The first few weeks of classes is often overwhelming. On top of that, many universities have us stuck inside for hours on end. I for one am not “30, flirty, and thriving” in my strict two-week quarantine. Zoom classes are draining, both mentally and physically. Because we are living in unprecedented times -- there that phrase is, again! -- it is important to be prepared for a future that continues to require social distancing, masks, and restricted travel home. So, let’s talk about how we can flourish in this unconventional living and learning environment.
1. Intentionality in your space
The easiest path to success is to curate an environment that makes it difficult not to achieve. This means lots of natural light, somewhere designated to work (not your bed, if possible) and the right tools for staying on task. For me, it’s a desk near the window, endless houseplants and a mini-fridge stocked with healthy snacks. I like to keep my room fairly neat so that starting a task seems almost convenient. There’s a calendar in clear view for marking changes to syllabi and weights under my bed for a workout. I fill up my glass of water every time it gets empty so I am always hydrated and headache-free. Organize your dorm -- or bedroom, for that matter -- around the tasks of your day.
2. The right distractions
Mental breaks are more important now than ever before. I know how tempting it can be to scroll on your phone between classes, but that just adds more screen time onto your day -- not great for your sleep or overall mood. The best move after your lectures is to get up and stretch. Take a walk if the option is available. Drink a glass of water and have a quick snack. If you have longer breaks in the day, consider activities that require creativity or encourage movement. I used to clock over 15 thousand steps a day last semester, mostly from walking between classes. You’re not automatically getting that exercise anymore, so try to be smart about your free time. Find ways to build and keep momentum.
3. Ways to check in
Socializing is mostly taking place online, as it should be. Although this can be an adjustment, reach out to the people in your life for support: friends, family, even professors. They can help you cope, and oftentimes, are struggling with the same things. Make space for the human connections. You can also check in with yourself by journaling or meditating. I do yoga on the days between workouts to keep tabs on how my body is feeling and where my mind wanders.
How, you ask? Put on your favorite Spotify playlist and let the music carry you. Join one of those webinars listed in your department’s newsletter. Go to an online show held by your university. Learn karate on YouTube. Cook an egg in your microwave. Try a new makeup look for your physics class. TikTok dances. Order something online that requires assembly. Join a club. You are still capable of joy. Give in to the possibilities.
The last, but most important must-have on this list: rest. School should not make you prioritize anything above your health. It matters; especially now, in a pandemic. You deserve at least eight hours of sleep, for one. Allow yourself to watch Netflix, do face masks and paint your nails when anxiety gets high. I know it’s hard when all the lines are blurring, but you owe it to yourself. Finally, if you’re experiencing renewed trauma from the police shootings and continued injustice in our nation, on top of everything else -- remember that it is an act of rebellion to rest. You can only be your best self when you take care of your mind, body and soul first.
Toxic positivity is on all of our feeds, and it can be hard to be gentle with yourself under all the pressure to keep up with routines. You don’t need to be at the top of your game right now -- I certainly am not. Right now, I’m slowly making progress toward a sense of normalcy. Reading books, taking the day in stride, staying reasonably focused during class. Always, always, always be honest with yourself. If you need help, seek help -- your university has people just for that sole reason. Now is the most acceptable time to be selfish about self-care, as long as you’re also staying inside, masked and socially distant.
You can do this. I believe in you. One task at a time until it gets easier.