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Thriving Through Pandemic Pressures

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

COVID has taken a toll on everyone both mentally and physically. With impending final exams just around the corner, we want to discuss some of the challenges of this pandemic time and offer some suggestions and tips for navigating finals during a pandemic.

One of the many challenges presented to students with distance learning at home is the difficulty staying on task. The endless distractions at home make it much easier to lose focus. Itʻs tempting to lay in our bed during class instructions, or run into the kitchen for a snack, or having all our technology at all times within an arm's reach. This causes many of us to not remain focused or exert sustained energy on assignments and projects. Utilizing interval studying through the Pomodoro Technique has helped many students stay on task and optimize their time in order to get the most work done. This technique involves taking small breaks throughout your studying in order to reduce brain fatigue. You can download the free app to your phone.

Another challenge is that many students tend to procrastinate more with distance learning. In order to address your procrastination you need to understand it better and look for resources out there to help you combat it. All research has shown that students that procrastinate generally suffer from lower GPAs and lower test scores. Many people will try to convince themselves that they work better under pressure but that is just not true. Leading cause of procrastination is lack of motivation and the only thing that motivates chronic procrastinators are deadlines. Some tricks to lessen procrastination is setting “fake” deadlines or deadlines earlier than actual ones so that they get into panic mode which then activates them to get the work done. We highly recommend that you watch Tim Urbanʻs TedTalk: Inside the Mind of the Master Procrastinator to get a better understanding of how it impacts our productivity. One last suggestion would be reading the book “The Procrastination Equation” by Piers Steels. In the book the reader will gain a clearer understanding as to why people procrastinate as well as how to make changes in behaviors to stop the habit all together.

The biggest challenge with distance learning and doing school through this pandemic is the stress, anxiety, and isolation that most of us feel. For college students, the whole uncertainty and changing of protocols have brought many of you home unexpectedly. For our high schoolers, who now have a new normal, have had to come to the realization that many events will be canceled. These issues are all compounded by the fact our normal support systems within our schools or extended families are not there. Access to services providers, teachers, and counselors is limited or difficult to access.

The obvious consequence of procrastination and being distracted is that work doesn't get done, which leads to a vicious cycle of late or missing work. The workload compounds and causes more stress, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness. The emotional consequences to this pandemic have hit so many of us. In a survey by The Education Commission of the States, they report “In May, 29% of U.S. parents reported that isolation was harming their children’s emotional or mental health, and another 37% anticipated that lockdowns would have that effect if they continued. In June, 30% of high schoolers said they were feeling depressed more often.”

So how do we address these challenges? During stressful times, itʻs important we are at our optimal health, physically as well as mentally. Some helpful strategies are having a routine, prioritizing work, getting enough rest, proper nutrition, and reaching out to your support system.

Having a routine, however simple it is, is the greatest way to address procrastination. Routines give us a purpose and help to keep us moving forward to complete tasks and stay on deadlines. Following a routine also helps to build up our confidence because we are able to see everything we have completed before us. Writing things down also helps us to retain more information. Skills like making flashcards and study sheets really help to retain information. Also writing down your daily schedule and checking off the things you've accomplished really give you a sense of confidence to take on the rest of your tasks for the day.

Oftentimes, we procrastinate because we are feeling overwhelmed. Prioritizing our tasks helps us to break up our work into smaller, more tangible tasks. Focus on the grades that are the most important for you academically, such as honors or AP courses since they carry the most weight on your GPA or assignments that hold more weight, like big projects, should be prioritized. If you're doing fine in these courses, prioritize next on the classes you are struggling the most in and may need added support. Classes you may have missing assignments in should also be a priority.

Sleep is the most important aspect of a healthy mind and body, yet it is the one thing we are most likely lacking and devaluing. Youth between the ages of 14-25 should be averaging at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep a day. With over scheduling oneself and school load, it is often a struggle to get to even 5 to 6 hours, much less 8 to 9 hours. The video games and Nexflix binge watching also doesn't help. So how can we get better at allowing our body to rest? Try to discipline yourself to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Distance learning may be the best opportunity to try this since there are no longer long commutes to and from school in addition to having a more flexible school schedule. Sports are still not starting for many high school athletes and private clubs sports have also been greatly reduced so there should be less on peopleʻs schedules where a new sleep schedule can be explored. If you find yourself constantly tired, look at a small catnap during the day, no longer than 30 minutes and not after 5 pm. Oftentimes, day time napping rejuvenates us to get back to the tasks we need to accomplish. Pulling an all-nighter is actually a bad idea since we donʻt retain much information when our body and mind are exhausted and it takes our body over a week to recover from just one night of little to no sleep.

What we feed our brain is also crucial for ultimate focus and retention. Green leafy veggies such as spinach and kale are excellent for brain productivity. Add them to smoothies since you wonʻt taste them but they add the nutrients needed. Also almonds and nuts are great brain food to snack on instead of potato chips and candy bars. Always choose dark chocolate for that sweet tooth since it contains energy-boosting nutrients. Switch out those energy drinks with natural and organic remedies. Coffee is okay in moderation but adding sugar and dairy makes it a less healthy choice. Green tea, hot or cold, is an excellent substitute for coffee and so is yerba mate. Contrary to their popularity, processed sugar is much less beneficial than you think. Though it will provide an initial boost of energy, the crash you feel after too much-processed sugars actually make staying alert that much harder. Too much sugar also causes a sort of “brain fog” where you not only feel more tired but have more difficulty focusing and retaining information.

During this time of COVID, it is important so that we do not feel that we are alone in our struggle with school and exams. Sharing with classmates some of your challenges in class with the material or with a teacher may give you new insight into strategies that were successful for them. Asking our family members to respect your need for quiet or tranquil space when we are feeling stressed is also important. Communicating with teachers and/or counselors about some of the struggles you are feeling during distance learning and sharing some of your fears and anxieties is also valid. Do not feel that you need to power through this time alone and know that there are hotlines, professionals, and resources out in your community to help and support you through any challenges you may be facing. Our mindset is everything. Many do not understand the sheer impotence of thinking patterns and how they mold the way we perceive things in our life. If you are constantly telling yourself that you wonʻt be able to get everything done and that you're just going to fail then you will see your situation in such a negative way that you may easily lose confidence and give up prematurely. Itʻs always best to be realistic but to also look at obstacles as teaching moments where we can gain and try new skills that can help us to overcome obstacles. Staying positive does not mean that everything is rainbow and unicorns, rather that we are capable of doing our best at any given minute despite insurmountable obstacles. Positive thinking is accepting your reality and still not giving up hope and having the confidence that you can succeed.

Despite all these challenges and obstacles, you are all still here. We encourage you to try some of these strategies and find what works best for you. The most important thing is try new things so you may thrive at your own pace and terms.

Pua Mohala will be sharing some of these tips and a few more on the upcoming episode of ʻAha ʻŌpio on Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 5:00 pm:

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