One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Chapman University students continue to report lessened feelings of productivity due to the isolation of online classes. Art by Angelina Hicks

Three minutes before class starts, Chapman freshman psychology major Valentyna Simon drags herself out of bed, doesn’t bother to change out of her pajamas, and flips open her laptop, not entirely prepared for the 10-hour long work day ahead of her.

All in her room.

Valentyna Simon, a freshman psychology major, poses with her guitar in preparation for her remote music class. Photo courtesy of Simon

Simon’s schedule is entirely virtual. Between her Admissions Office job and her participation in Chapman’s accapella group, she struggles to leave her apartment. 

As she grabs her guitar in preparation for music class, she can’t avoid a thought creeping into her mind: What’s the point?

“When I think back to everything I did during the day, I can’t shake this feeling that I didn’t really do anything,” Simon said. “I’m just at home all day.”

This unproductive feeling has slowly spread across college students stuck in the same online routine every day, and Chapman students are no exception. A full year into the COVID-19 pandemic, students are mostly used to remote learning, but the mental health toll on productivity continues to press.

Chapman psychology professor Matthew Ballew describes how students attending class from home confuses the separation of students’ work lives and personal lives.

“It’s like a blob,” Ballew said. “Psychologically, we also experience that blob because we aren’t able to differentiate between these territories, so now they’re all just one.”

Additionally, Ballew — who studies environmental psychology and the influence of environments on functioning, wellness, and health — explains how the confinement that Chapman students’ experience during online learning can lead to strong negative effects on functioning.

“I’ve been experiencing difficulties with work-life balance, myself,” Ballew said. “I often feel like I’m thinking about work in my home a lot more than usual, and I think it’s because I’m having a hard time separating my work environment from my home environment.”

Chapman’s Student Psychology Services provides licensed therapists for Chapman students who may be struggling with remote learning and loss of productivity. Photo by Clarisse Guevarra

Christine Zes, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Chapman’s Student Psychological Counseling Services, emphasizes that working at home can feel like a “massive drain.”

“There’s assumptions that you have to be home and be in your room all day every day,” Zes said. “That’s just simply not the case. What are the other things that we can pay attention to that can give you a sense of autonomy and a sense of connection opportunities to get you out of the house?” 

Additionally, Zes said that more Chapman students have been attending therapy sessions through counseling services and cancelling less often since the pandemic started.

“We have noticed our attendance ratio has been very very consistent,” Zes said. “In a normal semester, pre-COVID, we get the average no-shows or cancellations. Through the course of the year of the pandemic, we have very regular attendance.”

Raphael Camua, a junior film production major, poses with a clapperboard while recording his original short film for class, all from his apartment. Photo courtesy of Camua

Raphael Camua, a junior film production major who transferred to Chapman this year, reflects on the difficulty navigating his creative process to create short films remotely during the pandemic. 

“I spent two years in community college waiting to transfer to Chapman,” Camua said. “Now that I’m finally at my dream school doing what I love, it’s so hard with barely any access to campus and other resources to help film. My apartment isn’t only my home, but also my classroom and film set.”

Despite the difficulties, Chapman students still find a way to exhibit hope for the future and find ways to promote productivity and persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic. Simon, for example, makes it a goal to spend time with friends during the weekend to add some joy to her week.

“It sucks that remote learning throws off my mindset, but I know the things I can do to stay motivated and productive, despite literally everything going against me,” Simon said.

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