Written by Zoe Manoukian
We are deep enough into this pandemic and still left with so few answers and so little to do. We are all together here, in our respective homes, cycling through the same information over and over and over again. The same FAQ pages, the same mental health navigation tips, even the same conversations. In this time, we are all looking for a connection and an answer that we can’t have. While a lot of us smile through it and remind one another to bask in the positives, this void of explanation and antidote and restoration only sucks us in farther as it is our classes that shift to online, our restaurants that shut their doors, our jobs that are deemed unessential, and our cities that now operate under a shelter in place (or more brutally—lockdown) policy.
Though by now we have probably read up on the mental tax that today’s circumstance is taking on us, it is crucial that we continue to check in with ourselves as well as our loved ones.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, social distancing and quarantine can lead to feelings of anxiety, concern, uncertainty, loneliness, anger, boredom, and ambivalence, and can aggravate pre-existing symptoms of depression and PTSD. Some doctors expect that the absence of human touch might prove to be detrimental. Thankfully, many mental health services are finding solutions to remain available to patients remotely during this time.
There are some obvious and simple ways to give our minds the order and motivation that they need right now. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America asks that we each develop a daily routine, fit in 30 minutes of exercise, and eat nutritiously. These are all great tips by which to abide at all times, but I think we are all in need of a little more right now.
Students especially have found that utilizing applications such as Facetime, Skype, and Zoom can mitigate feelings of loneliness and distance. Massachusetts psychologist Dr. Maggie Mulqueen encourages visual interaction, but not for the reasons a lot of us are already profiting from it. Dr. Mulqueen emphasizes the importance of seeing our friends, family, peers, and coworkers in-person and regularly. According to her, these interactions can help us identify when the people around us are going through hardship, such as illness or abuse. Though someone’s hardships do not always manifest visibly, Dr. Mulqueen encourages visual communication so that we can develop a firmer grasp on our loved ones’ situations. If your correspondent looks unwell or is constantly surrounded by clutter, this might be a sign that they are in need of extra assistance.
We can also practice a variety of anxiety reducing techniques, such as grounding (or Earthing), a therapeutic technique that involves tuning in with our environment so that we may be brought back to a place of calm and awareness when we are feeling upset, scattered, or lost. To achieve this, the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests a 5-4-3-2-1 coping strategy: acknowledge 5 things you see around you, acknowledge 4 things you can touch around you, acknowledge 3 things you can hear, acknowledge 2 things you can smell, and acknowledge 1 thing you can taste.
As we will be spending inordinate periods of time in our homes for the foreseeable future, it is a good idea to create a space that we enjoy. This means a tidy space and a sanitized space, and one in which we can productively work and focus. Along this train of thought, the ADAA suggests that we respect each space, and avoid habits such as eating in bed or working on the sofa if possible. It is also prudent to clean all heavily trafficked surfaces, and be mindful of habits such as taking shoes off at the door and washing your hands every time you enter the house or touch something that has not been sanitized.
Reducing our media consumption might be an obvious step to take, but is so important and so difficult. While it is crucial that we stay informed, there is no reason that we need to be alerted for every misfortune or tragedy that is out of our hands. The 24-hour news cycle has never been our friend, and it definitely isn’t now.
Lastly, it can be difficult to find motivation right now. For some of us, all of this time that we lament not having is suddenly given to us. Resultantly, there is a certain rhetoric of “learn that instrument, write that book, speak that language”. While these are great ways to fill our days, they can be time consuming and frustrating, and difficult hobbies for progress measuring. They can also be overwhelming, and overwhelming feelings can quickly lead to unproductivity. So, it’s crucial to think small sometimes. Keep setting goals, and keep in mind the SMART goal that we have all likely been subjected to at one point in Health or PE class. An effective goal should be: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. For the next few weeks, we will need to take things day by day, and it is so important that we go to bed each night with the ability to confidently identify recent and concrete accomplishments amidst all of the exploring and growing that we are sure to do along the way.