SIP 13.13 Long-term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Students

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Masked students participating in outdoor, socially distanced choir practice.I think we would all agree that this past COVID-19 pandemic year has been most unexpected and pervasively disruptive. Statistics from the Metropolitan State University of Denver Counseling Center from last June 1 to the present indicate that 32.2% of students who reached out for support cited Covid stress as the motivating factor.

The Counseling Center had fewer students seeking services remotely from last June through April, as it typically draws a larger number of walk-ins when on-campus; however, students were seen for longer durations of time. Staffing vacancies further limited the number of available appointments. Of those seen, 14% indicated that they were impacted by at least one of the following issues:

  • Loss of a family member/grief
  • Significant changes post-COVID diagnosis
  • Unemployment
  • Dread
  • Feeling trapped, afraid to have hope or plans
  • A significant change in family life.

Additionally, COVID has catalyzed problems in the following areas:

  • Academics 56.7%
  • Financial 51.2 %
  • Loss of loved one 18.6%
  • Isolation, loneliness 59%
  • Mental-health symptoms 66%
  • Motivation/focus 60%

Take a SIP of this: Long-term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Students

When we are chronically stressed, particularly when there is a cascade of stressors, nervous-system activation and sometimes high emotional intensity can lead to a disconnect between the limbic system (our emotional brain) and our neo-cortex (our cognitive/executive-functioning brain). This perturbation may lead to having difficulty with attention, focus, memory, emotional regulation and circadian regulation.

The loss of structure for academic schedules due to online formatting and asynchronous classes, plus loss of work schedules from establishments closing due to social-distancing mandates has often added to the stress burden, as this has required many of us to create our own structures and routines. This has been challenging for quite a number of our students, regardless of whether they had any prior difficulties in these areas. For those already contending with issues such as ADHD, homelessness, food insecurity and/or myriad other possible stressors, the burden has amplified with greater tendency to overwhelm coping and resilience capacities.

What Faculty Members Can Do to Help

  • Compassion: On a biological level, relational compassion among people in rapport provides the opportunity to co-regulate a person’s nervous system, leading to easing of emotional burden, resolving of the fight-or-flight response and reestablishment of integration between the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain. In essence, when our students are soothed, their brains work better.
  • Flexibility and creative solutions: Offering reasonable flexibility for assignment due dates, revisions and extra credit can be helpful in relieving pressure regarding grades. Leniency regarding internet-carrier issues out of the student’s control – such as poor connection, dropped signals while testing or trying to submit assignments – could help. Responsive communication and collaboration go a long way toward soothing a student’s frazzled nerves.
  • Less is more for students who are trying to juggle many additional constraints during the Covid-19 time. Having numerous small assignments in multiple classes to compensate for the online format has been taxing, especially for our most stressed students. With more energy exerted to function in the new paradigm, the stress results in greater difficulty in remembering and keeping track of multiple assignments.
  • Submitting a CARE team report can facilitate access to case management, emergency funds and coaching regarding administrative policies, as well as referral to mental-health services at the MSU Counseling Center or medical services at the Health Center at Auraria.

Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., presents a wonderful video on YouTube explaining the “Hand Model” that demonstrates what happens when we become overstressed. Siegel delves further into this topic in his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.

The HeartMath Experience can help you activate your humanity and compassion and bring your physical, mental and emotional systems into alignment, all of which will help you to better serve your students.

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