Today I began the 4th week of the Fall 2020 semester, and I can honestly say that I am more exhausted now than I have ever been this early in the academic year. My energy and motivation levels are incredibly low, I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and every single news story seems designed to tire me more than I thought was actually possible. This semester is not normal.
It’s not normal because we are trying to balance life and work in a reality that has us working where we live. For many, this has been coupled with a greater workload and more things that compete for a limited supply of time and mental space. Some are trying to do this while balancing care-giving needs, home schooling, loss of income, or other significant challenges. Some are trying to manage work and life while in isolation. And we’re all doing this while inundated with a constant stream of negative news. The situation has become so acute that folks on Twitter are referring to it as #DoomScrolling. Our brains are overloaded and overstimulated, and there never seems to be any rest.
So why am I telling the world that I am exhausted? I have two reasons.
First, I need to practice self care. Reminding myself that this is not a normal semester helps me manage my own expectations. I told several students at the start of this semester to half their expectations for the semester. I need to do the same.
Second, I need students to know that they aren’t alone. I want them to know that it makes absolutely perfect sense if they are confused, anxious, afraid, tired, stressed, or whatever else it is that they might be feeling right now – because I feel it too. And I know many other instructors and staff feel the exact same way. I also know that you are struggling to work, to focus, to do anything that even resembles learning in our current environment. You are overwhelmed in many cases by higher workloads; more assignments, more quizzes, more content. You are trying to manage multiple platforms for course delivery – with each and every one of them pinging you constantly for attention. And then there is the added stress for some because of the use of proctoring software. It is overwhelming.
Over the last few weeks, several of you have talked to me about what your grades might look like, or whether or not you should drop one or all of your courses. You have shared with me your anxieties and stresses, and the impact everything has had on your mental health. Thank you for trusting me enough to share this information with me. I hear you.
To all students – and particularly those students in my classes – learning (and teaching) in a pandemic while the world seemingly burns around us is not normal. It is challenging. It is frustrating. And at times, it is scary.
But – and I say this with all honestly and sincerity – we will get through this together. We will manage the challenges of this semester by being as open and honest about it as possible. We will help each other when we can, and we will ask for help whenever we need it. If we arm ourselves with kindness, empathy, and patience, we’ll come out the other end of this semester in a much better place.
Please take care of yourselves. Please take time for yourselves. Rest. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Physically distance.