The last couple of weeks have brought about many changes and challenges to our normal routines. However, when my work and classes announced that they were moving everything online, I originally thought that this transition was going to be an easy one. After all, other people experienced much more difficult hardships in regards to their family, safety, jobs, and housing, and I was fairly introverted, to begin with. Staying at home didn’t seem like a hard thing to do. However, quarantine and self-isolation have its own set of challenges as well, especially for my mental health.
I didn’t realize how much I depended on my routine of going to and from school to structure my day. When that was taken away, I felt sad when I was unmotivated to properly participate in my academics but I also felt angry at myself when I extended my ‘class hours’ and refused to take a break. I had a hard time distinguishing when the day began and ended, often leaving me exhausted. Furthermore, when I experienced bouts of anxiety (usually caused by discouraging news about COVID-19), I felt trapped not only in my room but also in my body. I couldn’t physically turn to a friend about my worries or exercise my feelings by going somewhere else or taking a walk.
In a time where everyone is worried about their physical health, it’s easy to forget about our mental health. We might even belittle its importance. Although we should be sensitive about the needs and challenges of others, we shouldn’t invalidate our feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Feelings that could be worsened by self-isolating.
The CDC has posted ways to cope with stress and mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It lists possible responses to different worries and situations. However, here are some general tips I’ve found helpful in minding my mental health during this crazy time.
ONE: MANAGE YOUR USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
While it’s important to be updated and aware of what is happening, an overload of information can lead you to depression as well as anxiety. I believe the first step you need to take is to recognize that you don’t need to know everything immediately — you simply need to know enough to keep you and your loved ones safe. This means allowing yourself to unplug from not only social media but also news outlets.
Start by deciding on a couple of trusted news sources for updates and eliminate the rest. This will minimize your chances of an overload of information that can overwhelm you and leave you anxious. From there, decide when you are allowing yourself to check the news for updates. Perhaps it’s before you start the day or when you end. The bottom line is don’t keep checking.
In relation to allowing yourself to unplug, allow yourself to smile and laugh as well. While it’s a difficult and serious situation, there’s no shame in stopping to watch a funny show or find personal fun by taking up a new hobby you’ve been dying to try. It’s okay to smile! And perhaps you need to more now than ever.
TWO: MAINTAIN YOUR ROUTINE
If you find that you also depended on routine to structure your day like me — keep at it! It will help guide your day so that you’re making the most out of your day and not overexerting yourself. If class usually starts at 9:35 AM for you, be ready to do work by then. If class ends by 3:20 PM, log out of your online class and rest for 30 minutes or so before you begin doing homework.
While most of my classes do not happen in real-time, I still find myself waking up the same time I would if I had to commute to class. I also change into clothes that I would wear in person as if to tell myself that I’m now in ‘school/work mode’. It’s also just because it’s one of my daily pleasures in life. That’s another thing you should do to maintain your routine — don’t give up your favorite parts of the day! Even if it means no one is going to see your cute outfit. Little things like this can brighten up your day and help you regain a sense of normalcy.
Another thing I would recommend to help you maintain your routine when you work at home is having a designated workspace if you can. Possibly, somewhere further away from your bed. Always remind yourself that when you sit there, you are working. Really — conditioning yourself that everything is more or less the same can make a world of a difference when it comes to maintaining your old routine.
THREE: CONNECT WITH FRIENDS
Although I cannot physically see my friends or have interactions with people due to social distancing, social media has given us a platform to connect amidst these times. In the same way your professor uses Zoom to do real-time online lectures, you can meet up with your friends online in real-time. Maybe you can host a group study or even simply hang out. Don’t mentally or emotionally isolate yourself just as you’re doing so physically. It will only further impact your anxiety and feelings of being depressed, discouraged, and unmotivated.
In light of this situation, I actually found myself connecting with friends who I don’t normally see every day. My friends in Canada, Austria, and the Philippines, who are also practicing social distancing, are finally coordinating our timezones in order to catch up with one another. We host ‘sleepovers’ with each other even though it’s 9 AM in California, 12 noon in Canada, and 12 midnight in the Philippines. Our favorite thing to do is Jackbox game nights in which we all play party games online and have a bunch of laughs.
For those who don’t know, Jackbox Games is a company that sells online party packs games that you can play remotely with your friends. They have a variety of games from trivia games, drawing games, and even games that require you to construct a killer rap verse. You just need one person to host/stream it (or, in our case, screen share it) and everyone can play through their phones and interact via voice call. They explain it way better than I can, but it’s a great investment whether you’re stuck inside or hosting a party later on. It’s available on Steam, Switch, PS4, and many other consoles. Due to the demand caused by social distancing, all the party packs are currently on sale. You should try it! One pack gets you 5 games immediately, and you’ll still use it even after quarantine ends. My personal recommendation is Party Pack 3 and 4.
We’re all struggling in our own ways during this pandemic, and I think it’s important to recognize our own hardships whether we perceive them as big or small. Although we cannot physically see the harm this situation is doing to our mental health, it is still real and very much there. Remember to acknowledge each other’s struggles and needs as well as your own. More importantly, remind yourself that it’s okay to feel these feelings. Just as it’s okay to smile, laugh, and find some silver lining in these times. The world could use your smile.