Challenges of a break-free semester of virtual learning

Julie Bobyock

It’s no secret that attending college during a pandemic is difficult. Hours of Zoom classes and meetings, and online homework, projects, and exams have changed student life on campus all over the nation – and have also affected student mental health. While spring breaks have been cancelled at colleges all throughout the country in order to keep communities safe,  including University of New Hampshire (UNH), a college semester without a break has seemed to increase the stress levels on campuses.  

“I honestly feel way more stressed this semester,” said Sofia Nuovo, a sophomore communications major taking classes fully remote from home. “I am taking harder classes this semester, but I think I’m just getting so sick of online school that my work ethic is just getting worse and worse.”  

Shealah Bunnell, a sophomore social work major, said, “The course load has become almost intolerable. I am so stressed and professors don’t seem to notice how much work they’re giving us.”  

It’s difficult to say whether attending online classes enhances free time or diminishes it. On one hand, the walk to and from class or meetings suddenly disappears, and there is no commute to campus. However, have professors increased the workload in online versions of their classes?  

Kate Stariknok, a communications sciences and disorders sophomore, said, “With my virtual classes, we are expected to spend a lot more time outside of class doing readings and essentially teaching ourselves – in addition to them still being the same length as an in-person class.” 

However, professors and faculty are also coping without a break. With meetings, lectures, grading, and mentoring, professors are often just as busy and stressed as students. Not to mention they are sometimes teaching to an unresponsive zoom class and attempting to adapt their curriculum to an online format.  

Wil Wollheim, professor for UNH’s Department of Natural Resource and the Environment and co-director of the Water Systems Analysis Group, said, “Dealing with hybrid teaching has made the semester a bit more stressful. It is hard keeping track of all the technology when your class is half in person, and half remote.”  

With long days of staring at computers, whether it be for homework or class, students are beginning to burn out. But from understanding and experiencing each other’s struggles, the community of UNH never fails to work together through challenges – including student mental health. UNH Health & Wellness has planned many activities to promote wellness in place of spring break, such as yoga workshops, sleep workshops and mindfulness retreats.  

Students have been trying to combat their Zoom fatigue and course load with self-care. “I listen to myself,” says molecular biology graduate student Joy O’Brien. “There is always some point in the day that I just say out loud, ‘okay, I need to take a break,’ and at that point I get up and give myself some time to decompress.” 

Various other students also  say they are making time for the gym, reading a good book, and going on walks in College Woods has helped them disconnect from the virtual world and engage in the real one. With such a busy semester, it is important for UNH students to remember they are more than students – they are human beings who need to spend time doing activities they love. Hopefully the UNH community can continue to work together and remind each other of their value outside of a square on a screen.  

To learn more about UNH Health & Wellness activities that are engaging students in healthy mental health practices, visit