By: Samuel Smith, Columnist
I am writing this on Aug. 8th, 2020. It has been 131 days since Governor Larry Hogan announced the stay-at-home order that would radically change how we interact with our families and greater communities. I want to stress that it’s important to make sure we stay safe and minimize the effect of COVID-19. However, in my opinion, mental health has taken the biggest hit from staying at home.
Scientific research has shown that social connections are vital to mental well-being, but those are understandably hard to access when you’re stuck at home. This can take a huge toll on one’s mental health. However, there are solutions around this!
Social media is a big one, but social media is interaction at an arm’s-length distance. You can see what your friends are reading or cooking in quarantine, but how often are you interacting with them? How many friends do you regularly have conversations with? Try to make an effort to check-in with friends daily. It’s easy to get caught up in isolation and forget to talk to loved ones who aren’t living with you.
Take it a step further, and get an active group chat going. You can also join a website like Discord and join group chats of like-minded people from all around the globe. Facebook groups are another great way to find folks, and there are groups for all sorts of people (I’m in all sorts of groups – from religious groups, to groups for bands, to a group for an ice cream company I like). Discord, and many apps like it, have features for video and audio chatting. At one point, I was in a Discord group that held a regular Bible study through voice chat. This was a great way to discuss interests and prevent the depression that comes with loneliness.
I know this sounds really cheesy, but try to stay active and eat right. Your goal doesn’t have to be weight loss, but the body-mind connection is real, and eating junk and staying inside all day is detrimental to overall well-being. I started my weight-loss journey 19 days before the stay-at-home order was put in place (not to brag, but I’ve lost 48.2lbs in those 5 months), and I really do believe the increase in activity has been key to my success. Staying within the confines of your house day-in and day-out is monotonous. Get outside and get active. Do a program like a couch to 5K, go to darebee.com and do their daily bodyweight routines, or go for a walk around the block every day. You also need to fuel the body to fuel the mind (which is super important with class starting). Make sure you’re eating 3 meals a day, plus snacks, and make sure you’re eating plenty of fruits and veggies. Aim for grains with more fiber and protein (like quinoa, brown rice, or whole wheat) as those will keep you full longer. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or any trendy crash-diets, and it doesn’t even need to be a big change. I fully believe little changes over time are more likely to stick than one really big change all at once.
Finally, I fully believe that everyone benefits from therapy or counseling. You don’t have to live with a mental illness or be going through a huge life transition to need a listening and caring ear. You also don’t need to leave your home – many therapists are doing teletherapy, either over the phone or over video calls. The Counseling Center has one-on-one counseling and group counseling for students currently taking classes. If you’re doing classes online at home, and want somebody closer to home, Psychology Today has a tool where you can find a therapist that’s local. You can also refine your search to include therapists who specialize in certain issues, who take your insurance or are specific genders or races.
Start this weird semester off strong, but don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process. This is an unpredictable time, but it can be made easier with some self-care and help from your community.