Opinion: Taking Care of Yourself During a Pandemic
By Nicole DeJacimo
It gets hard to quiet the voices in our heads when we spend too much time with them and without the voices of loved ones around us. People around the world are spending more time inside and alone than ever before because of COVID-19. While social distancing may be the best way to save more lives and avoid overwhelming medical services, sometimes the cure comes with damaging side effects. Of course, there are the economic and medical consequences; the Red Cross reported a significant drop in blood donations, but social distancing comes with more personal consequences that can affect us all if we do not take the time to take care of ourselves.
Stay in bed, you have nothing to do today anyway. Stay up late on scrolling on Instagram, it’s not like you have anything to wake up for tomorrow. Don’t dress up, there’s no one to impress. Eat that third brownie, no one sees you at home. Don’t reach out; they’re probably too busy for you.
These are just some of the things the bad voice in my head has repeatedly told me to do these past few weeks, and I know that I am not the only one. While I have had these negative thoughts for a long time, social distancing gives them a bullhorn. The first week after finding out that school was online for the rest of the semester, I was on the verge of tears with each new article or news segment or email from the school. I felt helpless and hopeless. Going to school was extremely liberating for me. Not that I do not love my family, but six people and a dog under one roof can drive any college student a little crazy.
Now, this piece won’t be me just venting, I’m here to help. Help myself and anyone who feels stuck in a rut. Whether you have struggled before or not, times are hard for everyone, so this piece is for everyone. For reference, I am taking most of these coping and pivot skills from the originator of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dr. Steven C. Hayes’ book, A Liberated Mind, along with personal experience.
First, we must realize that this Voice is not our own. Think of it as the man behind the curtain using smoke and mirrors to scare Dorothy into taking a dangerous journey. Whether the Voice is cultivated by social expectations, dark humor, past experiences, social media or a combination of it all, it is not created out of sound reasoning. When I myself realized that this is not me, I learned to hear the Voice but not acknowledge it. This is easier said than done but the biggest step is not owning the Voice as your own. If it helps, and this is from my own practice, give this Voice an accent or distinction to separate it from your true thoughts. This not only helped me distance myself from it, but it made it much less powerful.
Continually, when we pivot away from the damaging Voice, we can finally focus on how we really feel and what we actually want to think about. Maybe that means being able to focus on that ab workout you keep seeing on Pinterest that the Voice previously told you, you’re not strong enough. Or maybe you Facetime a friend you haven’t seen in a while that the Voice used to tell you, they don’t care about you. When I stopped acknowledging the Voice, I started listening to myself.
Social distancing is hard on all of us, introverts and extroverts alike, so find what works for you. Maybe a big zoom call with your friend group is what you need or maybe its a two-person Netflix party where you only talk in the chat. In either case, carve out an hour or two for it, and make sure your family, or whoever you are living with, knows you need the time and place to catch up with friends.
Make a daily schedule. Many college students are used to following their daily routines, going between work, classes, the gym, meals, extracurriculars, homework, and friends can create tight schedules. Losing that daily structure can cause some of us unnecessary stress and lead to more procrastination and unhealthy habits. By waking up and making a daily schedule to follow can provide you with more structure during an unprecedented time. For example, mine might look like this.
|8:00 AM||Wake up, make my bed, have coffee and breakfast, and read.|
|9:00 AM||Classes and homework. (DO NOT DO IN BEDROOM)|
|11:30 AM||Lunch with family, no phones.|
|12:30 PM||Work on Gettysburgian stuff.|
|3:00 PM||Facetime BF or friends in the office.|
|4:00 PM||Family time through dinner. Try to stay off of the phone. Maybe do chores.|
|7:00 PM||Assignments in the office.|
|8:30 PM||Core workout with sisters in the basement.|
|9:00 PM||Shower and bedtime routine.|
|10:00 PM||Watch the news with my parents. Read. Then go to bed.|
You get this gist. Notice how I give myself notes on where to go and time limits. Of course, not every day looks like this, some days I get up at ten or I go on a walk with my mom in the afternoon. Regardless of my day, my schedule helps keep me organized and on track. It also keeps me off of my phone for too long at a time which is often when the Voice tries to take over.
That leads me to my final point. With the news of COVID-19 swirling our heads all the time, and new memes circulate Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, it’s hard to avoid possibly damaging news. Especially if you are like me and internalize others’ pains and struggles. Take a breath, stop scrolling and know that when complying with social distancing, your next most important thing to take care of is yourself.