College stress and COVID-19: Psychology professor Q&A


Symiah Dorsey/The Lion's Roar

The circumstances of COVID-19 have caused stress among the student population. Psychology professor Monique Leblanc discussed the unique challenges college students face and ways students can combat pandemic anxiety.

For many students this year, the college experience has not gone quite as planned. The circumstances of COVID-19 have presented students with new challenges, putting their mental health at new risks.

Although the pandemic is a physical threat, psychology also plays a role in how people are impacted. Monique LeBlanc, associate professor of psychology, answered questions regarding COVID-19 and stress among college students:

What are the primary challenges college students have been facing as a result of the pandemic?

“College students face unique challenges due to the pandemic. The effects of COVID-19 on college students are varied, including concerns of health of self and loved ones, class/career planning disruptions, work/financial issues, social concerns/isolation and the difficulties of transitioning to online/hybrid class schedules.”

How have these circumstances impacted the mental health of students?

“Recent surveys have found that students are reporting increased rates of depressed mood, anxiety and stress. Other symptoms include substance misuse, loneliness, and trouble sleeping. Students also report grief—both current and anticipatory—from the changes due to the pandemic. People feel very uncertain, fear of the unknown, loss of control.

It is not all negative. Some report finding purpose during the pandemic from volunteering and other activities.”

How can the deprivation of social interaction affect an individual? What is the importance of human engagement during this time?

“Social support is very important to psychological functioning. Decades of research have indicated that social support can prevent and ameliorate the negative effects of stressful life events on psychological functioning. People vary in how much social support/interaction they need, but most people benefit from a few close connections. This can include friends, family or other supportive relationships.”

What are some ways students can combat anxiety and stress caused from the pandemic?

-Exercise/eat healthy

-Sleep. College students underestimate the importance of sleep to functioning—both physical and psychological.

-Identifying meaningful activities/connect with others.

-Maintain routine/structure.

-Engage in small daily positive activities–take a walk, crafts, journaling, talking to others—the list can continue.

-Limit news consumption.

-Recognize that it is okay to experience negative emotions.

A day might come where all restrictions are uplifted. Why might people find it difficult to transition back to normal ways of life?

“There will be lots of variability. There will probably be a new normal, and people will have to adjust to that. Some people will be anxious about these changes, while others will return to previous norms/ways of behaving quite easily.”