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Sanity in the Time of COVID-19

   Fall leaves land on frosty windshields. Breath freezes into a soft mist as you catch the 8:06 bus up the hill, a pumpkin spice latte gripped firmly in hand. A family of crows verbally abuses you in the parking lot as you saunter into the university for your first week of class — wait. No. That was last year. This year looks completely different. September of 2020, rather, finds you forcing your eyes open after a night of anxiety and exhaustion, rolling towards your freshly charged laptop, and hitting the “ON” button for the first of probably eight times that day. This year, as students, we are immersed deeply into the throes of “Zoom Culture,” a predecessor to the popular and disturbing phenomenon of “Zoom Burnout.” As thousands of students, employees, and the general public across the globe adapt to these new living, working, and social conditions, it is fair to ask ourselves: how am I going to survive?

         First thing’s first, this article is going to be highly reflective. Not because there is no big news in the world to cover (2020 has kind of been a news reporter’s dream), rather because reflective work is what makes the most sense to produce when you have been isolating in your home for over six months, working solely on your computer, and gazing wistfully at pictures of people frolicking in large from past years that would normally have incited a deep-seated feeling of claustrophobia. If you are like me, there is a chance you’ve had one (or many) classes where you have walked out on the last day thinking, FREEDOM, and clicked your heels as you skipped down the hallway and away from one hundred and twenty people you did not know, did not want know, and will never have to know again. This year, I look back on those classes and sigh, missing the cramped seating spaces and table-spaces that can barely hold my cellphone, let alone my twelve-hundred page Norton’s Anthology of Everything That Was Ever Written. In response to this odd need for human contact, I have compiled a list of coveted tips and tricks to maintaining your sanity in the time of COVID-19, because, folks, life is likely going to be like this for a while longer yet.

    1. This is probably the same advice I would give to anyone who feels burnt out, exhausted, and alone, even sans COVID-19. But, if you were ever going to start participating in daily walks, bicycle rides, or skateboarding, this is the time to do it. Sedentary work has already been linked to decreased brain activity and living a whole life on Zoom, Blackboard, or what-have-you might be the death of all joy. Sure, it’s fun to stay home and hang out on the computer for the first few weeks (I know I spent weeks crocheting in joyful solitude before feeling the need to change things up) but after a while, your physical, emotional, and social needs begin to flare up like perimenopausal hot flashes. If you’re not there yet, don’t let it get to that point. There is nothing worse than building a routine centered around not moving at all only to realize all you want to do is move around. A lot.
    1. Don’t toss this article just yet — I am aware that masks are not the be-all/end-all COVID-19 cure. But, given the chance to wear a small item that could protect others from something that could be deadly to them (even if it does not affect you all that much), why wouldn’t you? Wearing a mask does not replace social distancing, but can allow you to be closer to your friends and family without putting them in immediate danger. If you are like me, the vast majority of your loved ones are immuno-compromised in one way or another, and I like them enough to not want them to die because I didn’t try everything I could to protect them. Beyond that, wearing your mask is just plain respectful to people you don’t know personally who are struggling with the anxiety and fear that comes with a global pandemic. Even if you’re not feeling it, think about those who might be.
    1. I know that for me, personally, my friend group took a rather silent hiatus somewhere around March and April. I think that we were all trying to figure out how we best wanted to live, save our money, and finish the spring semester during a global crisis. With all of this in mind, none of us wanted to conference-call, Zoom, or even Facebook Messenger each other after being so freshly inundated with online presentations, papers, and seminars. While it is always important to give yourself the time and space to reflect and adjust, it is equally valuable for you to reconnect with your circle once you are ready to do so. It might not be the same thing as all meeting at the pub to share an intimate plate of deep-fried pickles, but having a watch-party for a film you enjoy, meeting up online for an hour or so of Mario Kart, or having a twenty-minute phone call with someone just to let them know how much you are simultaneously okay and not okay is a huge morale booster for most people. Check-in with the ones you love. They want to hear from you, too.
    1. Remember that one time ten years ago you tried parkour and loved it even though you looked kind of like a drunk chicken attempting to do it? Do it again. Do all of those things again. Read the books, write the novel, paint the picture, try the game. Do all of the things you love that you set aside to be a hyper-adult whose only muses are homework and anxiety. Take time for you to be a human being and, when you are comfortable, maybe your friends will join you for a socially distant ugly crafting night because we all need a chance to let loose.
    1. Maybe you hated them because you work two jobs, are taking six classes, and can barely keep your head straight. Maybe you’re still doing all those things. Maybe now is a good time to take care of yourself, and part of that is re-discovering what you actually like and don’t like.
    1. Social distancing does not mean that you have to be alone, in your home, sans fun. Rather, it means that you can go and do all the things you would normally do, just do it socially distanced to protect yourself and others. “Six feet apart” is a guideline to keep you from sitting on top of other people and breathing directly into their faces. It’s best to use this guideline as your minimum. When paired with a mask, there is very little risk associated with social hangouts if you are distancing. Remember that events such as camping, movie nights, and barbeques are still all possible in the COVID-19 world, they just might look a little different. Sure, there is more sanitizer involved, maybe Uncle Rod brings his own barbeque, maybe craft night is out on the lawn this year instead of in the living room. Whatever the case, with a little creativity, you definitely do not have to be alone this year.

Lastly, TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER. We are going to get through this, and hey, maybe you’ll write some really informative papers about pandemic studies. Just don’t let a shifting world get the best of you, and most importantly, turn your mic off.

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