Most everyone’s lives have been altered in some way due to COVID-19, one of the demographics of people that have been uniquely impacted are current university students. While everyone is going through changes and shifts in their work and everyday lives, students’ whole plans have been changed. In an already anxiety-inducing time for many students, classes were switched to online, people kicked out of residence halls, finals changed, job interviews cancelled, internships stopped, and start dates pushed back. There is also the fact that students returning to school in the fall do not know if these classes will be online or in person. Many students feel that paying their full tuition is not fair when receiving an online education. These factors have hit some students harder, especially those who possibly don’t have a stable place to retreat to from their college towns or already struggle with their mental health. The inability to control what is going on around us in a transitioning time of life has been a huge challenge for sure.
Anxiety and stress is through the roof for college students at the moment. Classes are switching grading policies which is stressful, many students are still participating in group projects, their college career is now dependent on strong internet connection, and many of us aren’t receiving any funding even though people have lost their jobs and are possibly unable to live in their prior housing. International students may not have been able to travel home in time due to logistical or financial reasons, and many of these people are not in incredibly difficult situations with group living closing. Many of my friends are studying hospitality management at Washington State University. Three of these people have had their job offers retracted and the rest of them have had all interviews canceled or postponed indefinitely at the time. While many of us are fortunate enough to have our parents homes to return to, there is also a large group of people who don’t have this option due to a variety of circumstances. Students across the board, even the ones with the best circumstances, have had their lives and futures flipped upside down at the moment.
Below is an example of one of my friends who has had their future put on pause and has been put in a difficult decision.
* her name has been changed for privacy reasons
Rachel* is graduating from Washington State University this spring with a degree in Hospitality Management. She has worked two summers at a prestigious golf course doing food, beverage, and event management. Because of this great experience she has under her belt, she had interviews at some of the best golf courses in San Diego for positions starting June 15th. All three of her interviews got cancelled in March. Two of them said the position will no longer be available due to budget cuts after this is all over, and one said they will interview her as soon as they are able to fully reopen. As much as this is hard, many people are facing difficult decisions, it can be especially hard for college students like Rachel whose future industries have completely stopped because of covid-19. Additionally, Rachel is in a situation where she cant return home to either of her divorced parents households and because her mom still claims her as a dependent, does not receive a stimulus check. She also wasn’t working enough hours at her part time job to receive unemployment, and almost no businesses in Pullman, Washington are hiring where she is able to live.
Everyone is dealing with hardships and that is important to acknowledge, this is just highlighting an example of someone who is dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety at the moment because of coronavirus. Should Rachel seek out other employment in case her job opportunities don’t open up for months? Most likely yes, but on the other hand with so much information circulating there’s a chance she could be interviewing with that company in June. I believe one of the biggest stressors in this situation is the amount of things up in the air and unknown. No one has security anymore in any of their plans and it can be extremely anxiety-inducing.
Before these external changes happened, many university students across the world struggled with anxiety and mental health issues. College is an extremely demanding and stressful time full of unknowns and self doubt for many people, partnering this with a global pandemic shockingly doesn’t help most people’s stress. According to the American College Health Association Fall 2018 National College Health Assessment, 63% of college students in the US felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. This problem is nothing new, but I feel that students who weren’t previously affected by anxiety may also now be experiencing some of the symptoms.
One of the biggest reasons for this I believe is the sense of normalcy and the ability to have a routine that has been taken away from many. Establishing healthy routines, seeing loved ones, and being productive have all been proven in reducing stress and anxiety. Yet many of these coping mechanisms are unavailable to people now. One of the other ways people can reduce anxiety is by interacting with animals.
I’ve heard the expression of pets “saving” their owners who are going through struggles countless times. And according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are some serious facts to back up these statements. A 2016 study explored the role of pets in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem and found that pets provide a sense of security and routine that provide emotional and social support. “Specifically, pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation.” Social isolation is something many people feel in college while actually being surrounded by people, so to actually be socially isolated from friends and family can take a serious toll on mental health.
So what are people doing with all this extra time? Well most of us college students are still finishing out school. Speaking for myself, I’ve still been incredibly stressed about my course load and partner that with graduating, my anxieties have definitely gone up. One of the things that has helped me the most in these times of stress have been my pets here at home. They have absolutely zero idea what’s going on or what a global pandemic is. They are so happy to have their humans home more and be getting far more love and attention. Attention is something that puppies, kittens, and any new furry addition to your household needs. And even if someone was still working full time from their home, without the time spent commuting, seeing friends, going out to eat, or any other really fun things that I miss doing, we almost all have a few more hours on our hands. That being said, now would be a really great time for a college student to adopt or even foster a dog or cat from a shelter.
Animal shelters and animal control are still considered an essential business which means the shelters are still filling up with animals who need homes. “Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.” Adopting or fostering a shelter animal is an extremely beneficial thing to do for both the owner and the animal. When adopting through the shelter that animal will be updated on shots, vaccines, spayed or neutered (if they’re old enough), and ready for a home. Buying a pet from a breeder or a petshop doesn’t ensure that animal is up to date on its medical needs and can cost you a lot of money in the long run. Shelter fees include these medical processes and are often considerably cheaper than buying a dog or cat from an individual or store.
Many of us already have pets at home, they have been some of the best ways to diffuse any stress or negativity that I have. Pets provide us with unconditional love and a distraction from the day to day stresses of life. Especially now when these stressors are multiplied and we can’t leave our houses to practice our normal stress relieving habits. Taking my dog on a walk is beneficial to the both of us. It gives me a sense of responsibility, accomplishment for doing something beneficial to another life, a little bit of endorphins from exercise, and is a great break from my homework and job hunt that are stressing me out immensely. My cat is mostly a great provider of comedic relief, and I truly believe that if you’re not a cat person that will change once you’ve had one purring on your lap. Being around living beings that are not stressed or worried is extremely relieving in these times. It seems like all anyone does at the moment is talk about the coronavirus and how much it’s negatively affecting everything. While having pets doesnt fix any of this, it is a well needed break from reality.
One of the few pieces of good news is that many animal shelters have had a far quicker adoption turn around on the animals that come in. People are wanting to adopt more now that they have the time to love and train an animal. The Riverside County animal shelter in California has been empty for a couple days now, “The reason why is no mystery: As people are practicing social distancing to curb the spread of Covid-19, many have come to the conclusion that now is the perfect time to bring a pet into their homes.” This is great news and showing that people understand the benefits pets can bring to people during these times. And anyone who’s had a puppy knows how much work they are, and most of us will probably never have this much free time again. However, not everyone should be adopting animals. People need to understand that this situation (thankfully) is temporary. If once your work and life resumes you cannot give an animal the proper attention you shouldn’t be permanently adopting one. A great alternative to this that still allows both parties to benefit is fostering an animal.
Fostering an animal is taking care of that animal while either nursing it back to health, allowing it to reach an adoptable age, or while actively searching for its forever home. Fostering puppies and kittens is very popular, because of course, who doesn’t love baby animals. It allows the pets to be in someone’s home versus an animal shelter. This provides personalized and almost constant care, they become familiar with people and what living in a home is like, and become much more socialized. Foster pet parents learn the behaviors and personalities of the animal much more than an animal shelter worker/volunteer that interacts with 50+ animals a day. This way, these people can find the best future homes for their fostered animals. Many dogs and cats also need medical care that cannot be adequately provided for them in a shelter environment so staying with someone at their home is their best option for healing and finding a home. Finally, many dogs and cats are just happier and act more like themselves when in a real home vs a shelter. This allows fosters to see these animals personalities and potential adopters can see how they act in a home instead of being possibly scared or nervous at a shelter. Some of the best parts of fostering is that most of the time the shelter or organization sponsoring the foster, pays for all supplies and medical needs for that animal so it doesn’t cost the foster any money.
Fostering can be a great way to ease into possible ownership before taking the plunge yourself, in these times it’s also great to have a temporary animal companion that won’t be a forever responsibility once life returns to a more normal routine. Whether its adoption or fostering or just continuing to love the pet(s) you currently have, animals clearly have a way of making us happier. This next story I am going to share is not my own or even a friends, this comes from Kathryn Oda, a social worker, who shared her story of how adopting a dog helped her overcome anxiety and depression on the Huffington Post in 2016.
Kathryn had dealt with anxiety and depression her whole life since her early teenage years. Like many of us feel now in our current circumstances, she had huge amounts of stress about what the future brings, “more and more of my days started to be spent paralyzed by endless thoughts of regrets of the past and worries for the future.” Even though Kathryn studied psychology and mental health in both her undergraduate and graduate school, she had never found an effective way to manage her own struggles. Over the course of 10 years post grad, she tried every anxiety combating strategy there was. Exercise, medication, herbal/holistic remedies, special teas, self help books, and more. Nothing was working for her and it wasn’t until she herself read an article from Psychology Today (linked below), about the health and psychological benefits of bonding with a dog. This was when she adopted a Corgi from her local dog rescue association.
Kathryn herself admitted that it was not the quick and instant fix she was hoping for, but what her dog did for her was give her a sense of responsibility and confirmation that life would go on even during her worst and most stressful days as well as the companionship when she wasn’t able to see friends and family in her life.
“I finally realized the answer to my decade long question of how to manage anxiety and depression – exercise, laughter and love – all things that were unattainable for me before, were achieved by getting a dog. The reason these three things are so key is they all trigger the release of the chemical serotonin – the feel-good chemical in our brains. By having increased levels of serotonin every day, symptoms of anxiety and depression can dramatically decrease.”
Although Kathryn might be on the more extreme end of how many college students are feeling, we can all relate to feelings of uncertainty and stress about the future. We all are being isolated from at least some of our friends and family at the moment, and I’m sure we could all use a great distraction from the current circumstances in our world. While I’m not saying everyone should go out this instance and adopt or foster a dog or cat, it is something that should be considered if you’re really struggling during this time. Adopting can also be reassuring in the sense, that no matter what happens or where you end up, you can bring your pet and have a sense of familiarity and comfort wherever.
Before making any of these decisions, proper research is necessary on both the animal and if your living situation allows you to adopt or foster an animal. This is an unprecedented time where we are living in and I hope everyone, college students included, finds effective and positive ways to deal with the struggles we’re facing.
Below I’ve linked some great local and national websites/social media to look at if you’re serious about adopting or fostering.
In Spokane: https://www.rescue4all.org – an AMAZING non-profit animal rescue that focuses on finding dogs the best (and most sustainable) fosters and permanent homes
In Missoula: http://myhswm.org
National: https://www.petfinder.com – take precautions in order to ensure that you are adopting from a foster or shelter not a backyard breeder
Look for your local animal shelter or animal control in your area