Learning online is stressful for everyone in a household: spotty internet, background noise, distractions, helping little ones un-mute their mic, and sitting in one place all day are just a few sources frustration. Many parents are exhausted from dealing with their own issues with working from home. Attending a meeting and being professional can be challenging when your 5-year old is wandering into your makeshift office/bedroom/kitchen asking for snacks; moms and dads of older kids must deal with the worry of their teens missing out on the rituals of prom, graduation, or sports. University students struggle with losing some of the most anticipated freedoms: going out to socialize, meeting new friends through student groups, or even taking a study abroad course.

masks kids school
The COVID-19 Pandemic has added so much stress to family life. Source: Pexels

The coronavirus has brought on stressor upon stressor, and being in a virtual class or having students in virtual learning will likely be something that many families will be happy to see off. While we look forward to sports teams, debate clubs, bands and in-class learning, we still have a seemingly unending period of time before normalcy returns. 

Want to learn all about virtual learning? Check out our blog.

So how can families manage online learning stress? How can we best cope with the demands of a lifestyle that demands that we stay at home, deal with spotty wifi, and stare and screens endlessly? Let’s learn why we need to learn to cope with stress, and how we can specifically focus on the stress caused by a virtual lifestyle.

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The Impact of Stress on Your Health

Feeling Stressed About Math
Stress from a virtual lifestyle can have many negative effects. Source: Pexels

Stress can be positive in many ways: we need a little stress in our lives to be competitive, get homework done on time, and finish projects. However, too much stress can be an issue and lead to bigger issues. Stress can cause the following:

  • Frustration, worry, anger, or sadness
  • Abuse or increased use of alcohol and other substances
  • Worsening chronic and mental health problems
  • Digestive issues, skin rashes, pain, and headaches
  • Having a hard time making decisions or concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Changes in energy levels, interests, and appetite

When we are stressed out, our body releases “stress hormones” like epinephrine and cortisol. When these hormones are released into our bloodstream, our liver produces more glucose and activates our “fight or flight” instincts. When our bodies release too many stress hormones, we become more susceptible to strokes and heart attacks; blood sugar levels can increase and our blood vessels may constrict.

While stress is inevitable in our daily lives, we can balance it out with our relaxation response, which serves us by decreasing blood pressure and heart rate, as well as gradual changes to the brain.

Do you have a child in your home struggling with learning online? Learn our strategies for helping your kids in virtual school.

Managing Online Learning Stress

Now that we know the impact of stress and why we need to cope with it positively, we can explore some strategies for managing the stress of learning and working online.

Remember that You are Protecting Your Community

Before we delve into coping strategies for learning online, let’s remind ourselves of the bottom line: we are protecting our community from viral spread by staying at home. The sacrifice we make by missing out on so much of our social and personal lives is to prevent those at risk from falling ill, not to mention ourselves.

Many families across Canada opted to keep their kids at home due to the anxiety that came with sending young ones to an environment prone to outbreak, and that decision likely came with much consternation. Some older students were forced into a schedule that either kept them at home all or part-time, and many parents are dealing with being sent home to work, or worse, losing a job. Whatever your case may be, bear in mind that you are contributing to your community’s health by staying home, and that better days will come as the rate of vaccination increases.

Schedule Outdoor Time for Yourself and Your Family

long walks relieve stress
Schedule outdoor time for yourself or your family. Source: Unsplash

The first step to de-stressing from a virtual lifestyle is to plan for time in the great outdoors. If your whole family is at home, have mandatory, pre-set times to spend outside in a park, your backyard, or simply having a long walk. If you’re a parent with younger kids, take your kids outside after school for at least a half-hour and make it a habit. Mask up at the playground if possible, drive to a trail, take along walk around the block, or spend some time gardening if you have a backyard. 

If you are in post-secondary or high school, make sure you get time away from your workspace or texting friends on your smartphone. Grab a coffee, do a physically distanced and masked hangout, measure your steps with a pedometer or Fitbit, or pick up a book actually made with paper and read on your balcony or in a park somewhere. 

When outdoor time becomes a regular part of your day, you will find it easier to transition from one task or activity to the next. You’ll discover great walking routes, trails, and probably notice things in your neighbourhood you never did before!

Wondering how you are going to survive this year of working from home while your kids are in virtual school? Read our tips.

Have Virtual De-Tox Times or Days

Distance yourself from your screens for an hour a day and even the whole day on the weekend. It’s easy to get used to the daily rhythm of notifications and communications, and to constantly be checking our phones for new information. We use our phones to order food, research products, entertain ourselves, and now learn - it’s time to take a break and let our minds simply absorb the world around us.

Getting yourself or your child away from your phone once you are hooked is incredibly challenging. Start by planning an activity to do instead, such as baking from a cookbook, doing yardwork, creating arts and crafts, cleaning your home, or playing a board game with your family or friends. When you do inevitably have to get your kids or yourself back into the virtual world, you will have a clearer head, be more productive, and feel healthier.

Eat Healthy

It can be easy to reach for unhealthy, sugary snacks while learning online. Once we fall into a cycle of poor eating, our energy decreases and we may even gain weight. When we eat healthy, we feel energized and good about ourselves. 

Preparing healthy food, however, may feel daunting as it may require some research and a significant investment of time. Take control of your diet by preparing healthy, make-ahead food like egg muffins, breakfast cookies, and overnight oats before the week begins. You’ll have plenty of grab-n-go and snack options for the week. You might also want to cut up veggies to have on hand in your fridge so you don’t turn to options like potato chips when you want a snack. For healthy dinners and lunches, make soup and stews ahead of time. 

Exercise and Meditate

exercise and meditation
Add exercise and meditation to your life to reduce stress. Source: Pexels

Exercising is one of the best ways to relieve stress for a variety of reasons. Cardio will get your endorphins pumping - your brain’s feel good neurotransmitters. When we have a good workout, we release tension and teach our body how to respond to stress, so we are better equipped to handle tough situations. Regular exercise will help us sleep better, which can be impacted by high stress and anxiety. Finally, you’ll look better, feel stronger, and be more lean - benefits we cannot ever seem to get enough of.

Pair your exercise regimen with a regular meditation routine and you’ll have a bulletproof stress reduction strategy. Regular meditation has been proven to reduce stress by providing meditators with more capacity to cope with stress. If you meditate as little as 10 minutes a day, you will eventually build your brain’s resilience and change your perspective on the world around you.

Make virtual learning better for your family by creating a healthy virtual learning environment for your child.

Take Breaks

It may seem obvious, but taking breaks is one of the best ways we can relieve the every day stress of working online. Take a short walk or stretch if you have been sitting in front of your computer forever, make some herbal tea, or do a mini-workout or meditation. Encourage your child to do the same, and stretch with them if possible. A small bit of movement can make a big difference!

Communicate with your Teachers

When the stress of virtual learning gets to be too much, remember that you can always tell your teacher or kids’ teachers so they can adjust the workload accordingly. Sometimes you simply need a deadline extension, a bit of extra help, or some scaffolding to get you jumpstarted in your writing. Your teacher can adjust their expectations to help you cope with the stressors in your life, and your teacher may even be able to connect you with a guidance counsellor to help you slow down and focus.

If you are a parent and you notice your child is suffering from stress, contact the teacher to let them know that your child may need a break or is having anxiety. Your child’s teacher should be able to accommodate your child until they are able to manage their workload better. 

Get More Help

Of course, you might also consider outsourcing some extra help when stress levels get high. If your body is reacting physically to stress, make an appointment with your family doctor and see if they have recommendations. They may prescribe medication, refer you to a therapist, or give you some ideas for coping with stress. 

If you or your child are falling dangerously behind in your learning, you may want to consider hiring an online tutor for your help. An online tutor can look at the lessons you are doing and develop a plan of study that enables you to work with your strengths. An online tutor can review key concepts, coach you through an assignment, or provide you with insight you can apply to your learning. They will be able to listen to your needs, and help you develop plans to complete work at a realistic pace.

To find online tutors in your area, check out sites like Superprof for tutors near you. Check out Superprof today!

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.