Health and Wellness During the Pandemic
By Oni Boulware
On the last day of school, I was asked by my teacher to reflect on how each of us had felt this past year. The following emotions flooded into my mind without any filter: lethargic, inconvenient, isolated, stressful, and distraught.
Lethargic. I am an athlete. Prior to the pandemic, I had soccer practice several times a week. On most weekends, I played in games and tournaments in Las Vegas and California. Because of the pandemic, all school and extracurricular sports were suspended. In the absence of regular physical activity, I became lethargic. Throughout the year, I experienced daily periods of lethargy during the pandemic- more than I had before. Throughout the day I felt really unmotivated to do simple tasks, as well as harder tasks like homework. I was reluctant to sit down and pay attention in class. I was unable to focus as long as I could previously, as my lack of energy resulted in a shorter attention span. I found it difficult to enjoy things that I previously enjoyed, and everything felt like a chore. It turns out that I was not alone. One study found that children became “less physically active and more sedentary” after the pandemic started. And older kids (like me!) exercised less than younger kids. Researchers suggested that being less active and more sedentary could “lead to declines in mental health, declines in attention span and increases in sleep disruption.”
Inconvenient. When the pandemic started, I was at a high point in my life: I had pretty good grades, I was at the top of my game in soccer, I had just gotten into my desired high school, and I was happy with my friendships. The start of the pandemic resulted in a halt in all the things I knew and loved. My creative outlets and things that brought me great happiness were no longer accessible. Throughout the pandemic, I was forced to adapt and find alternatives. It was especially hard to find the motivation to maintain my grades, as well as my relationships. It turns out that I was not alone. Many school districts “have reported the number of students failing classes has risen by as many as two or three times — with English language learners and disabled and disadvantaged students suffering the most.” Distance learning was hard and inconvenient for students, teachers, and parents.
Isolated. As the pandemic progressed, my feelings of isolation only intensified. Even though it was a global pandemic, it felt as if I was all alone in the experience. Many of my relationships were strained and it became much more difficult to maintain them. Often, I had to go out of my way to connect with people, which was much harder to do, especially at a new school where I did not know many people. This resulted in many lost connections and friendships. As someone who has always been surrounded by people, the lack of physical interaction was definitely one of the hardest parts of the pandemic. I felt restricted and iced out. I was reluctant to reach out to even my closest friends because I hadn’t even talked to some of them in months. Many studies confirmed my own feeling: feelings of loneliness, especially among youth, increased during the pandemic.” In her article, Young Adults Hardest Hit by Loneliness, Colleen Walsh writes that students doing online school “can feel disconnected from important social groups or communities.”
Stressful. When online school started, I felt a lot like Sisyphus- pushing a heavy boulder of responsibilities up an endless mountain. I was constantly worried about my grades, upcoming tests and projects, missing assignments; it felt like I couldn’t catch a break. I felt an immense amount of pressure to do well even though we were in a completely new learning environment. My constant state of worry prevented me from being able to fully enjoy certain activities and experiences. But again, I wasn’t alone. In 2020, the Mental Health in America report found that Nevada ranked #51 (last) in mental health outcomes for youth. This means that youth in Nevada “have higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care” than youth in other states. In August 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study and found that 63 percent of young adults (ages 16-24) reported having an anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic.
Distraught. My life shattered in a million pieces and throughout the year I had to figure out how to put the puzzle pieces together again. My school and extracurricular schedules were thrown off and I was often functioning on low sleep. This affected my overall performance and energy levels. I was taking naps in the middle of the day and sometimes I would fall asleep just minutes before the sun started to peer through my window. Kathy Sexton-Radek wrote: “Young adults (13 – 30 years) are a vulnerable population given their developmental level of skills to manage psychological/emotional/social challenges. […] Thus, the greatest impact on sleep to young adults reflects the magnitude of change in their daily routine. The sleep cycle survey reported 50% of young adult respondents experienced difficulty falling asleep […]. Collectively this group reported feeling more anxious (47.6%) and more depressed (34.8%) than before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.” And one study said that sleep disorders are more common for girls than boys.
But not everything was gloom and doom. There were some silver linings that I encountered. I got closer to my family. Given that we were forced to be around each other all the time, we had no choice but to learn how to communicate better. And given that I wasn’t spending all of my time on soccer, I had more time to volunteer and help my community. It turns out that I wasn’t alone. One study found that the pandemic had resulted in “increased volunteering among young people.” “Volunteering rates among the under 30s have risen in the last three months from 30% to 40%.”
I am looking forward to returning to school in August. I hope that at the end of next year, the words I use to describe my emotions are energetic, connected, happy, and inspired!
Oni Boulware is a 10th grader at Rancho High School in Clark County School District. She plays soccer.