The COVID-19 pandemic and variants has caused huge changes and challenges in all our lives.Schools closed. Classes canceled or moving online, and you may have plans for completing your course of study or transferring that were disrupted. You may have lost your job; if you’re still employed, you might be worried about your safety at work. You’re probably worried for the health of your loved ones or yourself.
All of these are understandably stressful, and it’s totally normal to feel sad, anxious, frightened, angry, or whatever other emotions you’re experiencing right now. The stress of the pandemic makes it extra important to practice self-care, and the tips and resources below can help you with this.
The simple act of writing a to-do list has productivity benefits, even if you don’t accomplish all of your tasks. That’s because our brains love order and shut down in chaos. Write all your “to-dos” on paper, in order of most to least important. From there, you can start to schedule your days and even weeks.
Knowing your plans for the day when you wake up can immediately reduce anxiety. This exercise also helps you determine what you can do reasonably, since there’s only so much time in the day. Be realistic and set appropriate expectations for yourself.
2. Take breaks
Take your mind off school and any other stressors. Do a crossword puzzle, read a chapter of a non-school book, or journal while listening to music. Find an outlet that doesn’t feel like work and incorporate it into your daily routine. Take breaks as often as you need to relax and rejuvenate, but not so many that you end up procrastinating.
3. Get fresh air
Walk around the block or go to the park. Just get outside and get moving, every single day. Do some light stretching while you’re at it. You don’t have to push yourself too hard to get the benefits — all forms of exercise release endorphins (the chemicals that make you feel good) and they reduce cortisol (the chemical that makes you feel bad).
4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
No matter how busy you get, always make your health a priority. In addition to the physical benefits, people who eat well and exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety and depression. Those feel-good chemicals we mentioned … your brain needs those to thrive, and food is equally important for good mental health.
In addition to eating nutritious meals, you might consider yoga classes — particularly great for stress relief. Or, if you want something a little more up-tempo, try boxing. Take your frustrations out on the bag as you keep active! Win-win.
5. Reach out to family and friends.
Your personal network is your support system. Friends and family want to see you succeed. When you’re stressed or doubting yourself, rely on the people who encourage you or make you feel unstoppable. They may even offer you a new perspective you hadn’t considered.
6. Write down positive affirmations
If a friend facing your same struggles came to you for advice or a pep talk, what would you say? Would you tell them, “You’re crazy for taking this on! You’re in over your head. Might as well give up now.” Of course not! So, why wouldn’t you treat yourself with the same kindness?
Writing down positive affirmations is surprisingly effective in shaping how we view ourselves. Think about what you need to hear right now, and then be your own biggest fan. Keep your affirmations visible with sticky notes, at the top of your to-do list or wherever you’ll see them often. Here are a few possible examples:
- I trust myself to make the right decisions.
- I face each day with joy.
- I let go of worries that drain my energy.
- I am in charge of my life.
- Am I good enough? Yes I am.
7. Treat yourself
You work hard, but what’s all that hard work worth if you can’t enjoy yourself? Sleep an extra hour, or sip on a sugary latte every once and a while. In life, it’s often the little things that make the biggest impact. Depriving yourself of small comforts will only take a toll on your mental health, so don’t feel guilty for indulging sometimes. You’ll be happier and therefore in a better head space to tackle your commitments.
Even a few minutes of meditation a day can help ease anxiety. In this WebMD article, psychologist Robbie Maller Hartman, Ph.D., said, “Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress.”
Meditation seems simple — all you have to do is sit there and breathe, right? The challenge is finding the time to do it. When we feel overloaded, our self-care often takes a back seat. Meditation brings you back to the present, and counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.
As you meditate, use essential oils or candles to increase the zen. Several studies show aromatherapy (among many other methods) can also decrease anxiety and improve sleep.
9. Regulate a sleep schedule
Let’s face it, students are known for pulling all-nighters and running on two hours of sleep. Getting in those seven to nine hours of good-quality sleep keeps your body running at its best to fight off viruses.
According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep is also one of the top ways we can help keep stress in check, as sleep deprivation can make us more sensitive to the effects of anxiety. The brain also needs sleep to function and without it, you’ll be less patient and focused, not to mention more moody and irritable.
10. Know when it is time to unplug
The constant notifications of news and social media posts have us all feeling saturated by coronavirus updates right now. While it is important to stay informed, rereading the same headlines can be consuming. Instead of constantly refreshing your social media feeds or staying glued to the television, find a few trusted news sources you can check in with two to three times a day.