Freshmen Christine Potermin and Andrea Hancock have found ways to cope with stress and anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to Zoom and FaceTime, students are getting creative and using platforms like Minecraft to stay calm, connected and occupied.
SAMMI BOAS: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Sammi Boas.
HALEY FULLER: And I’m Haley Fuller. Welcome to Speak Your Mind, a podcast dedicated to discussing mental health and self-care on Northwestern’s campus. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation about mental health that goes in-depth about what students are really experiencing and try to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health.
SAMMI BOAS: Since the onset of COVID-19, life has changed dramatically for people around the world, including Northwestern students. Instead of enjoying a sunny spring in Evanston or traveling abroad, students are stuck at home or school. And just last Monday, University President Morton Schapiro announced that classes will be online for the entirety of Spring Quarter. While people are panic-buying toilet paper, how are Northwestern students staying calm amid disrupted routines, moving out and worrying about the health of friends and family?
HALEY FULLER: For Weinberg freshman Christine Potermin, the coronavirus and its full effects don’t feel real yet.
CHRISTINE POTERMIN: I thought I would be a lot harder hit by it and feeling more devastated and anxious about it. I don’t think I’ve absorbed it fully. It hasn’t really hit me yet that we’re actually not going back to school this quarter. And I think it just kind of feels to me like a really long spring break. And also just being cooped up at home, you don’t really experience the full pandemic that’s going on. It’s just kind of like, “Well, I guess I’m stuck here for a while.”
HALEY FULLER: But like many Northwestern students, she gets caught up in the productivity culture. Now at home without extracurriculars and events, she recognizes the importance of slowing down.
CHRISTINE POTERMIN: I’m kind of that Northwestern stereotype where I have to be busy, and sometimes I overdo that and then I go crazy because I can’t get anything done because I’m too busy. But I’d like to be too busy rather than not busy at all. So, yeah, that’s kind of rough, because I’m either all the way on or all the way off. If I’m not productive all the time, then I’m not productive at all. I’m not in a productive mindset. I don’t know how I’m going to get stuff done for classes. Obviously the pandemic is awful, but I think it’s kind of a good thing to try to force college students to take time off and be alone. Just learning to not be doing things constantly is obviously something that especially people at Northwestern really need to work on.
HALEY FULLER: But she’s not convinced that COVID-19 will totally stop Northwestern’s grind culture. Even without in-person interaction, there can be pressure from social media to be at your best during a pandemic.
HALEY FULLER: With the institution of a Pass/No Pass grading system for the Spring Quarter, students can take care of themselves and any responsibilities they might have at home without worrying about their GPA taking a nosedive. While it can’t cure infected family members or alleviate the financial burdens placed on many families, it gives many students the freedom to prioritize their wellbeing.
CHRISTINE POTERMIN: Trying to FaceTime people, accepting that my mental health is not gonna be the greatest these next few weeks, months, however long this lasts, but just try to get through it and do what I can and understanding that it doesn’t have to be perfect and I don’t have to get amazing grades or anything and I can just take care of myself, I guess is a good thing.
SAMMI BOAS: But grades aren’t all that Northwestern students have to worry about right now. As someone with anxiety, Medill freshman Andrea Hancock has noticed that her worries during the pandemic have been different from her usual day-to-day concerns.
ANDREA HANCOCK: It has been tough, because I usually am more preoccupied mentally with more mundane things, grades or like, late at night when you hear a sound in the house. My brain will pick that apart for way longer than necessary just because I have a really sensitive panic response. But you don’t usually worry about a pandemic. You don’t worry about this sort of thing and you never expect to, so it’s been a struggle for me. When reading the headlines and reading on Twitter about people who have lost loved ones, you wonder, “Are my grandparents next?” And you just start thinking about all the ways it can affect you. And then beyond that, you hurt for everybody else in the world that you know is going through it, because it’s just truly horrible.
HALEY FULLER: Keeping up with the news might help some people feel like they’re in control because they’re informed and aware of what’s going on. However, the onslaught of information about the number of cases and deaths, collapsing markets and lack of equipment can easily increase anxiety levels.
CHRISTINE POTERMIN: I’ve kept up with it a little bit, like just enough to kind of have a gist of what’s going on, but I’m not really keeping up with every state’s thing and the death count, and I just avoid that. You see like a lot of predictions about how long it’s gonna last and how many people are going to die and then where ventilators are needed and “Oh, which state has the biggest outbreak?” Sure, there’ll be a couple of happy stories like, “Oh, look at this, clean water in Italy. There’s no smog in L.A.,” but it’s literally all about coronavirus, and that’s just not something I want to focus on right now. If I need to know something, I’ll find out one way or another, and pretty much all I need to know right now is to just stay home.
HALEY FULLER: But being home can bring its own slew of difficulties. For now, Christine has focused on creating a routine to keep herself grounded.
CHRISTINE POTERMIN: I don’t really love being home, but I’m trying to make the best of it, trying to get at least eight hours of sleep every night on some semblance of a sleep schedule, even if it’s shifted from normal. Getting outside when I can is really good for me just to not be, like, staring at walls all the time and screens. At home, I’ve just been doing things I enjoy. I’ve been doing some puzzles, I’ve been rereading books that I have at home. It’s kind of a good distraction, especially with the more uplifting books because the times are not great right now.
SAMMI BOAS: Meanwhile, Andrea has been coping by running, cooking and communicating with others through FaceTime and Zoom. On a few occasions, Andrea and her friends have gone to parking lots to stay in their cars and talk to each other. Additionally, she is a member of Northwestern’s rowing team, and the team bought a Minecraft server as a way to stay connected.
ANDREA HANCOCK: A lot of people on the team will just get on the server, and it’s been a really fun way to stay in contact with them. That way we can talk a little bit, but just sort of hang out online, I guess. It’s just fun, and it’s one of those video games where you can just kind of have a little idyllic life. And it’s really time consuming. So it’s helpful as a distraction.
SAMMI BOAS: Andrea isn’t the only one who has turned to video games as a way of staying connected. U.S. video game usage during peak hours has gone up 75 percent since stay-at-home orders started going into effect the week of March 9. And viewership numbers on Twitch grew 31 percent from March 8 to March 22.
SAMMI BOAS: But when Andrea doesn’t turn to others, she tries to calm herself down through watching TV, especially at night when she’s trying to sleep and her thoughts are racing.
ANDREA HANCOCK: One thing that’s helped me on a few nights where it’s gotten really bad is I just go down on my couch. I turn on the TV. I always watch ESPN because I know it’s going to be a SportsCenter replay from the day, and it’s going to be just really trivial stuff, especially right now because there’s no sports happening. It’s really nice to see all the puff pieces they’re airing because that’s like all it is. Just that in the background, it gives your mind just enough to focus on, but it’s not intensive. So it’s just enough to kind of let me focus on something else until I can calm myself down and go to sleep.
SAMMI BOAS: Despite all the hardships during this time, Andrea has found comfort in knowing that she’s not alone, even when she’s physically apart from others.
ANDREA HANCOCK: I personally also take a lot of solace in the fact that we’re all going through it together. As scary as it is, we still have each other, which I think is the most important thing of all, in terms of thinking about how we’re going to get through this and taking care of ourselves as we get through it.
There’s never been anything like this before, and I don’t think that can be overstated. The world’s had pandemics before and whatnot; we had the Spanish flu so long ago, but that was a completely different world. And everybody, every person is trying to adjust to this new life. And it’s going to be uniquely challenging for everybody.
SAMMI BOAS: During this unprecedented time, we hope that you are all staying safe and taking care of yourselves. That’s all we have for today on Speak Your Mind. I’m Sammi Boas,
HALEY FULLER: And I’m Haley Fuller. Thanks for listening!
HALEY FULLER: This episode was reported and produced by me, Haley Fuller and Sammi Boas. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Molly Lubbers, the digital managing editors are Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava, and the editor-in-chief is Marissa Martinez.
— Students experience acts of kindness, support networks in midst of global crisis
— Students connect with faith communities virtually as COVID-19 moves worship online