The COVID-19 pandemic is sowing anxiety around the world. Here’s how six young people are coping with stress as they face an uncertain future.

The COVID-19 pandemic is sowing anxiety around the world. Here’s how six young people are coping with stress as they face an uncertain future.

COVID anxiety
A student musician practices virtually with a youth orchestra during home lockdown in Caracas, Venezuela, 24 April 2020 (EPA / Miguel Gutierrez EPA-EFE/MIGUEL GUTIERREZ)

By Christina MacCorkle

Music, yoga, baking — young people around the world are seeking creative outlets to withstand an onslaught of troubling news and to cope with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the novel coronavirus kills more and more people and social isolation forces us to tuck deeper into our own corners of the world, here’s how six students on three continents are coping with the mounting death tolls and unanswered questions about their futures.

“It’s important to strike a balance between engaging in the severity of the situation and finding mindful moments for yourself,” Yiming Song, a student studying in Beijing, told me over Zoom. “I’m trying to take advantage of quarantine instead of letting that anxious inner voice take over. For me, that’s been music. So for others, I just advise to explore your area and find meditative practices.”

Yoga as an antidote to anxiety from the COVID-19 pandemic

Seung Yon Kim was studying in Bejing when the novel coronavirus first hit Wuhan, the sprawling capital of Central China’s Hubei province. “I didn’t think that it would be this big. I thought this was only a Wuhan issue. I could have never predicted the global scope that this has attained,” she said.

Speaking from her apartment in Beijing, Seung Yon said quarantine has finally been lifted after nearly four months and tentative signs of normalcy have begun to return.

“Yoga has really been helping me a lot,” Seung Yon said. “It’s so easy to get lost in your own world of thoughts. And that feeling of drifting apart, that loss of community, can’t really be alleviated through a screen or social media. It is so easy to feel so alone. But this is also a time to think deeply about things, so I’ve been doing that too.”

Her kitchen helps relieve uncertainty due to COVID-19.

Natasha Blewett, who comes from England and is studying in Hong Kong, said baking and cooking have distracted her from chaos outside.

Natasha’s school closed abruptly in January when Hong Kong registered its first cases of COVID-19, disrupting her longstanding plans to take the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams. “In order to go back to school to prepare for our exams, we had to arrive at school masked and were forced to social distance. We ate lunch scattered across empty tables as a safety precaution.”

Now, Natasha is staying at home with her cats while studying online. Because Hong Kong limits group meetings to no more than four people, her loneliness is exacerbated by the realization that she will move away from home next year to study and that “I can’t enjoy the last few months in Hong Kong with my friends.”

Music in Milan keeps Virginia sane.

Virginia Ferri is an Italian who was studying in Ulan Bator, Mongolia when the pandemic struck. She rushed with her family to Milan when Mongolia showed signs of closing its borders.

Reflecting on how Italians and Mongolians are managing the crisis differently, Ferri said, “You just can’t force Italians to stay at home all day.”

Ferri has turned to music for solace from the anxiety of COVID-19.

“I’ve always loved playing instruments, and now I have so much free time,” she said. “My music keeps me sane. If I didn’t have music or anything to set my mind to, I don’t know how I would be feeling.”

Too much news can stoke stress.

Tristan Pouliquen’s family went into lockdown in Italy before others because they feared his mother, a Singaporean, would be harassed due to her race. Tristan said they were also concerned that if she ever fell sick, she might not receive the treatment she needed since “Italian hospitals prioritize Italian people over foreigners.”

Tristan has started to shun the news. “It’s suffocating. There comes a point where I just don’t want to listen to any of this,” he said, noting he is spending time exploring his inner world. “I’ve been playing guitar a lot as a way to step back, a sort of escape from reality.”

Stay calm, adapt and find relief.

Ethan Zhou’s home is in Beijing, but he and his family have been isolated in Auckland, New Zealand because China is blocking anyone with a passport from outside of China from entering the country.

“What I’m feeling is quite hard to describe. I’m not sad, but I know I’m missing out on a chapter of my year that is now just gone,” Ethan told me. “In my free time, I’ve done a lot of digital music production. I don’t have any instruments with me, so I have to turn to other musical mediums, specifically experimenting with digital production software. But I’ve been really enjoying it.”

As Yiming in Beijing put it: “What more can you do stuck at home other than stay calm, adapt and find some relief when you can?”

(For more stories on COVID-19, click here.)

THREE QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. If you are in lockdown, how are you managing to cope with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. Do you think countries should have closed their borders to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2?
  3. Do you think that online learning can be as effective as learning while physically together in class?

Christina MacCorkle is a U.S. citizen who grew up in China. She is in her second year of high school at The Thacher School in California, and her favorite subjects are History, English and Studio Art. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys dance and volleyball. After high school, she hopes to study Political Science or foreign policy — something that “casts a critical eye on contemporary events.”

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