel more productive. I have compared studying before the pandemic to studying during the pandemic, and especially with commuting to and from school, I feel like I end up getting more done in my day because I know that a good chunk of my time is going to be taken up by taking the train or subway so I utilize my time wisely for studying. In contrast, when studying at home, subconsciously I already know that since I’m not traveling out of my house for much, I can go at my own pace and take my time with what I need to do. But then I feel guilty for taking breaks or taking my time and that leads me to feel burnout.
Question 3: How do you manage or cope with your school stress? What tips or recommendations do you have to cope with, or even avoid feeling burnout?
Deepika: I enjoy listening to audiobooks! And one of the most effective ways for me to avoid feeling burnout is by reminding myself that it is okay to take a break and recharge before I work on a new assignment. Many people feel guilty for taking breaks because they think that this is time that they could be using to be productive, but that feeling is exactly what leads to burnout. With that thinking, you take on more than you actually can and then when you feel tired, which is normal after working constantly, even though you’ve arguably worked a lot, you just end up feeling not accomplished enough and disappointed in yourself. So literally remind yourself that it is okay to take a break. Make an agenda, set a schedule for your day and aim to get a reasonable chunk of it done.
Agendas, planners, and lists are my ideal way of managing school or work stress because I have everything I need to get done with its respective due date written in front of me. I make my planners weekly and assign certain tasks for certain days; as I complete them, I cross them off my agenda, and the satisfaction of crossing off items from my agenda is what motivates me to stay focused and get my tasks done to the best of my ability in a timely fashion! While I do sometimes get distracted when studying at home, my agenda helps me manage my time as I associate a certain amount of time to certain tasks. For example, study math from 12-2 then take a 30-minute break in which I’ll eat a quick snack or catch up on social media. Over time, it definitely is a method that has helped me manage my time better and avoid burnout, and it’s definitely something I recommend everyone does to help compartmentalize their tasks.
As we begin a new academic year, approach this new year with an optimistic attitude to garner healthy study habits to help you stay on top of your game! You’ve got this!
Thank you, Deepika for taking the time to be a part of this important discussion, especially during this time of year, with me!