Even as we move toward the midyear mark of 2021, the world cannot shake the crushing effects of 2020. The number of vaccinations and announcements of reopenings are not a cure-all to the sense of aimlessness and lack of joy the public is experiencing. Unfortunately, the pandemic is like a bad heartbreak 一 it will leave an indelible mark on everyone’s mental health and motivations that will take years to heal. As we move forward with our lives, students and staff shouldn’t expect to bounce back into the normal, hectic routine of a college day. It is imperative to be forgiving with ourselves and our boundaries, and allow ourselves to transition into a state of flow.
On top of the tiny tragedies and inconveniences we suffer in a normal year, the pandemic brought an unimaginable sense of loss to many. The pandemic will have a long-term effect on mental health and will create a state of “languishing,” the middle ground between depression and flourishing despite a slow return to normalcy. “The lucky ones,” the ones who did not have to grieve the deaths of family members or friends, instead had to quietly mourn the cancellation of proms, weddings and graduations. Freshmen have had to accept the loss of a normal first year, filled with new friendships and new experiences. Seniors have had to accept modified or completely remote graduations, a loss that is especially devastating to those that are the first in their family to go to college or had a nontraditional college career. Even students in between have had to accept the loss of a normal routine of long-planned goals, participating in club activities, dating and forging new friendships.
Mental health expert Kenneth Doka has coined the term “disenfranchised grief” as a way to describe these otherwise indescribable losses. Now, other grief counselors are using the term to encourage people to acknowledge and mourn their own losses.
Although UCR announced the return to in-person classes, students and staff alike shouldn’t feel pressured to immediately jump back into the myriad of activities and responsibilities of before. A race to success to make up for lost time will only result in burnout; everyone’s gotten so used to the slow pace of remote classes and the lack of human interaction that moving from class to club meetings to social settings will be unexpectedly exhausting.
Maintaining an attitude of toxic positivity will be equally harmful. It is unrealistic to expect anyone to stay positive after the awfulness of 2020, and it is completely contradictory to the concept of “flow.” Kate Sweeny, professor of psychology, conducted a study of people in quarantine and found that the ones who best adapted to quarantine were “the ones who’d found the most flow.” This state of absorption into a task, bond or challenge could be the antidote to languishing. Flow could mean baking, working on puzzles or even spending hours playing video games. America has set such a destructive standard of productivity that it’ll be hard to implement a routine of uninterrupted time to flow, but it is important for students to carve out time to avoid long-lasting mental health issues.
Students shouldn’t expect their levels of productivity or happiness to be the same as they were pre-pandemic, at least not right away. The impact that COVID had on society is far-reaching and traumatizing; like a terrible ex, it’ll take time for the wounds to heal. In the meantime, students should set boundaries in their everyday life so that the transition into normalcy isn’t overwhelming. Moving away from toxic patterns of thinking in terms of productivity and success, and instead prioritizing wellbeing and happiness will be necessary if we want to move forward with our lives.