It's not easy to maintain good mental health in the middle of pandemic. As coronavirus has skyrocketed, so have anxiety and depression rates. The decrease in our mental health only makes sense: as college students, everything about our lives has been flipped upside-down in under five weeks. We've left campus and our friends; we've transitioned to remote learning; we've grappled with loneliness, lack of motivation, and Internet problems. The drastic changes are enough for any college student to go slightly insane.
I know I have. As someone who struggles with anxiety, the coronavirus has piled even more stressors on my plate. I've jumped to conclusions that I have the virus and will spread it to my family nearly every day; I've felt stressed when living with my family in such close quarters all of the time; I've agonized over the uncertainty of the future and all the question marks coronavirus brings. Balancing stress in the midst of COVID-19 hasn't been a piece of cake.
Nonetheless, I've discovered that quarantine has made my mental health better than ever.
Granted, I'm fortunate to be in a privileged position where I can find quarantine both bearable and enjoyable. I'm grateful that neither of my parents are suffering from unemployment, and that my family is healthy and is not considered high-risk for contracting the virus. I enjoy spending time with each of my family members, I have my own space, and our WiFi has been (relatively) stable. I feel blessed to quarantine in a safe and supportive location, which definitely has facilitated my mental health improvement.
In addition, I'm experiencing much less anxiety at home because I'm no longer at university. Don't get me wrong – I love Emory, and I miss spending time studying with friends, walking around campus and laughing with my roommate. But I must be honest with myself and admit that, no matter how much I enjoy my university, it also a source of stress for me, and living at home has helped alleviate some of that anxiety. In general, I haven't experienced as much academic stress because my professors have either lessened my workload or have been more understanding in light of the pandemic (which truly is a blessing). And even though I miss my fellow students and friends, interacting with less people has lessened my social anxiety. I wouldn't choose to be spending all of my time at home instead of on-campus. But I still feel relieved that I'm experiencing less of Emory's stressors.
Yet the main reason that quarantine has helped my mental health is because I finally have time to invest in healthy habits. With a lesser workload and extracurricular involvement, I've spent more time on activities that reduce my stress and make me a better individual. I've started my mornings by reading through the Gospels and writing in a prayer journal. I began exercising regularly by running through my neighborhood and working out over Zoom with a friend. I've tried to implement regular times to read novels for fun; I've learned a bit of yoga; I've found easy recipes that I can pull out when I'm back cooking in my campus apartment. These activities help me control my environment in the present moment and give me peace of mind during a stressful time. But I know that cultivating mental health habits will help me reduce anxiety when I feel stressed in the future, too.
This pandemic is an extremely stressful time. While some are experiencing more anxiety than others, everyone has been touched by the uncertainty and fear that coronavirus has brought to our lives. But I encourage you to use this time of quarantine to start developing habits that help your mental health. I believe we can lean into healthy habits both to help our mental health in the long-term and to give us more peace and joy right where we are today. And I think it's okay to be grateful for a chance to step back and recharge. Appreciating the opportunity we have for more self-care doesn't detract from the severity of the coronavirus - rather, it acknowledges that benefits can come out of even the most horrific situations.