Pandemic stressors weigh on Minnesota’s young people

Finding ways to cope is key as pandemic exhaustion sets in.

Pandemic stressors weighing on Minnesota's young people
For University of Minnesota senior Jacob King, Plymouth mother of four Kirby Hoberg and Minneapolis Southwest High School junior Emi Gacaj.

— Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't been as deadly for young Minnesotans, but they're feeling the pain of missed milestones and the challenges of life disrupted.

Now, even with a vaccine on the horizon, the pandemic's end seems distant for many young people who are likely low on the priority list for vaccinations. And the exhaustion is hitting some young people hard, especially those who have spent months watching some of their peers make potentially unsafe choices.

Shari Gross, Star Tribune

Jacob King, 22

University of Minnesota senior

For University of Minnesota senior Jacob King, the last month has been especially straining as cases rise.

"I am frustrated with people my age. It seems that every week there is a video or photograph of very large parties taking place on campus," King said.

These videos and reports of mask-less parties are particularly stressful for King, 22, who has elderly parents and a brother who is immunocompromised.

"If they catch COVID, it is very likely that all three of them could end up in the hospital," King said. "That is why I wish people could just stop being selfish and stop going to large gatherings. I wish people would wear masks, even if it's in their friend groups."

Making or maintaining friendships is another concern. In Minnesota, known for being insular even before the pandemic, it's particularly tough.

Shari Gross, Star Tribune

Kirby Hoberg, 30

Actor and parent

Married mom of four Kirby Hoberg doesn't have family in Minnesota. She and her husband moved to Plymouth from California a couple of years ago, and their own families are in different parts of the country, making seeing loved ones impossible.

"When you get down to COVID bubble circles, everyone here will largely choose their family," Hoberg, 30, said. "We don't really makes the cut."

Hoberg, who acted before her theater was shut down, has watched some of her friends continue to make unsafe choices throughout the course of the pandemic, which can feel isolating.

"They're like, 'It's fine if I just go to the bar at like, nine,' " Hoberg said. "You just kind of feel like the perpetual party pooper."

The virus doesn't care how close you are with your friends, Hoberg said: "It's very opportunistic."

Shari Gross, Star Tribune

Emi Gacaj, 17

High school student

The holiday season, typically marked by winter vacation fun, looks a little different for Minneapolis Southwest High School junior Emi Gacaj.

"This holiday season is more about what I can do for my community and how I can give back, more so than taking time to celebrate," Gacaj said.

Mutual aid and volunteering are important distractions from the stress of distance learning. Gacaj recalls that online classes weren't so serious in the spring, but now there's more pressure.

"I'm in front of a computer like 10 hours a day," Gacaj, 17, said.

Trying to socialize with friends means more screen time. Even dance practices are held on Zoom.

"There's no connection. We do all these things to connect with other people and learn other perspectives, and that's all lost," Gacaj said.

How to cope

Minneapolis therapist Annette Schulz said her patients are dealing with it all — COVID exhaustion, loneliness, and digital burnout. Schulz, with Koru Holistic Counseling typically has a busy practice but is aware of a higher demand now from Minnesotans young and old who are seeking resources during this time.

Many of our old ways of coping — seeing others or getting lost in the typical busyness of life — have become difficult or impossible due to the pandemic, as distractions decrease while loneliness increases, she said.

Schulz's suggestions? Start with basic self care like drinking water, taking vitamin D, connecting with nature and nutrition. Create a routine and build connections with others online or within your pod.

"Have grace and patience with yourself," Schulz said. "Check your expectations around being productive, get comfortable with being quiet and experiencing some boredom or restlessness."

And try to practice gratitude, she said: "Give yourself regular personal kudos for doing things that feel hard no matter how small or insignificant you feel they are."