At the time I am composing this article, it has been about six months since the coronavirus turned all of our lives upside down and sent us into isolation. With the onslaught of this pandemic, life before the virus has come to feel like a blissful, distant memory. For the past six months, all of us have yearned for a return to normalcy and daydreamed about doing things as commonplace as eating in a restaurant or hugging our friends. But as we focus our attention on maintaining our physical health, it's just as important that we check in with our mental health.
As everyone likes to say, we are in unprecedented times. So, how can we face this new threat to our mental wellbeing and find new strategies to cope? COVID-19 has already negatively impacted the mental health of millions of Americans and created new challenges for those already dealing with underlying mental health issues. According to a KFF Tracking Poll, 53% of American adults reported a decline in their mental wellbeing due to the stress of the on-going pandemic. If you find that you’re presently struggling, please know that you are far from alone and resources are available to help you cope with these challenging times.
It’s natural to feel lonely, unmotivated, or even frustrated with all the time we are spending indoors. An academic study found that there is a distinct correlation between prolonged isolation and poor mental and physical health. In addition, mental health experts are concerned by the increased rate of suicides driven by social isolation and economic uncertainty. According to the CDC, twice as many adults reported that they had contemplated suicide in the last 30 days compared to a similar report from 2018.
The coronavirus pandemic has also impacted over 30 million students. With many students transitioning to online learning, students not only have to adjust to a new daily routine but also learn to cope with the absence of in-person social interaction and missing out on some of the most monumental moments of their academic careers. Additionally, many students have found themselves without essential mental health services after the closures of their schools. Fortunately, in the wake of this problem, services like George Mason’s CAPS have continued to offer counseling and crisis services during the pandemic through virtual means.
In addition to the stress surrounding the coronavirus, many have begun to hyper fixate on the notion of the “quarantine 15.” Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase in passing or in a particularly tone-deaf weight loss advertisement. Regardless, the toxic discourse surrounding this term has gone on to indirectly harm those with a history of disordered eating and poor body image. With the unpredictability of what can be found at the local grocery store, the urge to restrict or binge can easily resurface for individuals with a history of an eating disorder.
Many people who are already facing an eating disorder may also suddenly find themselves surrounded by less nutritious, “fear foods” which only compounds their stress. The term “quarantine 15” isn’t harmful in and of itself. With our lifestyle changing and more time spent indoors baking banana bread, it’s natural for our bodies to change. However, it's important to acknowledge how this term can also be weaponized to perpetuate fear and self-consciousness. Especially when we take into account how susceptible eating disorder sufferers are to negative messages that condemn weight gain.
So, what can we do to improve our mental state in quarantine? First and foremost, the CDC recommends educating ourselves on the nature of the virus and knowing where and how to get potential treatment to reduce the anxiety surrounding it. Additionally, the CDC advises limiting our news intake, as repeatedly hearing about the pandemic can become upsetting. It’s also important to take time to unwind. Try to make time during the day to move your body, eat well-balanced meals, and engage in stress-relieving activities like meditation, yoga, or listening to music.
If you feel lonely or disconnected, try setting up a video call with your friends and family or gathering in small groups to social distance. If you feel comfortable, talk to those close to you about how you are feeling. You may be surprised to discover that they feel the same way or are experiencing a similar situation. Despite present circumstances, it is still possible to connect to a larger community online or through social media. At George Mason, there are always online events happening through the Patriot Activity Council and hundreds of virtual clubs and faith-based groups to join this semester.
Remember collegiettes, you are never alone. If you find that your needs surpass these coping techniques, please reach out to a mental health professional or the Counseling and Psychological Services at George Mason.
And if you are in crisis, please call 911 or seek immediate help at any of the following resources.