Student Mental Health During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Recognizing the Issue and Learning How to Cope in an Online Context

Recognizing stress, anxiety, and burnout in students during the Covid-19 pandemic is key to promote their success despite the circumstances of online learning. Stress can be physical, emotional, and/or mental reactions to situations that cause tensions exceeding the individual’s ability to cope (Mheidly et al.; Bauer). Starting in March 2020, schools across the globe experienced an intense shift to online learning, which neither they, nor the students, were prepared for. Students have been strongly opposed to online learning from the start, as the context is “not conducive to learning” (Pudelko). Unsurprisingly, many colleges and universities found that their online resources were very limited (Pudelko; Mheidly et al.).

Stress and anxiety are often presented together, although compared to stress, anxiety portrays “feelings of uneasiness, tension, and worry” that directly affects the individual’s “reactions to stress, performance on tasks, behavior, or other manifestations of physical signs” (Lowe and Raad). Over the past many years, much research has shown that people experience higher levels of stress and anxiety the longer they are facing smart devices, tablets, and other screens. Consequently, this increasing exposure to telecommunications during the Covid-19 pandemic has led to many cases of burnout (Mheidly et al.). 

Overwhelming levels of stress and anxiety in interpersonal/social relationships as well as workplace stress that has not been successfully managed leads to a state of mental health referred to as “burnout” (Allen; Mheidly et al.). There is no question that the Covid-19 pandemic has put a toll on both social relationships and the workplace, which has undoubtedly directly affected people’s quality of life and daily function. 

Students have experienced a dramatic increase in exposure to their smart devices to keep up with their studies, which has indeed led to the increasing average levels of stress and burnout among students. Some major factors that contribute to the likelihood of burnout include exhaustion, detachment, feelings of cynicism, a sense of ineffectiveness, and a lack of accomplishment. Unfortunately, these feelings have become quite salient for students who have found themselves almost or completely online in the past several months. This prolonged exposure to telecommunications has not only affected student’s mental health, but it has also impacted their physical health. Being hunched over electronics for hours on end puts strain on many ligaments, muscles, and tendons in the vertebral column, which causes neck and back pain. Other physical impacts of online learning includes a substantial decrease in physical activity as well as other side effects of stress and anxiety that manifests as physical pains in the body (Lowe and Raad; Mheidly et al.).

The compulsory quarantine and lockdowns have unquestionably made socialization much harder for everyone. Nancy Heath, a McGill professor of educational and counselling psychology, acknowledges that social isolation during the pandemic has been exceptionally harmful for students in post-secondary education as they are going through a developmental stage where connecting with others is crucial (McKenzie-Sutter). Social isolation is a huge factor to consider when looking at the increased depressive and burnout symptoms among students during the pandemic. Interestingly, many students have been experiencing separation anxiety because of the inability to properly interact with others (Mheidly et al.). Separation anxiety is a disorder that essentially corresponds to extreme levels of anxiety when separated from loved ones; many students have been feeling this way because of the inability to see their friends, and, in some cases, their families if they are living far from home (Bell). 

The learning circumstances during the pandemic have affected all students in different ways, but there were a couple of trends among those who had gone into the pandemic with particular mental states. Students with extroverted personalities were on average more susceptible to burnout from excessive use of technology, whereas introverted students faced stress and burnout because they had to communicate using the technology (Mheidly et al.). It is also interesting to note that there was greater psychological distress among students who did not already have pre-existing depressive and anxious conditions, as they have never experienced chronic levels of stress and anxiety before, in contrast to students who had already experienced chronic depression and anxiety, who were not as likely to fall to a lower state during the pandemic (McKenzie-Sutter). Regardless of these trends, it is important to remember that correlation does not always equal causation, and every individual’s mental health varies greatly from another’s, although recognizing these trends is a good way to start assessing the issue.

The hardships of online learning can be seen in last fall semester’s drop in academic performance among students from the high-school level through post-secondary students. Quebec’s provincial association of school administrators were alarmed to learn that three times as many students as usual had failing grades, and the collected data was fairly consistent across all regions of the province. Last semester’s failing rate was around 30% in the province of Quebec, whereas it normally lands around 10% in a typical semester (Alphonso & Perreaux). This data proves that the online learning situation is very hard for students to concentrate all their cognitive processes to their schoolwork and risks losing the student’s engagement. Anxiety is proven to eat up the attention and cognitive resources of the working memory, which ultimately results in lower cognitive performances (Pudelko; Alphonso & Perreaux). 

How to Cope with Stress and Anxiety in an Online Learning Context during a Pandemic

The first step for students to learn to cope with stress and anxiety is to promote awareness of this mental health epidemic. Schools have taken huge initiatives to improve their communication with their students about their improved online platforms as well as their available resources. From home, it is recommended to use these resources to develop healthy coping strategies to get through this difficult time, such as stressing the importance of taking breaks from smart devices as much as possible (McKenzie-Sutter; Mheidly et al.). 

It is important to get better acquainted with the topics of anxiety and depression as well the help resources available in this online context if you, a loved one, or a friend may be going through a rough time. Below are a few links with some information on how to get help, starting you off on a journey to recovery from the traumas of Covid-19.


To Learn More on the Subject:


McKenzie-Sutter, Holly. University Students, Schools Grapple with Mental Health Impacts of Isolation. News, 1 Oct. 2020.

Alphonso, Caroline, and Les Perreaux. Students’ Grades Are Dropping with Shift to Remote Education as Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Toll. 11 Dec. 2020. The Globe and Mail,

Bauer, Anne M. “Stress and Individuals With Disabilities.” Encyclopedia of Special Education: A Reference for the Education of Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Disabilities and Other Exceptional Individuals, edited by Cecil R. Reynolds, et al., Wiley, 4th edition, 2013. Credo Reference

Pudelko, Béatrice. “Having trouble concentrating during the coronavirus pandemic? Neuroscience explains why.” The Conversation: An Independent Source of Analysis from Academic Researchers, edited by Conversation, The Conversation, 1st edition, 2018. Credo Reference

Mheidly, Nour, et al. ‘Coping With Stress and Burnout Associated With Telecommunication and Online Learning’. Frontiers in Public Health, vol. 8, Frontiers, 2020. Frontiers, doi:10.3389/fpubh.2020.574969.

Allen, Scott. “Burnout.” Reader’s Guide to the Social Sciences, edited by Jonathan Michie, Routledge, 1st edition, 2001. Credo Reference

Lowe, Patricia A., and Jennifer M. Raad. “Anxiety.” Encyclopedia of Special Education: A Reference for the Education of Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Disabilities and Other Exceptional Individuals, edited by Cecil R. Reynolds, et al., Wiley, 4th edition, 2013. Credo Reference

Bell, Julie, and Kelly Winkels. “Separation Anxiety Disorder.” Encyclopedia of Special Education: A Reference for the Education of Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Disabilities and Other Exceptional Individuals, edited by Cecil R. Reynolds, et al., Wiley, 4th edition, 2013. Credo Reference

By Isabelle Devi Poirier


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