*Trigger Warning: Discussion of anxiety, depression and mental health disparities.*
The Office of BroncoFit, the wellness department of University Health Services, recently found that out of 881 randomly selected Boise State students, 87.06% of surveyed students are experiencing increased stress due to COVID-19.
Armed with this information, Emily Gravel-Fletcher, the health education officer for BroncoFit, hopes to be able to tailor both the office’s outreach and programming efforts, as well as advise the university and particularly the Dean of Students regarding what students need.
“Stress and anxiety aren’t inherently bad,” Gravel-Fletcher said. “Stress can actually be used as positive stress that motivates us to accomplish hard things in life, but stress experienced at these traumatic or episodic levels starts to have very critical impacts upon our health, in the long term.”
The survey also reported that 72.95% of students have felt disconnected from others and 65.34% have experienced increased difficulty focusing on academic work — nearly 50% of all students reported that their academic performance has been negatively impacted.
Gravel-Fletcher stays up to date with research on stress and anxiety, and she says this data concerns her, but it isn’t that surprising. The qualitative feedback they got from student responses further revealed the severity of mental health challenges presented by the pandemic.
“This pandemic has caused severe trauma to my already existing mental health responses,” one student wrote. “During this pandemic and with the challenges of my education right now, my mental health has deteriorated significantly.”
BroncoFit staff works closely with Counseling Services at University Health Services, and Gravel-Fletcher said that the increased rates of students seeking counseling from the university already shows that students are looking for resources. At the same time, students are still asking for access to resources.
“The good news is that we have [mental health resources] available to students,” Gravel-Fletcher said. “The sad news is that they don’t know that yet, so we got some good information from the health services perspective of how we can do a better job of accessing some of these students with that information.”
Finding ways to cope with stress can be difficult, particularly with multiple converging stressors and crises. BroncoFit offers coping skills and guides for stress on their website, and Gravel-Fletcher has her own set of practices that she recommends.
Those include exercise, nutrition, sleep and rest, goal-setting, journaling, proactive communication, finding your passions, learning how to deal with circumstances you can control, learning time management and utilizing relaxation techniques. Especially during a time of crisis like students are currently experiencing, Gravel-Fletcher said, adopting practices that help one recognize the difficult situations a person is in can help them move forward.
“These skills, all in different ways, have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and really allow the time for your body and your mind to get out of that survival mode, get out of that crisis, even just for a couple minutes to really ground yourself in the present,” Gravel-Fletcher said.