OPINION: Learning how to navigate school and mental health in quarantine


Natalie Veloso

It’s completely normal to experience some ups and downs when being in an unfamiliar situation. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

By now, we are all familiar with the CDC’s order to stay home as much as possible during the coronavirus pandemic.

As we continue to isolate ourselves at home, days may begin to feel endless. It’s important to determine what works and what doesn’t work for you in order to remain as clear headed and successful as possible despite these unfamiliar circumstances.

In the past few weeks, I have come to realize that some of my natural responses to having to stay at home have been doing more harm than good. To avoid the mental rut that comes with temporarily losing my freedom to go wherever I want, I have figured out ways to pass time and to remain successful in my online classes that work best for me.

One thing that has worked for me has been to keep my work and leisure spaces separate.

I’ve personally found that it’s nearly impossible for me to complete an assignment while I’m laying on my bed. Working where I sleep also affects my ability to get a good night’s sleep. The mental association that I hold between my bed and sleep is easily thrown off when I mix my leisure time with my work time. In order for me to complete a task as effectively as possible, I need to physically move away from my bed and toward my desk. 

Surprisingly, my most successful new habit has been to recreate my typical school day. I certainly struggled with keeping up with my school assignments the first few days back from our extended spring break. I found myself completing several of my assignments last minute. What has worked best for me in keeping up with assignments since then has been to work on something during the usual class time that I would be completing it. By doing this, my mind is able to follow the typical class schedule I had prior to our new remote learning system.

Although I initially doubted how much it would help my mental state, getting fresh air and taking a walk at least once a week has become my new favorite thing to do. As of now, we are still able to take a walk as long as we stay at least six feet away from others. A New York Times article recommends getting your outdoor time in the early morning or late evening rather than during peak hours, when you are more likely to have to deal with a crowded sidewalk. As I maintain my daily schedule as much as possible, I have been taking walks during my usual evening free time. Personally, even spending only a few moments outside has been an effective means of reducing stress.

Of course, trial and error always occur when you are thrown into an unfamiliar circumstance. Just as I’ve learned what has worked for me, I’ve also realized what hasn’t worked. 

As for my less successful habits during self-isolation, one of my greatest mistakes was to spend all day in pajamas and in bed. As someone who enjoys being comfortable, it’s incredibly tempting to not change out of my pajamas on a day that I know I won’t be leaving the house. However, I know that I won’t work as efficiently if I’m wearing the same thing that I slept in. By simply changing into other comfortable, yet slightly nicer clothes, it’s easier for me to differentiate between when it’s time to relax and when it’s time to work. Additionally, making my bed first thing in the morning gives me an extra push that tells me it’s time to start my day.

Another bad habit that I had to break was not keeping regular sleep and work routines. After doing so my first few nights of self-isolation, I quickly realized that pulling all-nighters was making my new routine much more stressful. My exhaustion prevented me from effectively completing schoolwork and even simple tasks around the house. Keeping a designated time to do work and a separate time to sleep has helped me immensely. The World Health Organization has developed a mental health guide for those in self-isolation in which they recommend keeping to our personal routines as much as possible. Maintaining a sense of routine has helped me keep track of the days that have passed as well as the days still ahead of me.

Finally, I’ve come to realize that one of the worst things I was initially doing to myself was not keeping contact with friends. Although I could no longer see my friends from my on-campus classes or from my dorm, it didn’t mean I had to cut off all contact with them. It has definitely helped to check up on my friends by sending a quick text or by planning a FaceTime call. These can feel like lonely times but talking to people will certainly help. My friends and I have also been making plans for the upcoming school year and even next summer, which reminds us that things will get better and that our lives aren’t over.

As we attempt mitigation through self-isolation, it is most important to remember that we are not alone. Despite the mandatory physical distance between us, we are still in this together.