By Ayanna Cash
Golden sunlight seeps through the cracks of Cade Cook’s blinds, illuminating the dust that dances through the air. The faint but frantic vibrations of his cellphone alarm buzz against his nightstand. It’s nearly 3 p.m. and Cook has accidentally slept through all his lectures for the fourth time since the University of Akron switched to remote learning due to COVID-19.
Dazed and defeated, Cook takes a swig from one of the many half-empty water bottles that litter his night stand, gets up only to turn on his gaming system, and then quickly settles back into bed. The faint hum of the gaming system’s fan whirs as it boots up. This has become a typical day for Cook during quarantine.
Without his traditional routine of attending classes on campus, playing basketball at the recreation center, and grabbing food with his friends at the dining hall, Cook is struggling to get through his day in a way that he barely thought about before quarantine. Typical tasks such as completing assignments on time, eating nutritious meals, maintaining a sleeping schedule, and, on some days, even showering have become difficult.
“Quarantine has drained all my energy,” said Cook, 20, a sophomore education major from Sheffield, Ohio. “Which is weird because I’m not even doing anything.”
Cook is one of many college students trying to cope with quarantine and the transition to remote learning.
According to CNBC, Bryan Alexander, a professor at Georgetown University, estimated that college closures have impacted at least 14 million students. These students now must make the switch to remote learning while being quarantined in their homes — an unprecedented adjustment for millions of students.
Gene Cash has worked in the mental health field for 29 years and is the CEO of Counseling Alliance of Virginia. Cash says a drastic change in routine can be taxing on one’s mental health.
“COVID-19 has pushed a lot of individuals into a ‘new normal or abnormal’ situation,” Cash said in an email interview. “This radical shift can cause individuals to exhaust or maximize their current functioning and coping capabilities — bringing on an increase in suicidal ideations, hopelessness, depression, chemical use and domestic violence.”
Along with being mentally draining, Cash says quarantine can disrupt sleeping schedules, which can have a negative impact mental health.
“[Quarantine] could also challenge one’s biological clock if sleep patterns become out of sync with the real world,” Cash said. “Inadequate sleep only further burdens the psyche.”
Cash says the drastic change of students’ learning environment — from the classroom to the home — can make accomplishing responsibilities, such as school assignments, more difficult.
“Students are trying to complete assignments while dealing with the distractions that come with being in their own home rather than a classroom,” Cash said. “Students now have full and constant access to cellphones, video games and TV. These can distract from school work as well as sleep.”
Cash suggests reducing these distractions as best as possible in order to create an environment that is more suitable to focus in.
“Working from home is a new to a lot of students, and their current home environment is likely not appropriately set up to focus in,” Cash said. “Reducing distracting stimuli is the first step. Turning off the cellphone, changing the lighting, and even closing the blinds to block the view of pedestrians and cars can make the environment more apt to work in.”
Alyssa Tirabassi is a college student at Cleveland State University who is also being negatively impacted by quarantine. Her usual sleeping schedule has changed since quarantine began.
“Pre-quarantine, I always woke up before 9 a.m,” Tirabassi, 21, a junior psychology major from Chesterland, Ohio said. “Now, it’s a good day if I’m out of bed by noon.”
This new sleeping pattern has had an impact on Tirabassi’s academic performance.
“I’ve noticed I’m missing deadlines and doing worse on assignments,” Tirabassi said. “This never used to happen.”
Courtney Kelley has been a professor of psychology since 2006 and has been teaching at Cuyahoga Community College since 2012. To combat the negative effects of quarantine and improve mental health, Kelley suggests communicating with loved ones.
“We are currently living in a time when social-distancing is vital for our health and the health of our community,” Kelley, 38, said in an email interview. “Ironically, as a result of social distancing, many of us may need to feel that social support, even more, to feel connected and less distressed.”
As an alternative to face-to-face interactions, Kelley suggests digital communication. She says the unique qualities of technology are more appropriate for social distancing beyond communicating from a distance.
“Research that has been conducted over the past decade suggests that opportunities to communicate with friends and loved ones through technology can strengthen the quality of those relationships,” Kelley said. “It can definitely help people maintain an emotional connection to loved ones and feel less isolated.”
Back at his Akron apartment, Cook puts on his chunky, neon green gaming headset. He hopes that social distancing ends sooner than later so he can reunite with his friends.
“I hope this is all over soon,” Cook said. “I miss actually being able to see my friends, but, for now, all we can do is talk over Xbox.”