Students study in the lunchroom Dec. 16. Virtual learning can have negative effects on both mental and physical health. (Ava Ashby)
Students study in the lunchroom Dec. 16. Virtual learning can have negative effects on both mental and physical health.

Ava Ashby

Unintentional consequences emerge during virtual learning

Excess screen time collides with mental, physical health

January 1, 2021

As Park spends its first semester in the distance and hybrid learning models, students’ screen time has significantly increased. With this surge, students have felt the mental and physical ramifications.   

The mental impact

As sophomore Sophia Nagorski sits at home in her virtual classes, she stares at her teacher and a slew of black boxes before her. The discomfort of the few students with their cameras on combined with Zoom’s isolated environment has made Nagorski feel secluded. 

“I struggle getting out of my bed. I do my first two Zoom classes in bed and then I get up and shower and do the rest of my classes but I don’t really go outside that much besides walking my dogs,” Nagorski said. 

According to Children’s Minnesota Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker Amy Moeller, distance learning has increased anxiety and depression among teens.

“It’s the isolation. It’s hating distance learning, it’s doing everything online — there’s no social interaction, there’s no seeing your friends in the hall,” Moeller said. “It’s just an abnormal way to learn that most kids don’t like because we’re not used to that; we’re used to somebody writing on the board and having that interaction with the teacher.” 

Although freshman Camille Ramberg said she feels she has an advantage during distance learning as she gets her work done without outside support, her motivation has been deteriorating as time goes on.  

“Even though I feel like I self-motivate myself, it definitely feels like it has gone down. I think it is because of the lack of socialization that I have,” Ramberg said. “I don’t really reach out to peers, with teachers I’m fine, but with students and people my age, not so much.”

Between trying to balance assignments and keep in touch with friends, Nagorski said she feels overwhelmed. 

“Assignments just stack up and then we’re rushing to do them and getting them done on time … All that combined with work and maintaining friendships,” Nagorski said. 

The physical impact

The effects of distance learning go beyond losing motivation, according to Ramberg, as it affects her physically as well.  

“I’m just tired all the time. I get Zoom fatigue, I get really tired from working and on calls most of the day,” Ramberg said. “I don’t get headaches which is just so nice. But my neck, my back and everything (else) hurts.”

A number of physical effects have accompanied the increasing cases of depression, according to Moeller.

“With depression also comes quite a bit of physical symptoms. For example, either sleeping too much or not sleeping enough … kids are sleep deprived, which is never good. That causes all kinds of problems — that lowers our immune system, that makes us crabby and cranky and interferes with our ability to focus,” Moeller said. “Headaches and stomach aches are common things we see with depression that we’re seeing with this (pandemic).”

For junior Brady Truett, he said he gets headaches from the excess screen time and the stress of certain classes.

“I get a headache every now and then. It could be five minutes or it could be the whole class period. A few of my classes have been really stressing me out,” Truett said.

Since Nagorski is constantly exhausted, she said she is only completing a portion of the amount of work she normally would.  

“I’m definitely more tired and my eyes start to hurt because of me staring at the screen. I leave my homework for such a late time,” Nagorski said. “Last night I was doing my homework at 1 a.m., I’m like ‘what am I doing? I have to wake up at 7:30 (a.m.).’”

Being apart from one another is a large factor in teen depression and anxiety levels, according to Moeller.

“It’s fair to say that the increase in depression and anxiety that we’re seeing is probably less about screen time and more about the isolation and all of the changes that have come with COVID-19,” Moeller said.

Ramberg said she is having trouble moving around during the day as she wants to complete the work given during her given asynchronous class time.

“I feel like the school wants and thinks we get up (during) our asynchronous classes, but I just can’t do that because they give us work and I want to do that work right away,” Ramberg said. “I can get up for like five minutes because I’m in the basement. I have to get upstairs for everything — that’s been difficult.”

Tips to manage excess screen time

To cope with the increase in screen time, Moeller said it is vital for students to exercise.

“Not enough can be said about the importance of exercise. It releases endorphins in our brain, which are feel-good chemicals that help our mood, (that) help us sleep better,” Moeller said.

To battle the physical side effects of screens, Truett said he does his best to go outside. 

“I try to get out for at least an hour a day, whether that’s running or going over to Theodore Wirth and doing an hour of skiing. And then I come back and try to balance it out and try to do other stuff throughout the day,” Truett said.

Nagorski has found several ways to help manage her workload including participating in class and staying organized. 

“Recently, I’ve been drinking Sleepytime tea so I go to bed at a better hour. I’ve been making these little lists and that’s really helpful for me to manage (and) put all my assignments from each class to keep up to date with them,” Nagorski said. 

According to Moeller, the light coming off a screen is similar to the sunlight telling people’s bodies to wake up. To help students sleep better with the increase in screen time, students should avoid using screens at night. To avoid that, students should leave electronics outside of their bedrooms. 

To help herself stay organized and motivated, Ramberg said she dedicated her desk to schoolwork only. She also has a specific notebook for each class and writes down what she needs to get done in her calendar. 

“The calendar helps so I don’t have to go back to Schoology or Powerschool and see what I have to do, it’s all just right there,” Ramberg said. “Having all my schoolwork at my desk is like a psychological thing. So my brain thinks when I’m at my desk I’m doing schoolwork and nothing else.”

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