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The Effects of Online Education on Physical and Mental Health

Having classes switched to online delivery due to the COVID-19 pandemic has provided both challenges and benefits to Ontario students like myself. My name is Sydney Moses and I am a second-year Aerospace Engineering student at Carleton University. I am also a part of the ESSCO Distance & Online Education Working Group. I joined this Working Group because I know a lot of people who are struggling both mentally and physically due to the lack of in-person classes. Although there is currently no safe way to return classes to the way they were before the pandemic, there are ways to

combat the mental and physical health concerns.

It may not seem like it, but online classes can affect your physical health. People who work at computers for long periods have reported eye discomfort and muscle strain. Students can have around 30 hours of lectures, tutorials, and labs to watch every week as well digital assessments and projects to work on have no choice but to be at a computer for more time than recommended. Sitting at a desk can lead to neck and back pain without proper posture and Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is caused by

looking at a screen for long periods. CVS results in headaches, eye strain, blurred vision, and dry eyes. To reduce the effects of this, doctors recommend using eye drops, sitting further from the computer when possible, and following the 20-20-20 rule; Every 20 minutes take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away. Some people have reported positive results from blue light glasses but there is no current evidence

to prove whether or not they work. Because there is no longer a need to travel to classes and social events, it is common to experience unexpected weight change and develop unhealthy eating and sleeping patterns. These issues can be combated by going for regular walks or runs, working out, or doing small exercises at your desk. Also making sure that you go to sleep, wake up, and eat at a regular time every day can prevent falling into unhealthy habits.

The lack of in-person classes and projects can lead many students to feel isolated in their homes. The effects of this are especially drastic for students in their early 20s because social connections and meeting new people is very important at this developmental stage. In fact, in a University of Toronto study* done in May 2019 and 2020, students without previous mental health conditions on average reported an increase in mental distress in the 2020 survey. Comparatively, students that did have

reported conditions in 2019 either stayed about the same or even improved in some cases. This is because they already had experience in feeling isolated from others. So, what are the negative impacts of social isolation? It has been shown to lead to loneliness, anxiety, and possibly depression and all of these symptoms increase in severity over time. The best way to combat feelings of social isolation is to stay connected to friends and family using video calls and social media. It is also important to keep yourself mentally healthy by spending time outside, practicing meditation, getting enough exercise, eating healthy, and taking time to reflect on the things you’re grateful for. If you still find yourself struggling or just want a little extra help, online counselling is a great way to get help keeping yourself healthy and to talk about

anything bothering you. Most schools offer some sort of counselling but if not, there are many free and paid resources online that range from video calls to text chats.

I think the most important thing to remember during this pandemic is that we are all going through this together. Check-in on yourself and your friends regularly to make sure they are staying both physically and mentally healthy and if you do find yourself struggling don’t be afraid to reach out to someone. To end this article on a high note, here are some of the good things that have come out of transitioning to online classes; Students and instructors with physical disabilities have more access to classes online, the increase in anonymity reduces the possibility of discrimination based on visible

attributes such as race or gender, and asynchronous classes make it easier for students that need a little extra time to review material multiple times to ensure they understand much better. To conclude, there are many physical and mental health risks that come with online education, but a good way to combat these risks is through mindfulness and creating healthy habits.

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