Like most college students, Domonique Tanori, a communications and cinema and television arts major at CSUF, said she saw her stress levels skyrocket at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t have an outlet to destress or anything like that, to interact with people,” Tanori said.
Whether it is dealing first hand with the coronavirus, financial concerns, virtual schooling or the absence of human connection, COVID-19 has placed people into high-stress zones that could almost be considered traumatic.
As the pandemic progresses and quarantine continues, the potential negative impact on the functioning of students’ brains can be detrimental to student academics.
“A lot of my friends were dealing with the same things, you know, all of us are, so I couldn’t talk to anybody. It was like ‘Oh you’re sad too?’ OK we can’t even meet to have a glass of wine,’” Tanori said.
Mark Dust, a professor of public health at Cal State Fullerton, said while studies regarding the long-term effects of stress from COVID-19 have yet to be performed, long-term research has been done into other areas of traumatic stress such as post traumatic stress disorder.
“If we look at the long term effects of somebody that has PTSD, we see a reduction in the hippocampus,” Dust said. “If we have a reduction in hippocampal volume, we're gonna have trouble remembering people's names, we're gonna have trouble remembering things that we're supposed to do that day and that kind of stuff.”
Dust is a combat veteran, who has had experience with PTSD, and through these, he learned about stress responses, specifically traumatic stress responses.
“When we’re in a state of chronic stress, like most Type A, high performing business professionals are, you’re not thinking with your full brain,” Dust said. “Tests and exams and finals and projects, all these things that evaluate us as a student cause us stress. It’s no different from the pandemic.”
Dust said that the sympathetic nervous system kicks in when the body is under high stress by triggering the amygdala in the brain, the body's alarm system, along with other hormones such as cortisol.
“I’ve been told by like a few different teachers, professors that I need stress to thrive, and that’s kind of what pushes me, but I think quarantine is something completely different,” said Jaslene Salas, a women and gender studies major at CSUF.
Salas said her workload took a toll on her mental health, and finding time to execute all of her tasks related to school and work made it difficult to focus.
“At the beginning of quarantine my depression really hit. I was just sitting at home doing school, completely cut off of all my friends, my classmates,” Salas said.
But Salas and Tanori are an extension of what many college students are experiencing, and could potentially be affected by in the long run.
Research has shown that confinement, or quarantine, among young people “is associated with uncertainty and anxiety which is attributable to disruption in their education, physical activities and opportunities for socialization,” according to a study published in Psychiatry Research.
While it is difficult to fully get rid of stress, it is possible to practice ways to manage it, Dust said.
Besides the normal recommendations of a proper diet and exercise, as well as refraining from drugs and alcohol, Dust said looking into things such as yoga, going outdoors to get vitamin D from the sun or by making phone calls or zoom calls to loved ones would be good solutions.
Michelle Ibañez contributed to this article.