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Opinion: Students should practice self-care to manage remote learning stresses

A return to campus may not be far away, but the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic could delay the university’s plans. While it waits to hear news concerning the status of fall quarter, students should recognize that self-care is more important than productivity. (Liz Ketcham/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Ashley Leung

Feb. 9, 2021 7:02 p.m.

Bruins likely got a breath of fresh air after learning of UCLA’s planned return to in-person classes in the fall.

On Jan. 11, the University of California announced the systemwide plan for UC campuses to transition back to mostly in-person instruction in fall.

Having a set date to look forward to is reassuring, but it doesn’t mean the future will come any faster. While they wait, students will continue slogging through the daily monotony of remote learning.

The pressure to do well in classes is nothing new, but the added challenges of the virtual sphere can leave many burnt out and feeling guilty.

As a result, we as Bruins need to change the discussion around how we deal with this difficult time and be compassionate with our expectations of ourselves – and others. It’s time to realize that simply taking care of ourselves is in and of itself productive.

Because one thing is for sure: The announcement of in-person instruction for fall quarter doesn’t do much to alleviate students’ struggles now.

Briana Manzo, a second-year sociology student, said she misses physically walking around campus and feels unmotivated.

While some Bruins may miss the long trek to class, others are worried about the country’s tumultuous politics.

Lakshita Vij, a second-year economics and cognitive science student who lives in India, said in addition to international time differences, there is the added stress of the political climate in America.

“The consistent fear of how American politics will further impact your learning … whether it be health care politics of how vaccines are being distributed or what anti-vaxxers are doing or what is happening politically like the Capitol riots,” Vij said.

The online format has made it more difficult for her to learn, affecting both her grades and her mental health, Vij added.

And Vij is not alone. Nearly three out of every four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 reported negative impacts on their mental health because of the pandemic.

As a result of this added stress, it’s neither fair nor realistic for students to expect themselves to be able to perform at the same academic level. Students can – and should – learn to reward themselves for getting through the day because that alone can be a challenge.

Putting excessive amounts of pressure on oneself to succeed is not only unrealistic – it’s harmful. However, there are ways to help.

Students can look after their mental health by seeking support through family, friends and outside assistance, according to an emailed statement from UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services.

In addition to seeking professional help, students can discover personal resources and self-care strategies that work best for them. This includes tending to basic but important needs like sleep, nutrition and hydration, the CAPS statement added.

Seeking support – especially professional support – for one’s mental health is often a challenge because of the stigmatization of mental health. Therefore, taking the initiative to prioritize one’s mental well-being is an important accomplishment that should be celebrated.

To be fair, every student’s experience with virtual learning is different, and some students may find they’re successful with remote learning. However, this is an experience that isn’t available to all students. For many, their homes don’t offer a constructive learning environment.

“My parents are immigrants, so I have to help them with their paperwork and stuff,” said Simran Athwal, a third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student. “I’m (also) helping out my brother with his classes.”

This environment stands in sharp contrast to quiet study halls and libraries on campus. In the age of remote learning, there are simply too many things students have no control over, and blaming themselves for these things is futile.

Proper self-care and compassion are vital.

Athwal said she spends a few hours on the weekend doing something enjoyable like reading a novel or painting her nails. She and her friends also check in on one another through Zoom calls, she added.

It may not seem like much, but these activities can help make an increasingly isolating world feel less lonely.

“One really important thing that’s been helpful for me is spending time with my family,” Vij said. “They’ve been a great support system for me throughout (remote learning), and I’ve grown even closer to them than I was before.”

It’s time to start viewing everyday tasks like organizing one’s room or connecting with family as productive, but it’s also important that students are doing these things because it improves their mental health, not because of outside pressure.

As more people get vaccinated, we can remain hopeful that it will eventually be safe to return to campus.

Until that happens, we should all learn to be kind to ourselves.

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Ashley Leung
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