It has been over a month since we were told to stay at home. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? That we’ve been staying at home, physically distancing from others, and adjusting to a new way of life, for an entire month. If you’ve been on Zoom meetings non-stop you probably feel like it’s been ages since we’ve been housebound, but it’s more likely that this month seems to have flown by. And yet it’s hard to grasp that this is our reality. It is our reality. And the amazing reality is that we, as incredibly wonderful and complex beings, have adjusted and adapted so well in such a short amount of time.
Take a moment to recognize how remarkable your human self is. Don’t dwell on the times you were frustrated or upset (those are totally allowed by the way, emotions are human, too!), don’t think about the times you cried (again, acceptable!); just think of how you have become accustomed to changing your routines, learned to focus and concentrate while in a new environment, and modified your way of existence in such a short matter of time. It’s truly astonishing.
It is definitely worth saying that adjustment and adaptation are not always easy. This time we are going through is certainly rough. Since the start of the pandemic in the United States there has been in increase in the number of people reporting sleep disturbances, an increase in the amount of liquor sales across the nation and the number of people utilizing mental health hotlines has greatly increased. While humans are resilient, we are also human. It is important to recognize that this time is super stressful, to understand the effects of such stress on the human body and psyche, and to help yourself adapt in a positive way.
Here’s the thing—if you want to get active right now, go for a walk, start taking online workout classes, or log-in to the free IU School of Medicine virtual workouts. If you want to volunteer, check out the opportunities your classmates have put together. If you want to do a project, then please go for it! But if you struggle to even know what to do, or you are doing these things and still struggle to feel at peace with what is going on around you, start with some small practices to make adaptation a day-by-day process that you can recognize and breathe into.
Practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude is most effective when you can do it daily. You can do this through journaling, or through smaller practices, such as recognizing the peace in a quiet moment, such as washing your hands or taking a shower. Common advice is to think of three to five things you are grateful for (e.g. your pet next to you, hearing from a friend, your health, etc.), but anything is game to get you started. In this time, thinking of anything you are grateful for is enough. The sun on your face. A good nights’ rest. Hearing from a loved one. It all counts! You can even ponder upon what has surprised or delighted you during quarantine life.
Be mindful. Experience the world around you. Go outside and see the sky. As you walk from place to place notice trees, the clouds, any animals you see, etc. Breathe in the air. Take in one of those deep breaths, which fully fills your lungs. When you are doing tasks that once seemed meaningless, like washing your hands, think of someone else and send them wishes of health and happiness. When you have a meal, experience each bite. Taste the flavors and be thankful for the energy you are about to receive. When you have feelings, acknowledge them and let them move through you. Don’t dismiss them or feel guilty for having them. You can write about them, talk to others about them, or acknowledge them and let them move on.
Be human. Be silly. Sing a song. Dance a dance. If you’re home and need to move, get up and move! Your body will thank you for the movement. Your mind will thank you for the break. Check in with one person a day. Make it a goal to listen to them and hear them. Look into someone’s eyes. Even with masks on, we can connect with each other through eye contact. Even on Zoom, we can ask someone how they are doing and really listen. If you’re in need of human connection, your soul will thank you. Others will, too.
Get rest. It’s easy to think that you’re resting all of the time right now. While sitting at home may not feel like the most physically demanding activity, it’s important to understand that your brain is working very hard to understand the world around you right now. It’s trying to process the situation at hand, constantly searching for routines, what will happen next, and answers to questions that it can’t find. Your brain is acting like a high speed computer, scanning and processing in the background at all times. And it is exhausting. If you’ve been feeling more tired during your time at home, this is why. This time is stressful. Even those who have the best coping skills in place require more rest right now. Listen to your body and rest. Take breaks during your day and acknowledge when you need to unplug. You can meditate, or just sit with yourself. You can nap. Do whatever you need to do to refresh. You have permission.
This time is challenging, there’s no doubt about that. You are amazing, resilient, and will get through this! If you look back over the past month and all the changes that have come your way, I am sure you’ll be amazed at how much you have adapted already. It is my hope each day seems more manageable for you. Be kind to yourself, remember how strong you are, and reach out for help if any of this does not feel manageable for you. You are not alone and it is okay to not be okay, but we are in this together.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Kristen Heath is a Lead Advisor in the Mentoring & Advising Program at IU School of Medicine. She has worked in higher education for over eight years, starting her career off on Air Force Bases teaching Psychology coursework. She is passionate about lifelong learning and devotion to personal well-being. When she is not in the advising office you can find her teaching Zumba, dancing, or riding bikes with her son, Ryder. She is a fan of the outdoors and loves to camp, hike and garden.