I was studying for winter quarter final exams when the news broke.
“Cal Poly will hold virtual classes until at least April 17, encouraging online finals,” read a headline for a Mustang News story.
To receive this news the week of finals and days before spring break was scheduled to begin was – for lack of better words – shitty. I, like many other students, had to figure out where I would live during the spring quarter, how to return home safely, what my financial situation would look like and how I would continue to work during the pandemic.
Nowadays I still feel stressed, but I’ve cultivated healthy habits that I wouldn’t have had the chance to if the pandemic never occurred. Even though I don’t have a consistent class schedule like I used to, I’ve had much more flexibility to explore different study methods and figure out what activities, hobbies and interests spark joy within me. It’s definitely not how I imagined my spring quarter to look like, but I’ve found several pearls in this tumultuous ocean that I hope can help you.
Here are some of the ways I have been keeping my mental health in check throughout the COVID-19 situation.
- I’ve been exercising more often.
When I had in-person classes, I would use all the excuses in the book to not go to the recreation center. I would say I was too tired after class, I didn’t want to be sweaty and smelly during my next class, I wanted to take a nap at home rather than work out… you get the gist.
But now that I’m constantly indoors, it’s easier for me to feel trapped by the four walls that surround me every day. Cabin fever feels very real for me. I miss walking to and from classes, strolling in the midst of a sea of students who didn’t recognize me and whom I didn’t recognize. I took for granted the feeling of being “anonymous” in a community of scholars, athletes, artists, researchers and instructors. For some reason, that exhilarated me; it made me feel as though I was part of – and belonged to – a community.
Now that I no longer have that luxury, it’s been important for my sanity to go outdoors every day. Just a few weeks ago, I reunited with my former sport, running, and since then, I have not missed a day of working out. Whether I’m jogging around my neighborhood, sprinting on the track at Cal Poly, hiking nearby trails or following a workout on the Nike Training Club app, I feel instantly better afterwards. I forgot how much I loved feeling as though I were floating across the track, gliding through the paved sidewalks by my apartment, battling the wind as I placed one foot in front of the other.
I also noticed running helps me stay mindful of my body and my inner voice. I catch myself asking, “How is my breathing? Am I pacing myself? How can I improve my form? If I’m tired, should I push through it or take a short break?” These questions help me check in on myself, be wary of any aches or pains and focus on running rather than ruminating on anxiety-inducing thoughts.
- I started painting again.
I’m definitely not an experienced artist, but ever since I got acrylic paints from my dad in high school, I’ve seen painting as a stress deterrent. Painting has a magical way of taking me out of my head and shifting my concentration to the canvas before me. It’s one of those activities that quickly transcends me to a state of flow where I lose track of time and enjoy the activity at hand.
Whether you enjoy painting along to Bob Ross tutorials or creating lush landscapes from your head, I think painting can be one of the most calming activities you can do by yourself or with a family member or loved one. If you’re looking for simple yet beautiful art tutorials, I recommend “Paint Along with Skye” on YouTube (this isn’t sponsored, I promise). She posts videos every Saturday of painting tutorials with basic supplies. All of her tutorials are beginner-friendly and less than an hour, which means you can have a masterpiece in no time.
If you’re not into painting, that’s OK! I would suggest finding another creative outlet, such as learning a new song on the piano, writing down your thoughts in a journal, cooking a new recipe, dancing, taking and editing photos or any other form of expression that excites you. Even if you aren’t an “expert” in a particular activity, it’s fun to step out of your comfort zone and experiment with different activities that add some spontaneity to the mundanity of life in quarantine.
- I’ve continued going to therapy and psychiatry appointments online/over the phone.
I think there should be no shame in reaching out for professional help during a pandemic, especially if you already struggle with mental health conditions or if you or your loved ones have been impacted by COVID-19. Even if there was no pandemic, I would still recommend therapy to anybody.
Taking that first step can be scary, but therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists are there to help you. If they’re experienced, chances are they’ve spoken with hundreds of patients and are familiar with how you’re feeling and how they can help you. Plus, if you’re like me, it’s so much easier to open up to someone I’m not close to as opposed to talking to someone who has known me for years. It’s comforting to know there is someone out there whose job is to help you without any underlying biases or motivations.
Out of an abundance of caution, I have been chatting with my therapist every week on the phone and with my psychiatrist every 3-4 weeks online. It’s not the most ideal setup, but the consistent appointments give me some sense of normalcy when everything around me no longer feels ordinary. It’s also nice to talk to someone who can help me find the positive aspects of quarantine rather than dwelling on the relentless spiral of thoughts that triggers my anxiety.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The hotline provides 24/7, free and confidential support. If you don’t feel comfortable calling the hotline, speak with a friend, family member or someone you trust. You are not alone and you will get through this tough time.
- Meditation works wonders for people struggling with anxiety, including myself.
I have struggled with self-harm, severe depression and anxiety disorder since I was around 13 years old. It wasn’t until I met my second therapist in high school when I discovered the benefits of meditation.
As a college student, meditation is incredibly helpful for days when I feel stressed about assignments, exams and work. Meditation and mindfulness have also been especially useful throughout quarantine. Sometimes I catch myself worrying about my friends and family, so meditating helps me stay present while acknowledging and accepting my anxiety.
If you’ve never meditated before, I suggest downloading the free Headspace app on your phone. It gives you a variety of meditation and mindfulness exercises, including exercises for sleep, stress reduction, productivity and more. Some exercises are only five minutes, while others can go up to 20 or 30 minutes. Mindfulness is a skill that takes time and practice, and Headspace is a wonderful resource for that.
- I’ve continued working (safely!).
Working from home is such a privilege, and my heart goes out to anyone who has lost their job or has been affected in any other way by the coronavirus. That being said, if you’re still employed during the pandemic and can work from the comfort of your own home or work safely at your place of employment, take advantage of that opportunity while exercising caution, especially if you come into contact with many people at your job.
Establishing a productive routine has helped me feel more in control of my day-to-day life. I feel so fortunate to not only work for a local broadcast news station (which is considered an essential business) but to also have the opportunity to work from home on days when I’m not required to go to the station. I’m also incredibly grateful for my education, even if it’s all virtual. Pursuing a college education in the middle of a pandemic comes with a plethora of learning curves (no pun intended), and I appreciate the effort my instructors put into making sure I’m learning to the best of my abilities while staying at home.
I understand many people do not share the privilege of working from home or having the resources to access their education online, and I hope all of you know you do not need to be productive to be valued as a human being. I’m a firm believer in the fact that your intrinsic value has nothing to do with how much money you make, what expensive car you own or which designer brands you can afford; rather, it’s based on your unique experiences and idiosyncrasies which make you authentic and vulnerable.
This is a difficult time for everyone, and I hope all of you are staying safe, healthy and happy. Remember to practice social distancing, spend time with your loved ones safely and mute your microphone on Zoom.