By Piper Mettenburg, Features Editor
A loud screeching noise jolts Olivia Chatowsky ‘21 out of a comfortable sleep. Sitting up, she locks eyes with the perpetrator of the noise: an old fashioned alarm clock strategically placed several steps away from her bed. Before making her way to the clock, she grabs her phone and catches a glimpse of the time. It’s 8:30 a.m. Although her first class isn’t until 11:30, she urges herself to get out of bed. Pushing her grogginess to the side, she walks to her dresser and silences the clock. She has a whole day of remote learning to attend to.
Although Chatowsky has nearly three hours to spare before her academic day begins, she unrolls her yoga mat and pulls up a home-friendly workout video on YouTube. This early morning workout is not only an integral part of her day, but also one of her strongest tools in preventing burnout.
Like many students at Gettysburg and across the country, Chatowsky struggles with the exhaustion and stress brought on by Zoom classes, prolonged screen time and social isolation. Recommendations by health experts show that being removed from the structure and general environment of academic institutions makes students more susceptible to mental burnout and exhaustion. The structural vacancy left by academic institutions pushes students to create and abide by their own routines as a means of fighting the stresses and frustrations of remote learning. One of the ways Chatowsky takes control of this structure is through exercise.
“Exercising in the morning helps me wake up and feel more energized before I have to go sit in class all day,” Chatowsky said. “It also helps me mental health-wise because I feel like I’m working towards something—it feels like I’m bettering myself.”
The routine and goal-oriented nature of early morning workouts enables Chatowsky to fight off burnout—at least temporarily.
Riding the endorphin high of her workout, Chatowsky heads to the kitchen table and sets up for her first class, BIO 225, by pulling out her laptop and putting on a pair of tortoiseshell blue light glasses she bought to help her eye strain and cyber sickness. Biology class runs for an hour and fifteen minutes. It is one of her shorter classes, but as it moves along, she begins to feel herself drift off and disengage.
“There are definitely more distractions now,” Chatowsky notes. “Sometimes during class I find myself on my phone, answering texts and going on Snapchat. I make sure I’m diligent about taking notes, but I feel myself losing steam by the end — mostly because I’m staring at a computer.”
After class ends, she rushes to make lunch and do dishes before her four-hour lab, which starts 25 minutes later. Since there is little time between classes, Chatowsky starts her lab with the camera off so she can finish her lunch. By this point, she begins to feel the fatigue set in. Time seems to go by slowly during lab, and throughout class, Chatowsky fights off impulses to check her phone with varying degrees of success. Although long, her lab requires some degree of collaboration with peers, which gives her a sense of comfort. Those interactions with other classmates, however, are not enough to stop her growing fatigue and exhaustion.
“Luckily we go into breakout rooms for a good chunk of the lab and we get to talk to other students,” she said. “I do feel myself getting really tired and grumpy by the end of lab though. If there are lulls, I find myself going on my phone more — especially towards the end.”
By the time the lab ends, Chatowsky has been at her computer for approximately five hours.
“I feel exhausted and gross from looking at a screen for such a long period of time, so after class lets out I might either get a coffee, lay down, or go for a walk depending on how I feel,” Chatowsky explains. “I usually try to get out of the house and move around to look at something that’s not a screen or a foot away from my face.”
Getting away from screens is easier said than done, and if the weather isn’t nice, Chatowsky finds herself in bed, unwinding from the day with TikTok or Pinterest.
An hour later, she heads downstairs to have dinner with her parents. Although their company is nice, Chatowsky finds herself missing the Gettysburg College campus and being surrounded by people her own age.
“While it’s nice to be home, I miss being with my friends. Eating with my parents just reminds me of getting dinner with my friends and laughing about how much work we have left to do or Servo’s menu items,” Chatowsky said.
“Now the only time I can see the majority of my friends is through a screen if I set up another Zoom call, which I don’t always want to do since it means more screen time. Overall, it sucks to think about all of the things I’m missing and how, after a long day of class, I just want to laugh with my friends … but instead I’m here.”
By this point, burnout has set in. Unfortunately her day is far from over. Next on her schedule is a virtual play rehearsal from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Overall, she finds the rehearsals to be a nice break from the monotony of online classes, though the rehearsal process is a bit more challenging online.
“It’s different,” she admitted. “It is weird pretending like I’m talking to my scene partner, [because] in reality I’m talking to a blank wall. The most challenging part is trying not to look at the screen, because that’s where the other people are.”
After rehearsal, she begins her homework for the next day, which typically consists of Moodle discussion posts and various readings. Once Wednesday’s assignments are done, she moves to the living room where she relaxes with a couple episodes of The Golden Girls. After a while, she heads back upstairs to work on more assignments.
By midnight, Chatowsky’s day has come to an end. Most of her homework is done and she spends the next half hour getting ready for bed and talking to friends. After showering, she gets into bed and falls asleep.
She has been in front of a screen for approximately nine and a half hours, and she will wake to repeat this cycle five times over for the remainder of the school week. This exhausting routine is a familiar tale for the majority of Gettysburg College students, who have resumed classes from home, and those on campus who have had courses and activities moved online since the return to residence and de-densification.
While we live in a digital age, our bodies are not accustomed to excessive screen time. We occupy hours of our time in class, completing coursework, and satisfying various obligations from our devices, and, like Chatowsky, must adapt by decompressing with exercise, fresh air, and Netflix. In finding coping mechanisms for our screen fatigue, however, we continue to find adaptable, practical measures to ensure the success of remote learning.