The last six months have not been easy. Since COVID-19 hit Oregon, there has been so much outside of our control. In late July, President Trump sent federal agents to Portland, who used tear-gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators. Just a month later, Portland made national headlines again when a man was shot at a protest. Federal law enforcement killed the suspected shooter just five days later. In September, Oregon was hit by wildfires, resulting in nine deaths and over 900,000 acres of forest burned. As a result, approximately 200,000 Oregon residents were forced to evacuate their homes. This cascade of jarring events has occurred all while Oregon students are learning to adapt to online school, adding extra stress to an already difficult situation.
External stress, as well as other mental health issues, has increased as a result of COVID-19. A recent Harris-Poll study found that 43 percent of teenagers reported excess stress and 61 percent of teenagers reported increased loneliness due to the coronavirus. For Oregon students, these struggles are compounded by the added strain from recent wildfires. Stress related to climate change– particularly wildfires– can result in extreme psychological stress, and, in extreme cases, post-traumatic stress disorder, according to recent research done by University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
This additional struggle affects students’ academic performance. A 2011 study reported on by The Wall Street Journal found that students experiencing stress were more likely to struggle with attentiveness and flexibility, as well as anger and impulsivity. In some cases, increased stress or anxiety can lead to arguments and fights with peers and teachers. Brady Kopetz, a junior at Lincoln High School in Portland, Ore., reported struggling to remain motivated amidst wildfires. He said, “I was just not interested in school at all, it was really hard.”
Coping with external stressors while starting school is possible, though. To help with coronavirus-related stress, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends reaching out to close friends and family to talk through feelings of stress. They also recommend trying relaxing activities such as self-care, meditation, or exercise. To manage stress relating to wildfires, the American Psychological Association suggests taking breaks from reading news about the impacts of the fires. There is also a Disaster Distress Hotline, which provides counseling to people dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to receive help.
Anna Loy is a junior at Lincoln High School and a member of Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in making decisions that affect their K-12 education.