Progress Through a Pandemic

Throughout the past week, social media has reminded me that around this time last year, our lives turned upside down. Up until March of 2020, Covid was just something that was happening across the world, thousands of miles away from my life. But as students presented news stories in my News Reporting class each week, the stories inched closer and closer to the United States. I remember that it was around mid-March, I was walking on campus to my next class surprised by how gorgeous the weather was. The sky was the clearest it had been for months, and the sun felt wonderfully warm on my face. I was tempted to skip my last class and enjoy the first taste of spring, but I reluctantly went inside Lanigan Hall to finish my school day. 

As I sat in class, students’ murmurs of Governor Cuomo’s statement soon became the discussion of the whole class, as they pressed the professor for information regarding the supposed shutdown of SUNY schools. I remember sitting there, shocked and confused as to what was happening, what was going to happen. It took all of my focus not to spiral into a panic attack as my professor settled down the students and began to teach class, as if the rest of my semester was not about to be thrown into Lake Ontario. By the end of that week, I had packed up most of my dorm room and was back home, four hours away from where I had planned, and wanted, to finish my Sophomore year. 

As a result, my mental health immediately began to decline, with a multitude of factors playing a role including final papers, my home environment, a break-up, and the general anxiety of being stuck in a pandemic. I am sure many people can relate to the stress and uncertainty that was so prevalent during those first few weeks, and the many months to come. When summer finally came, I found myself left with what felt like a huge amount of free time, time that I had no idea what to do with. I knew I had to focus on my mental health, but how could I when so much was going on in the world and my mind? Progress had seemed impossible to achieve during a pandemic, until I remembered something my therapist had told me back in the spring: During times of anxiety, focus on the small things you can do, the small shifts you can make, and the baby steps you can take to help yourself. 

I started to implement these small steps in my life, and while it was not drastic at first, I could definitely notice a change by the time the fall semester rolled around. I was a bit more confident in myself, comfortable in my body, and positive in my thinking. As the pandemic continues, I have had to find new ways to shift things in my life and new things to incorporate into my schedule to continue to prioritize my health and happiness. Here are some of the small things that have been consistent in helping me see some progress during this pandemic!

Fresh air: Walks seemed to be the go-to stress reliever that many people utilized once they became stuck at home. When I was back home all summer, walking laps around my neighborhood was an easy way to get out of the house for half an hour, while getting some much needed movement in. It also became the way for me to be able to hang out with my friend; we were able to wear masks and take socially distanced walks around her neighborhood, and just being able to see and talk to someone outside of my house was refreshing. When I got back up to Oswego for the fall semester, for the first few months I was able to take walks in the evening with my boyfriend, which was a welcome break from my apartment. However, once it became colder and I was swamped with more and more school work, just getting ready to go out and go for a walk seemed exhausting. This is why I said fresh air and not walks—when going outside and taking a walk seems overwhelming, it is much easier to throw the window open and let some fresh air come to you! On days that I just felt stagnant and tired, I would crack open my window or step out onto my balcony for a minute and take a few deep breaths of the cold air. Not only did the cold help to wake me up a bit, but just taking the time to take a few deep breaths of fresh air, not the stale air of your room, really helps to calm and refresh you. I would use it as a “reset” when I found myself stuck in a bad mood, each new breath clearing out my stagnant negative energy. 

Water: This does not seem that significant, but focusing on drinking water throughout the day has helped me in a number of ways. Firstly, drinking enough water gives me much more energy than when I am dehydrated, and energy was something that was hard to come by for me during this pandemic. Just like fresh air, I would use a cool glass of water as a “reset” for when I found myself feeling stuck mentally. Sitting down and drinking a full glass of water, not chugging it but taking the time to actually sit down and drink it, was beneficial for me for being more mindful. Instead of letting my mind drift around all day and dwell on negative thoughts, each time I would drink a glass of water would help to drag me out of myself and bring me back to the present. Ice cubes or ice pops were particularly helpful for when I found myself really out of it, and I have been using them recently as a way to clear my head between sessions of doing homework. Being able to focus on one thing at a time, be it remembering to drink water or the cold sensation of it, became integral for me when so much felt outside of my control. 

Switching up movement: When the pandemic first hit and I did not have the advantage of the campus gym at my disposal, I had absolutely no motivation to work out or do any movement for that matter. What had once been my favorite ways to move now bored me, so I simply let myself go without any workouts for a while. This only worsened my mental state, making me feel worse both physically and mentally, as I felt lazy and unproductive. Enter YouTube: there are countless videos on the platform for any type of exercise you can imagine, from yoga and pilates to HIIT workouts and interval training. I usually went for the same kinds of videos by Yoga with Adrienne, so I branched out to other videos like HIIT and Yoga Fusion, which was a combination between the yoga I once loved and some higher intensity. Not only did it hold my attention well, as it was a relatively short video with a variety of moves, but I also felt great afterwards. I was able to get some really great movement in without having to commit an entire hour to it. These kinds of videos really helped me to get back into loving to work out, and they inspired me to aim to get some type of movement in most days, be it a full video or even just the warm-up of it. 

Trying different meals: Similar to switching up your workout routine, I also found switching up my meals gave me some much-needed variety when everything can end up feeling the same. I used to only cook eggs in the morning in the form of scrambled eggs, and soon I tired so much of them that I did not want to eat breakfast at all. I grew anxious every time the morning rolled around, knowing I would be hungry and should eat something, but dreading eating the same thing again. Instead of giving up on eggs entirely, on a whim I decided to cook them differently (ground-breaking, I know.) I asked my mom to show me how to cook eggs over easy, the way she prefers them, and discovered that they are super easy to make, and tasty. I was still able to start my day with protein just without the added anxiety that had accumulated. While this does not seem like a big deal and is something many people will think of and do all the time, for someone like me that thrives with routines, I often get stuck inside them and struggle to break free of them. I had gotten into the routine of making exclusively scrambled eggs, so when I did not feel like them anymore, I did not know what to do. Switching up your routine, even if you do not feel stuck in or tired of it, is beneficial in keeping your day and your thought patterns new and fresh. While you do not by any means have to change a routine that works for you, just trying different choices within it can be enough to help you not grow tired of it. 

Adding new hobbies: Trying new things and adding them into your life can be an overwhelming way to improve your life, but there are ways to make it work more easily. Over the summer, this looked like skateboarding for me! My friend has a slew of skateboards, cruisers, and longboards, so when we would socially distance ourselves out in her yard, sometimes we would each take one and ride around the block a few times. I have no experience skating whatsoever, so she recommended I ride the cruiser as it would be easier to balance on. After a few tries, I was able to stand on it and glide around, and soon I was pushing off and could even stop! Every time we hung out, we would take a few laps with them, and slowly but surely I got better and better at it and had more and more fun. I am by no means good at it, but where I once could not even get on, I can now go up and down the street, which made me feel awesome. I am still afraid of going down hills and making sharp turns, but I know that, though small, I have still made progress. 

It is small progress like this that you have to focus on when everything in the world is going so wrong. Instead of focusing on how many times I fell or all of the things I could not do, I was beginning to consciously choose to focus on how much fun I had and how far I had come. I started to feel proud of myself for trying new things and branching out to try new workouts. When I felt terrible, I began to think sooner of how I could help myself, instead of why I felt that way or succumbing to the feeling altogether. If you have struggled to see progress in any area of your life during this pandemic, or are just feeling stagnant or tired of the same old routine, I encourage you to take some of these baby steps or find your own small changes you can make, be it a small shift, an addition, or trying something new!