Human beings are designed to thrive off of social activity; what happens when we are ordered to isolate ourselves from each other for months on end? A six foot gap and conversations from behind masks aren’t ideal for mingling with friends, after all.
As social distancing persists and the uncertainty of returning to normal life lingers, some find themselves feeling the toll that sheltering-in-place has taken on their mental health.
Mary Brayton, a California-based psychotherapist, said that humans have been social beings from birth.
“From the very beginning of our first cells, we were born out of a relationship. We are social animals with needs to be held, fed, calmed, mirrored and loved,” Brayton said. “One of the extraordinary effects of the pandemic is although we are social animals, we are required to shelter in place.”
Of each of the age groups, one of those experiencing the most distress seem to be teenagers. Although teenagers are much less susceptible to the virus’s fatal symptoms, many whose biggest concerns were Friday math tests and what to wear to school the next day are now living through a pandemic that will someday be immortalized within high school textbooks.
This lockdown has caused many teens to miss out on some of the most glorified events of their youth, including prom and graduation. With feelings of anxiety and confusion resulting from these stolen memories, some students say their mental health has suffered, even within the safety and comfort of their own homes.
“Personally, my mental health has gotten worse because usually I begin to feel sad or lonely when I don’t have activities to take up my time, so I’m alone with my thoughts,” freshman Kylie Tzeng said. “I think in general, teenagers were really excited at first because there’s no school, but over time we have realized how important it is (for social interaction). There is just so much free time now that I don’t know what to do with (it).”
Tzeng is not alone. The Disaster Stress Helpline, A federal crisis hotline, reported an 891% increase in calls for support in March of 2020.
Paly guidance counselor Whitney Aquino said that the emotional effects of lockdown vary from person to person.
“In general, this experience can bring up a lot of emotions in folks, such as frustration, loneliness and anger,” Aquino said. “It manifests in anxiety and depression. Everyone reacts differently. It’s tough for high schoolers in that during this time of life, (because) being social and connected is really important to them,”
Brayton agrees with Aquino, and explained how lockdown goes against our human drive to be social.
“Long-term isolation isn’t natural for us social beings,” Brayton said. “Effects are different for each person, from feeling anxious to depressed. If our basic needs are being threatened such as not having money for rent or food or car payments, this is downright scary. The effects of isolation can be quite troubling.”
According to Sophomore class president Matthew Signorello-Katz, his everyday life has been changed beyond recognition.
“Everything is changing, and (our disrupted) routine is having a negative effect (on us),” Signorello-Katz said. “For me, that has been very difficult –– Facetiming and texting simply aren’t the same. For a lot of students at Paly, it has had a negative mental health effect due to lack of social contact as well as school events being thrown out the door.”
Signorello-Katzsaid different age groups seem to have different concerns about the lockdown.
“Juniors are probably relying upon this semester academic-wise to improve their GPAs, so I think that is definitely a possible stressor,” he said. “For sophomores and freshman, I find that the main stressor is not having in-person interaction.”
Junior Tanya Guzman explained how the pandemic affected the class of 2021.
“The uncertainty and disorganization of the College Board is affecting juniors a lot,” Guzman said. “I don’t even know if I’m taking the SAT, which got cancelled around the time that lockdown first started. I think that it’s unfair for colleges to expect us to pick up a new talent during a global pandemic and turn this into another situation to compare students. It’s really frustrating that everyone’s plans and training for the SATs are getting messed up by this.”
As for her mental health, Guzman said her’s has seen a decline since lockdown was implemented.
“My mental health has definitely gotten worse,” Guzman said. “I don’t really want to talk to friends on the phone for more than 20 minutes or so or I start to get annoyed at them. I’ve been distancing myself because I feel like talking to friends is just a distraction from the pandemic. Social media is super toxic right now because it’s really time consuming and bad for body image. Quarantine just feels like an endless cycle of doing nothing.”
Other students, like sophomore Jordan-Elijah Fakatou, say they are trying to reap the benefits of sheltering in place and use the alone time for some personal growth.
“I think my mental health has gotten better,” Fakatou said. “I’ve had more time to reflect on myself and figure out how to be a better person. The world moves so fast, (and) in quarantine it’s nice to have a break from that.”
Brayton said there are several ways to maintain your mental health despite the lack of routine and troubling times.
“What all the experts say to do is think out of the box, exercise, maintain virtual contact and remain positive with a notation each day of what you have that you are grateful for,” Brayton said.
Aquino points out that there are bright spots in the world despite the chaos.
“A lot of people are finding that they enjoy the opportunity to slow down and stop and smell the roses, so to speak,” Aquino said. “We’re all experiencing this together, the whole world, and that’s something that’s connecting us.”
During times where everything is focused on our physical health and wellbeing, it is important to give your mental health your attention as well. .
“There’s no one size fits all answer, but I’ve been trying to keep a positive mindset,” Signorello-Katz said. This is only temporary. We will get through this.”
Where to go if you need help:
Suicide Prevention Hotline
Schedule a virtual appointment with the Paly Wellness Center
How to Take Care of Your Mental Health in Quarantine
1. Find new ways to connect
with others while staying safe.
2. Sign up to take an online class in something totally new.
3. Write; keep a journal of your daily life.
4. Get in touch with old friends.
5. Set small goals for each day. Keep structure!