Sudden life-altering events and changes of future plans can cause many, including myself, to become stressed and anxious. The impact of COVID-19, which has now been a year-long endeavor, has been no exception.

The pandemic has called for social distancing and isolation, which required many organizations to cancel events. The effects of these stress-inducing changes were a nationwide decline in mental well-being, especially in young adults.

Checking up on your loved ones, looking after yourself and practicing self-care are incredibly important, especially during a pandemic where social connectedness is lost. Social isolation can be a trigger for forming a new mental illness or falling back into habits of a pre-existing condition. Other factors affecting mental health are job and income loss

There has been an overall increase in prevalence of stress and depression since the beginning of the pandemic. According to an article by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56% of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety, depression or both. Other effects of declining mental health due to the pandemic include substance abuse, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.

The beginning of the quarantine period was lonely. It made me realize I am sort of an introverted extrovert, or ambivert. I definitely cherish my time by myself, but if that extends too long, I notice I stop talking to my friends entirely — which causes a downward spiral into some past destructive habits. I often get inside my head too much and, sometimes, it’s hard to get out. Holding everything inside only leads to an explosion at some point, which is unhealthy for your mind and mental well-being.

Schools and universities closing down was another factor of declining mental stability, specifically for young adults.

Being forced to suddenly pack up and leave all your friends for an unknown amount of time is a major cause of stress and anxiety for the future. This wasn’t my situation in the spring of 2020, as I was a senior in high school, but I heard of so many college students who were devastated having to suddenly leave their makeshift home behind. I felt especially sympathetic toward college seniors, who were suddenly leaving the last four years of their life behind and did not know the next time they would see their friends.

When we heard the announcement that school would be closing for a week, we were ecstatic. We thought we’d have a week or two of no school, and then we could return and see all of our friends.

After a few weeks had passed, there was a sort of heartbreaking moment when I came to realize we wouldn’t be returning in May. Things were going to be very different for an unknown amount of time, and I was done with high school. No prom, no graduation and no final “hey, I did it” moments.

This realization, along with attending the rest of my senior year virtually, caused an immense amount of stress and lack of motivation. It was extremely discouraging to log onto Zoom call after Zoom call and complete online work without any social interaction. I missed my friends and my teachers. I was also struggling with something completely unrelated to the pandemic.

I contracted Bell’s palsy in January 2020, and it lasted until March, right up until school was canceled indefinitely. Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes a paralysis of muscles in the face. In shorter terms, half of my face was paralyzed, which prevented me from blinking, smiling and talking properly. Toward the end of those three months, I was tired and incredibly pessimistic. Due to my condition, in tandem with the beginning of COVID-19 and all of the sudden changes, my mental health began to suffer.

Fortunately, after many doctor’s visits and steroids, my face eventually returned to normal and the sun came out. I began to look for ways to reclaim my happiness and stop sulking around over a situation I was unable to change. That’s the mindset I decided to have about my overall mental stability related to the pandemic: it’s a situation I can’t change, so I need to spend some extra time on myself and my well-being.

One way to keep your mental well-being in check is by doing things you enjoy. You could pick up a new hobby, work out or try something new. For myself, I acquired some more equipment for my makeshift home gym, and I made it a priority to work out every day. I woke up early to finish my classes, I went on walks and hikes with my dog and I called my friends as much as possible.

Of course, not everyone is comfortable going out and trying new things due to COVID-19. Finding gratitude for the little activities in life that bring comfort — such as making coffee in the morning, taking care of a pet, reading a book or journaling — is also incredibly important.

It is also important to check up on your loved ones every once in a while. Call your friends, parents or grandparents; everybody else is experiencing a disconnect from others, too

Since last March, though it has been an overall unfavorable experience, I was able to learn a lot of things about myself and grow as a person. I learned I should be as kind to myself as I am to others; I often act as the “therapist” for my friends and help them through their problems while pushing my own aside. It is important to look after yourself because your own happiness is so incredibly important — not just through challenges such as a pandemic, but at any and all times.

Taking the proper steps to take care of yourself is the most important thing while going through a difficult situation. Though special events and memories in our lives were taken away from us, especially as young adults, it is important to stay safe and healthy, both physically and mentally. 

Emerson McClure is a freshman journalism and advertising and public relations double major. Reach her at emersonmcclure@dailynebraskan.com.