The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our world in unimaginable ways. In response, we have incorporated new personal hygienic and social distancing practices for protection of our physical health. We wear masks and gloves to grocery stores, wash hands till our skin flakes and lock up at home for days on end, but what can be done about our mental health? Humans can’t thrive off isolation, and regardless of whether we consider ourselves introverts or extroverts, we struggle to live life at its fullest right now. So what do we do when social distancing is the only safe option?
While mental health can be a personal matter, what helps one person may be beneficial for another in times of stress. Distraction reached out to a number of college students and asked them to weigh in on their own experiences and words of advice.
Tovah, a junior biology major at Touro College in New York, found herself quarantining miles away from her home and immediate family in Florida. When the number of COVID cases in the city began to rapidly flourish, she was forced to flee her dorm. “Things just kept getting out of hand,” she said. “Before I knew it, I couldn’t get on a flight home.” She then chose to evacuate to New Jersey, where she could safely stay with her cousins. “Not being home is hard,” she admitted. “I always say I really don’t like Florida, but now I’m kind of missing it.”
Tovah is, however, discovering the silver linings in her experience. “I’m in a house with 11 kids, so there’s always something to do,” she remarked. Music has also helped her in “this crazy time.” She runs a fan account on Instagram for a group she loves, which has served as a positive distraction from feelings of homesickness.
Emily, a sophomore at the University of Miami studying neuroscience, shared similar sentiments: She agrees that staying busy “keeps the mind occupied and eliminates stressful thoughts about the pandemic” and now is “a great time to pick up a hobby… learn something new or try something that has always seemed interesting.” She also emphasized the importance of spending quality time with loved ones. “Enjoy the opportunity to bond with family and close friends, assuming it is safe to visit!” We also must recognize our power to help others who are especially susceptible to contracting the virus. “Bring groceries to your elderly neighbor or send masks to those who are most vulnerable,” Emily suggested. “This will warm their hearts!” Simply put, it feels good to do good!
Marisa, a business student at the University of South Florida, found implementing balance and routine to be crucial during times of uncertainty. “This experience has definitely been an adjustment but creating a schedule of tasks to stay on track has helped me. Making time between responsibilities for classes to keep up with family and friends is also important.” A key tip from Marisa was to stay physically active: Setting aside time for exercise provides a mental break and frees us from our heavy submersion into cabin fever.
People with preexisting anxiety symptoms may find some aspects of quarantine subsiding those feelings. An anonymous UM student claims to feel less anxious knowing she isn’t alone in her qualms. “Although we are social distancing, I feel even closer to people in my life,” she stated. “IsolationSeparation has motivated everyone to reach out and check up on one another and just wish others well more often. It is such a sad and scary time, but something that truly gives me comfort is remembering that we’re all in this together, and eventually, it’s all going to be okay.”
Uncontrollable outside circumstances can also impact our well-being. Besides the pandemic itself, the drastic conditions we live in during this time can stimulate far-reaching effects. Another USF sophomore, Brianna, noted: “The fact that both of [my] parents still have their jobs and [we] are supplied with food, shelter and water… also factors into [my] mental health.” This era sheds light on the privileges lots of us may have previously taken for granted, evoking feelings of gratitude and hope in such despair.
Ultimately, the fact that life feels so unpredictable is exhausting and anxiety-inducing. The Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco recommends writing and juxtaposing two lists of things you can and can’t control at the moment. By doing so, you may find it easier to accept whatever’s out of your hands and instead focus your energy on what you can do.
These are demanding and unprecedented times through which everyone worldwide is responding and healing individually, but you can now apply your fellow students’ valuable input toward improving your well-being. Just remember that you are not alone, despite how others handling quarantine! And hopefully, students at UM and universities abroad are all happily and safely back to campus life this fall. While there’s no anticipating what the future holds in this age of who-knows-what, we can all strive to do our best while adjusting to a “new normal” and make the most of empty time as much as possible—because after all, our health depends on it!
words & photo_samara smukler