Features & Entertainment

School Screen Time: New Stress in Virtual Classes

I wake up and get ready for another day of school. I make sure that at least the top half of my body looks somewhat presentable, but let’s face it, you can barely see anyone through the blurry cameras anyway. Then, I grab the books I need and sit down at my desk (if I even bother getting off the couch) to turn on my computer screen. 

More and more, this is what students find their lives looking like. Students, including everyone here at Holy Family, are only attending virtual classes (aside from labs) and completing all of our assignments online. After spending all of this time online, what do most of us do before we go to bed? We scroll through our phones. 

You are correct if you are thinking that spending this amount of time on technology cannot be good for us. Technology allows us to connect with others; however, during this pandemic, it is becoming overwhelming, to say the least.

In the article “Digital Burnout: COVID‑19 Lockdown Mediates Excessive Technology Use Stress” experts from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences noticed  that being forced to spend copious amounts of time staring at screens has caused several mental health problems. These include lack of satisfaction, decrease in productivity, exhaustion, and anxiety. I know that I’m experiencing more of these problems than I did before we went fully online. Personally, I feel more tired and stressed than ever before. 

And I am not the only one. Others at Holy Family are experiencing the same negative side effects. Stephanie Gibbons, a graduate student and Education major at Holy Family, says, “It’s extremely, extremely more stressful to take virtual classes. I feel like I’m always on a screen and it’s physically and mentally exhausting. I think it’s because there’s more on screens to look at than when you’re actually in class and it can get overwhelming.” 

 Having more to look at on screens particularly comes into play with video conferencing. Although some argue that meeting virtually can ease our feelings of isolation during quarantine, it has been found to be more exhausting than meeting in person. Again, according to “Digital Burnout,” virtual meetings require more of our attention because we have to be especially observant of verbal and non-verbal cues. 

On top of verbal and non-verbal communication, we are also experiencing problems with technology during virtual classes. I know I have had a few moments of panic from losing internet connection, or not being able to hear anything my professors are saying. This is frustrating and stressful because once one person is experiencing technological problems, it interrupts the rest of the class. 

When they actually work, video conferences allow us to talk with others from school. However, many students still do not feel as though they are getting the same experience they usually do during in-person classes. Holy Family students are not the only ones who might feel this way. Jessica Loughery, senior at Delaware University, said, “I’m supposed to graduate after the fall semester and this is definitely not how I pictured my senior year. I’m a little disappointed that I don’t get to actually go to school for my last semester.” 

Speaking as a commuter who doesn’t spend that much time on campus, I didn’t expect to feel this same sense of isolation. Even though I get to save money on gas, I still miss my short drive to and from school and the small face-to-face interactions I had throughout the day. These little things break up the monotony of our day, so when they are gone, they make a bigger difference than we realize. 

Not only are we feeling more isolated, but this new world of virtual classes is making us more dependent on technology. In the article “Forced social isolation due to COVID‐19 and consequent mental health problems: Lessons from hikikomori,” experts explain that our increased reliance on technology has made everyone more susceptible to internet addiction. We rarely take breaks from using technology anymore, causing an imbalance between being online and offline. 

This especially creates problems for us at night. Jessica says, “I can’t help but go on my phone at night. Even when I think that I can’t look at another screen, I always end up on my phone before bed.” In “Effects of Mobile Use on Subjective Sleep Quality,” researchers state that using your phone for 30 minutes after you turn off your lights for bed results in poor sleep quality and lethargy during the day. I’m definitely someone who is also guilty of using their phone before bed, but it’s best for all of us to try to kick this habit. 

Although we may not be able to do anything about having to stay home more often and spend more time than usual on technology, it is still important to find ways to cope in this new world we find ourselves in. 

There are several ways that you can ease the anxiety you might be feeling with online classes. First, you should take breaks every now and then from being on your devices. Try to find an activity that does not require you to look at any screens. I have found that doing some form of physical activity at least once a day, whether it be running or just walking outside, has eased my stress. You could also try cooking, reading, or another hobby that you haven’t gotten around to. 

Another technique you can try is making a schedule for yourself to monitor the amount of time you are spending online and adjust it when needed. This will help you reduce your screen time and limit the unnecessary time you spend online. 

This is a tough one and I know I still struggle with it, but stop using your phone, or other electronic devices, about a half an hour before you go to bed (no matter how difficult it might be). Staring at a screen late into the night after a long day of virtual classes and assignments will only make your feelings of anxiety and isolation worse. If you really can’t fall asleep, try reading a book instead!

Lastly, take each day as it comes! We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, so it is important to take care of our mental health as we wait for this pandemic to conclude.

Sarah Schuck is a Junior and Secondary Education English major. After graduating, she plans to be a high school English teacher and wants to be a college professor one day.