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Creative Health & Wellness

A College Student’s Pandemic Survival Guide for Staying in School

by Alice Kenny //

I want to start this piece by saying that this is supposed to be fun. 

The truth is that I have no idea how to do this. I don’t really have any secrets to dealing with all of the big and terrible things that have come with a global pandemic. I’m not sure that anyone really does at this point.  I can’t offer support to students who are struggling to pay for their classes, who are worried about having a safe place to live, who are stuck in jobs that endanger them, who are worried about getting sick or about sick friends and family members. I wish I could. The best I can do is to say that college is stressful. I don’t think anyone imagined this level of fear for our mental, emotional, and bodily safety going into it. But here are a few things I’ve learned after more than a year of doing this. 

  1. Get outside every day if you can

This is a big one. I don’t always honor this one myself, but that’s sort of how I know it’s a good one–because I definitely notice it when I don’t get outside during the day, and especially if I don’t for a couple of days. Ideally, I like to go for a run, talk a long walk or bike ride, or spend an afternoon in the sun with friends. However, I don’t always have the time or energy, so I sometimes make do with just literally stepping outside. Whatever the weather, I try to take myself outside, even if that just means being a few feet from my front door. It helps me feel more grounded. 

  1. Be kind to yourself

Treating yourself well is a good rule of thumb in general. But especially during a global health crisis, it’s helpful to try to remember that you are living through a global health crisis. If you procrastinate, or sleep in, or eat two boxes of mac and cheese in a row (not from personal experience), don’t judge yourself too harshly. Things are harder than usual, and therefore, you should be kinder to yourself. This thing isn’t over, and the longer it goes on, the greater the toll it takes, at least for me. Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the best way you can right now. 

  1. Make a schedule of your deadlines

Logistical tips can be sort of annoying, but this is one that I find to be super helpful. Whether it’s hard just getting by in your classes, or you’re thriving, it’s never a bad idea to make sure you know when your crunch weeks are well in advance. Especially now, I’m really grateful I have this protocol to follow. I’ve been having a hard time not procrastinating and staying on top of everything, but sticking to the bare minimum of getting my assignments done on time works well for me. I remind myself that things won’t be this hard forever, and I try to just hang in there. 

  1. Take advantage of Zoom University

Zoom U sucks. Pretty much everyone agrees. But just because it’s not ideal doesn’t mean there aren’t things about it that are kind of nice. I try to make myself a nice breakfast most mornings–and sometimes I do it while I’m in class (please don’t tell my professors). I can go for impromptu runs in the middle of the day with my housemates because I don’t have class, and it’s easy to just change into workout gear when you’re already at home. I’m taking classes with earlier start times than I normally would because on a bad day, I can take them from my bed. Yeah, this whole COVID thing is pretty awful, and it’s exhausting and scary and just really draining. But there are some silver linings if you’re a student right now, so try to take advantage of those while you can. 

However, this semester in particular, I’m also learning to give myself a break. Saturday afternoons have become my time where I just get cozy, drink tea, and watch a movie.

  1. Listen to your body 

The idea of listening to yourself may not seem very controversial, but I actually think it sort of is. University students, especially Cornell students like myself, are taught to push ourselves, to always give 110% to our assignments, to not procrastinate, and to manage our time well. We’re told that if we do all of these things, we’ll be successful. Honestly, in general, I haven’t found that to be untrue. I do strive to do all of those things. However, this semester in particular, I’m also learning to give myself a break. Saturday afternoons have become my time where I just get cozy, drink tea, and watch a movie. There are days where I stay in my pajamas all day. I’m not saying you should procrastinate, or shouldn’t work on your time management, because I do think those practices can be very helpful for dealing with stress and improving your mental health, but don’t let them work against you by beating yourself up when you “waste” a few hours watching Netflix in bed. 

  1. Put on an outfit

This one is short. Get dressed. It doesn’t have to be every day, but for some reason, showering, getting ready like I’m leaving the house, and putting fresh clothes on makes a huge difference. I highly recommend giving this a try if you’re having a tough day, week, or year. 

  1. Curate your space

Another simple suggestion. As college students, dorm rooms are supposed to be these temporary spaces where we sleep. They’re usually not really built for hanging out in. Everyone always says don’t study where you sleep–but, obviously, that’s all changed now. I started out my academic year in a room the size of a closet. I don’t live in a dorm, but most students aren’t living in the most luxurious of accommodations in general. Still, it’s helpful to recognize that you spend a lot of time at home, or in your room. Find ways to make the space work for you–putting up a new poster, buying some ambient lighting, picking wildflowers, getting essential oils, a humidifier, or whatever makes your space more appealing to you. 

Everyone else in the world is going through this, even if our experiences are different.

  1. Talk to friends and family

You’re not alone out there. Everyone else in the world is going through this, even if our experiences are different. Keep in touch with people that bring you comfort so you can support each other. If you’re feeling lonely, reach out to old friends you haven’t talked to in a while, or people you want to get closer to. 

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others

We’re all in this together, but we’re not all going through the same thing. Don’t imagine your circumstances are identical to everyone else who seems to be thriving. They may be struggling in ways you can’t see, or maybe they’re doing great. But that doesn’t mean you need to be doing great, too. COVID impacts people in different ways depending on circumstances, background, resources. If you’re scrolling through social media, don’t feel bad that you haven’t learned a new language or found a new best friend in the past year. Just try to be okay with where you are without making a comparison. 

  1. Mask up!

Lastly, put on a mask. We all just want this to be over, and being careful now means that we can start thinking about a time when we don’t all have to be wearing masks all the time; they may be annoying, but the annoyance is a small price to pay to protect the health and safety of our communities.