Beyond the viral crises that has been ensuing at a cellular level, COVID-19 has also been the impetus for a looming mental health crisis, especially for the youth – including young healthcare workers in training.
Millennial and subsequent generations are notorious for their reliance on external stimuli for gratification and fulfillment. The well-developed social scene in metropolis the like of Manhattan provides extreme escapism from stressful career paths and interpersonal challenges that plague our generation.
Think back to the pre-covid era – be it munching on avocado toast and warm cinnamon glazed French toast during a nice Sunday brunch – smelling a mixture of freshly brewed coffee mixed with the tang of mimosas in a quaint Soho eatery; Saturday evening on a rooftop, watching the hues of orange melt into a pink and then a mystic deep blue with sunset, sipping on a drink; rushing home from work, dressing up in freshly laundered tight jeans and shimmering top for Friday night out with friends in the busting villages of Manhattan; or be it sweating through a hot yoga class with friends, it is only human to crave the escapism modern society provided us with at this moment in time.
To a generation that relied so heavily on external stimulus as a form of release and relaxation, COVID -19 has confined us to four walls for months and months with no end in sight. COVID -19 looked us straight in the eye and challenged us to sit still with our thoughts and do the unthinkable – face them. Many times, these are the thoughts we bury under layers of distraction. However, now like child woken from a tender sleep, these thoughts are restless, exposed, and are here to create mayhem. For some it is thoughts of an academic or career failure, for others it is thoughts of relationships past, and for some it may even be unnecessary comparisons and attaining that unachievable goal of perfection that social media keeps presenting.
Understanding the Millennial generation’s evolving relationship with technology was already at the forefront of research – especially the “constant need of today’s generation to feel more connected with their smart phones and disconnected with the real world around them” (Tyagi et al, 2019). When you take healthcare workers and students with immense pressure and uncertainty in the most unexpected and extreme conditions and deprive them of all external escapism for release, what is left for us to rely on is a precarious dimension, the virtual dimension.
Like an addiction to drugs, research demonstrates that addiction to smartphones and a virtual world leads to obsession and disconnection with the real world. It serves as a handicap which studies have shown lead to oversharing information on smartphones, and this can lead to dissatisfaction and tumultuous interpersonal relationships (Christofides et al., 2009; Christofideset al., 2012; Lewis and West, 2009). Meant to connect individuals, a News report by BBC stated that while social media provided information, it left its users feeling more isolated and lonelier after perceived connection.
As a Millennial, I sit here on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the cool breeze teasing me, hinting at autumns past, which to me always signified fresh beginnings. All resulting in a growing sense of melancholy nostalgia in my heart. As an eager student, summer was always my least favorite season. I would count down the days till the evenings were cooler and ‘pumpkin-spice-everything’ made a comeback on the shelves at Trader Joes. Autumn signified new academic beginnings – new classes and subject material, interacting with students, restarting extracurricular organizations, and the relaxation and socialization that accompanied all of that.