Needless to say, 2020 has been a year of hardships for just about everyone. I was sent home midway through my second semester of college, and I'm now quarantined in a dorm, completing my classes online. The easiest way to describe this year has been a series of disappointments — moreover, I found that I was disappointed in myself. In the early weeks of March, I finally felt like I had my life together. I was no longer homesick. I was excelling in all my classes and making new connections. My mental health was the best it had been in a long time. Then the pandemic struck. It felt like everything I worked towards was meaningless.
Over summer, I invested time in myself to assure that regardless of what the fall semester would hold, I could find ways to be happy. And that's exactly what I've been doing since moving back to my dorm. Not every day will be good, but I believe there is good in every day.
Here are my tips for finding inner-peace and personal joy during these trying times!
1. Be sure to exercise regularly.
Yes, I know this is common advice. But trust me, a little time spent maintaining your body does wonders for your mental health. Over summer, I began completing two-mile runs at least four times a week. Additionally, I had access to hiking at home — I'd spend evenings traversing mountainous trails with my parents. Now that I'm on campus again, there aren't many trails, however, I do run every weekday that I can. My roommate and I also occasionally follow Chloe Ting's YouTube workouts.
The point is, listen to what your body is telling you. Some days you'll have more energy and be able to crush a full-body workout. Other days it's a struggle to get out of bed. While the weather is nice, I recommend spending time outdoors. Even just twenty minutes of walking a day can elevate your mood!
2. If you're anxious, try meditation.
A key part of managing my anxiety is steadying my thoughts. In order for this to be effective, I put away everything potentially distracting (homework, phone, food, etc.) and allow myself to just sit in silence and breath. Sometimes, I listen to guided meditations — many of which can be found on YouTube.
3. To boost your self-esteem, learn how to write and say affirmations.
In the past, a lot of my depression and anxiety has stemmed from insecurities. I repeatedly told myself I was not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, etc. This attitude only perpetuated my poor state of mental health and convinced me that those thoughts are true. I started writing down affirmations and repeating them to myself on my walks. For example, as I go for my daily walk I will repeat to myself, "I am happy. I feel happy. I am beautiful. I feel beautiful." Eventually, your brain hears this so many times that you believe it to be true. The most important part is to phrase everything positively. Don't say "I am not dumb," because your brain doesn't always filter out the "not" and therefore you're still hearing the negative word "dumb." Instead, say "I am smart."
4. For a little physical boost, meal prepping can nourish the start of your day.
I'll admit, I always thought meal prepping was a silly millennial fad. And while I've never prepped all of my meals for one day (since I still acquire food from the dining hall), my roommate and I have begun to meal prep our breakfast. A favorite of ours is chia oatmeal. Essentially you mix oats and chia seeds with water (or milk if you're not lactose intolerant like me) and let that sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you can microwave this concoction to your liking. For extra flavor and protein, stir in peanut butter and honey. Feel free to make this as fancy as you like — you can even add fruit, nuts, and/or chocolate chips to the mix!
5. Don't stay in pajamas! Dress up for no reason.
Sure, you might not have anywhere to go besides your Zoom meetings, but that doesn't mean you can't look nice. I've found that coordinating my outfits and doing my hair/makeup gives me that extra confidence boost to get through my day.
6. Enjoy some music and exercise in a less conventional way — have a dance party!
Nothing frees the soul like blasting your favorite tunes and jumping around the room. If you live with someone you're close with, invite them in on the fun. This is an easy way to get some cardio in without it feeling like a standard workout.
7. Be mindful of time spent consuming media, but also give yourself time to watch your favorite shows and make cute Instagram posts if you please.
At the start of March, I regularly viewed TikTok videos. A majority of the content surfacing at the time was about the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. Repeatedly seeing the grim outlook on what was about to happen filled me with fear and despair for the future. Now that classes are back in session, I have less free time to peruse the internet. I've found that limiting my time online has been beneficial for my mental health. Plus now that my classes are all online, the last thing I want to do is spend more time staring at a screen. That's not to say that I still don't view the news or watch entertainment videos. I know my boundaries and when to take a step back from social media.
Regardless of where you're at in your mental health journey, I hope that these simple tips are able to liven up the darker days of this year. Remember — you are strong, loved, and capable.