Reflecting on the Pandemic & Resilience in a Post-Pandemic Society
A personal statement on the struggles from the pandemic.
By Aleena Kuriakose
Reflecting on the Pandemic
It’s been almost a year since school shut down in March 2021 due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, and we’ve come a long way since then. At the start of the lockdown, words such as pandemic and quarantine were still foreign to our everyday language. Every time they were mentioned, it was mingled with a twinge of confusion and uncertainty. Oblivious to the damage the virus would produce over the course of the next year, we instead optimistically crossed our fingers that school would reopen in May and that this peculiar era of Zoom and virtual learning would only be a hiatus during the school year. As the virus swept through the country, however, we slowly learned that quarantine would be a new reality we had to accept — news channels continuously recited numbers of cases as they reached a new apex everyday, the new Google homepage displayed statistics and guidelines from the CDC, and classmates I used to see smiling in person were now on Zoom muted and camera shut off.
The past two years have been hard for many people, especially for adolescents where many endured grief, loneliness, and a lack of motivation to a degree that they have not experienced before. Many studies have demonstrated how mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety skyrocketed among teenagers, highlighting the urgency of proper mental awareness. A study titled “Increases in depression and anxiety symptoms in adolescents and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic” concluded that the “COVID-19 pandemic is having multifarious adverse effects on the mental health of youth” and the results revealed “adolescents and young adults at an early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. experienced increased depression and anxiety symptoms, particularly amongst females. School and home confinement concerns related to the pandemic were independently associated with changes in symptoms.”
"Covid-19 pandemic is having multifarious adverse effects on the mental health of youth."
As a sophomore in high school during the time of the pandemic, I found myself experiencing increased stress from Zoom burnout and a sense of despair from the lack of social interaction. The study habits and strong work ethic that I had once developed over freshman year were slowly disintegrating as eight hours of virtual learning followed by homework and assignments weighed down on me. Friendships and close ties felt like they were being strained.
After scanning through several psychology-related articles to help me better understand my emotions, I realized the importance of even weak ties — people we barely know but might see by passing. These could be people you occasionally visit or see like your barber, librarian, or neighbor. The pandemic eliminated the opportunity to even maintain these relationships as well. As a result, many people, including me, felt a strong yearning never felt before to interact with ordinary acquaintances, and to perhaps get to know them better. The absence of communication allowed us to realize the value and beauty of connections and relationships. As Amanda Mull from the Atlantic Monthly deftly put it, "the pandemic has evaporated entire categories of friendship, and by doing so, depleted the joys that make up a human life—and buoy human health. But that does present an opportunity. In the coming months, as we begin to add people back into our lives, we’ll now know what it’s like to be without them."
"The pandemic has evaporated entire categories of friendship, and by doing so, depleted the joys that make up a human life—and buoy human health. But that does present an opportunity. In the coming months, as we begin to add people back into our lives, we’ll now know what it’s like to be without them."
The restrictions on traveling and connecting with others led to an overall increased appreciation for nature and our surroundings. Here's a few snapshots that I had taken whenever I got the chance to visit a nearby park:
Connecting with nature did allow a lot of the stress I was experiencing in the moment to be alleviated. I also did gain a much better sense of gratitude for the friends that I still contacted and my family. However, I knew that I still suffered from the detrimental effects from the pandemic on my mental and emotional health as well as my productivity, which would take a toll during the beginning of junior year.
Resilience in a Post-Pandemic Society
As school opened its doors for the first time in a year and a half, I entered in as a junior in a high school; last time, I was a freshman. And the first thing I realized was that holding a conversation for more than two minutes proved to be immensely difficult. Many articles have likened the act of social interaction to exercising a muscle — after a long period of inactivity, it's going to be hard to get that muscle moving in the beginning. The added restrictions of masks and six feet social distancing make it difficult to interpret social cues and emotions, but it's better than Zoom.
Most importantly, as the school year started, I saw how the pandemic changed everyone: kids who used to talk were unusually quiet, conversations were sometimes tense and awkward, and friendships and social circles drastically changed from what they were before. However, experts say that the uneasiness that comes along with this transition is expected. Leslie Adams, a case therapist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital explains, "Dealing with long periods of isolation can increase social anxiety," and how "even those who would consider themselves naturally more extroverted could be struggling.”
Academically, it felt like I had been hit by a train. The intense workload of junior year with no transition at all from a year of virtual learning was extremely difficult to adapt to in the beginning. Now that school was in person, I had to wake up earlier and come late home, whereas, on Zoom there was no traveling anywhere, thus giving me more time.
Nevertheless, as of February 2022, normalcy seems to be sinking back. There's masks, there's social distancing, but conditions have improved. Conversations are more than two minutes, study skills have been improved, and new bonds have been formed. Reflecting back, the struggles I faced, along with every other adolescent, were valuable in many ways. We've learned to adapt to sudden, life-impacting transitions in our lives and cope with grief and loss. We've learned to let go and be grateful for the moments had.
Yet, in the end, we move forward with strength and resilience.