Social distancing orders are in place. Photo from Unsplash.

You thought online Zoom classes were tough? What if your life was already a basket case.

Senior Sofia Caputo is struggling to stay motivated while working from home. The public relations and advertising major has suffered from anxiety her whole life, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened it. 

She doesn’t know where she’s going to live next month. Her lease ends in May. She’s worried about how there’s no job market in these tough times. She’s worried about how Zoom classes are going. And she’s worried about her mother, a flight attendant she hasn’t been able to see because she’s flying into countries with horrific coronavirus problems.

“Do you know what I would give for a hug from my mom right now?” she said.

Caputo is not alone with her problems. Many Chapman students are doing mental head spins over their current pandemic situation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website has a page dedicated to mental health and coping during COVID-19. 

The CDC’s advice on mental health and coping during COVID-19. Photo by Lexi Freund.

The CDC notes that the outbreak of the coronavirus disease may cause overwhelming fear and anxiety. It also points out that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.

“How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in,” the website states.

Junior Natasha Belshaw also said that Covid-19 has enhanced her pre-existing anxiety and depression. In addition to worrying about the health of her family members, she misses going to a physical school.

“The decrease in exercise, social interaction, and lack of a consistent schedule has taken away the parts of my day that were most helpful in maintaining my mental health,” she said.

Belshaw, a cognitive science major, said her professors have assigned more work since they switched to online classes, despite the university’s plea that should NOT be happening.

“In order to ensure that students are staying updated on lectures, many of my professors have started uploading quizzes on course material,” Belshaw said.

One of the reasons Belshaw chose to attend Chapman was due to small class sizes which made it possible to engage with professors during class and created a more personal experience. Now her classes have become stiff, one-sided lectures.

Junior Zach Davis before the pandemic. Photo taken by Mia Fortunato.

Junior Zach Davis, a peace studies major, adds about those professors who have been less lenient add to anxiety:

“Some of my professors have acted like this quarantine should give us ample time to do work,” he said. “But we shouldn’t be expected to just resume normalcy without a little bit of transition.”

While some students complain about the workload, many professors have tried to ease the burden. Creative writing professor Tom Zoellner, for example, has delayed a major assignment to accommodate his students’ current and adjusting situations.

Although his curriculum has remained the same, Zoellner misses the experience of in-person classes. According to Zoellner, the hardest part of online classes is the uncertainty if his students are learning or not. 

“There is no substitute for the aura or immediacy of the classroom,” he said. “Learning often comes through moments of serendipity and online mediums tend to smother that.”

Chapman creative writing professor Tom Zoellner. Photo by Erin Dunkerly.

He says that faculty has no idea what new burdens their students might be under and that their goal should be to create a welcoming experience for them. 

“We as a faculty are going to do our best to keep playing the symphony, even with half our violin cords snapped,” Zoellner said.

Junior Brandon Ptasznik, a creative producing major in the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, says that his curriculum has gotten lighter. This is largely in part because the film industry has halted, he said.

“Filmmaking is a very hands-on art form and requires you to be in close proximity with teams of people at a time,” he said. “Unfortunately, you can’t replicate that the same way on Zoom.”

Ptasznik says his own mental health is holding up well during the home quarantine, but he passes on some advice for others.

As a result of his fairly open schedule, Ptasznik has found a way to fill the gap. He said he has tried to maintain the same routine he had before COVID-19, while also testing out new hobbies.

“I have been trying to meditate more and take up some more reading with my new-found free time, and reconnect with friends that maybe I haven’t had a chance to catch up within a while,” he said.

But not everyone can just learn to relax.

“Sure, we have free time to get a lot done,” Sofia Caputo said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re in the right headspace to get a lot done.”

According to Caputo, it doesn’t help that the best parts of physical school are no longer possible, especially since she is a senior. 

“There are so many more important things going on in the world than losing my final formal and missing a Thursday night at the District Lounge,” Caputo said. “But I’m also trying to validate my feelings and tell myself it’s okay to be bummed about these things.”

Being at home doesn’t always help.

“Home is where I go after a long day of classes or work, not where I should be doing those classes and work,” she said.

For Zach Davis, being uprooted without warning left him feeling unstable.

“I struggled with feelings of exhaustion and I lacked the motivation to do anything,” Davis said. “The first few days after returning home I spent all day in bed, but that made the anxiety worsen because I felt unproductive.”

No question, Davis adds, moving online without a chance for adjustment is mentally taxing.

“This semester is testing me,” he said. “It was hard to adjust to something so sudden and just be expected to remain okay.”

Chapman University moved to online classes on March 12th. Screenshot by Lexi Freud.
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