After enduring the ordinary stresses of school with the extraordinary circumstances of living in a global pandemic, it appears that spring classes are finally coming to a close. This academic year was far from a normal one for students, both in K-12 education and beyond. With the year comprising mostly of online classes and social distancing guidelines, the University was no exception. As we enjoy a restful — and hopefully COVID-free — summer break, what better way to mentally prepare ourselves for the future than by taking a moment to reflect on the previous semester?
The past two semesters have been defined by what I call a persistent state of nonexistence. Never before did I think I could experience burnout sitting at home all day doing nothing — and yet somehow, against the odds, life found a way to make even the most mundane of tasks excessively arduous. Zoom fatigue — that sinking, bottomless feeling in the pit of your stomach after one too many online meetings — is most certainly real. It sunk its claws into me and refused to let go, until even the 50 minute lectures I was expected to attend became exhausting to sit through.
Burnout is already bad enough in college students — just ask literally anyone you see during finals week. With online classes thrown into the mix, that formula turns from stressful and draining to downright nightmarish. I have friends who have avoided watching weeks worth of asynchronous lectures, skipped classes and submitted assignments late or not at all. When you’ve been stuck in the apartment for weeks without an end in sight, sitting in a discussion section where everyone but the teaching assistant has their camera turned off and microphones muted can sound unappealing, to put it lightly.
In this sense, many students — especially those living off Grounds, isolated from the University community — can feel as though they’re living in limbo. Time passes unpredictably. Every day feels the same as the last. You start to get sick of staring at your friends solely through screens. Even those on Grounds can feel the effects. Just the knowledge that every time you enter a public space, you put yourself at risk for a highly contagious disease can take a toll on any sane person.
Personally, the worst part of the pandemic wasn’t the workload, or the boredom or the fact that I only got to meet my friends a handful of times over the past few months — it was the time I spent in between classes and assignments.
You would think that, with so much free time on my hands with nothing to do, I would have found something productive to do with my time. Sometimes I succeeded — I picked up new sheet music to practice, new recipes to bake and new books to try. But I’ll admit that this was the exception, not the rule. Most of my spare time was spent catching up on sleep — I never liked taking naps before, but the pandemic has changed things — or lounging around on the couch, scrolling through social media and passively staring through a rerun of an old show.
Even as I was killing time, I could never shake the feeling that I was throwing away precious opportunities to better myself as a human being. The least I could do during the pandemic was pick up a new hobby or learn a new language, right? But my apathy and overwhelming lethargy almost always won out — accompanied by an intense feeling of guilt. No matter how irrational, many of us have struggled to take pride in merely surviving these unprecedented times. It’s not just enough to survive — our brains tell us we have to thrive, to accomplish something of value.
If 2020 was irrevocably marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, then 2021 is only singed by it. There were moments of strength over the past year, glimmering bits of hope that brought communities across the globe together in a show of solidarity. Now, Americans are looking to the latter half of the year, in hopes that life can return to “normal.” Most college students I know are eager to return to in-person classes in the fall semester — seeing old friends, sitting in crowded lecture halls and getting to walk to the Corner without a mask. Personally, I'm at the point where I may just literally throw myself into the first large crowd I see.
Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.