Tips for keeping your mind and body in check while staying at home
By Shannon Sigafoos
It’s been several weeks now since we’ve all been asked to stay home and keep a safe, 6-foot distance from the rest of the world. If you’ve found your routine more difficult to stick to as time has passed, you’re not alone. Most of us need to have some sort of structure in place to hold us accountable for our daily tasks, but we also need focus for maintaining a healthy mindset when it comes to connectivity, managing family time, sticking to a schedule, and letting nature help us restore our balance.
We asked Elizabeth Alogna, counselor at Lafayette’s Counseling Center, Michael Butler, associate professor of biology, and Natalie Asayag, founder and co-owner of Renew Wellness in Easton, to offer tips on enhancing healthy behaviors as the quarantine continues—and here’s what they had to say:
On staying connected to others
“Although we are physically separated, it’s important to maintain connection with people. Try to integrate some aspects of your previous life into your current life, virtually,” says Alogna. “If you would normally have breakfast with your roommate on campus, maybe you can set up a Zoom meeting and have breakfast together. Or, if you would normally get coffee together, set up a time to do that on video.”
It’s important, Alogna points out, to realize that “physical” distancing does NOT mean “social” distancing. And while most of us probably utilize text messaging throughout the day, other ways we can connect remotely include creating virtual study groups, using Facetime to play a game or watch shows or movies with others, or simply setting up times to connect with friends, family, or peers just to check in.
“Seeing the faces of others is important during this time, and it enhances our feelings of connection and safety,” she says. “Despite your personal style—whether you see yourself as an extrovert or more introverted—everyone needs to connect daily face to face, even if it’s virtually.”
Asayag echoes these sentiments, asking us to reflect on the purpose of why we’re connected to others.
“Checking in with others helps us to remain connected to individuals and collectively as a whole. Send a card, a text, or an emoticon, just be sure you connect daily,” says Asayag. “Remind people of the purpose they serve in your life and how grateful you are to have them.”
Interested in staying more connected to your peers? The Lafayette Counseling Center is now offering Peer Connection Virtual Gathering as a place to connect. Capability for Google Meet video chat is required.
On closely following a schedule
As the world has shifted through this unpredictable time, it may feel easier than ever to let your intended schedule slip just a little bit at a time. Closely following a routine for your day, however, provides needed structure and a sense of security and control.
Alogna suggests being specific and writing down your goals for the day: showering, getting dressed, having a morning coffee Zoom meeting with friends, attending a virtual class meeting, finishing reading for a course, and having dinner with family.
And while schedule is important, we all also should remember—since we’re in the same place for 24 hours a day—to have time each day devoted to fun activities that we enjoy.
“For those whose lives have slowed down, consider learning something new as part of a routine. Practice sign language, calligraphy, crochet, yoga, meditation, gardening—the list is endless! Take some time to think through what ignites a spark in you,” says Asayag. “For those whose lives have become especially busy, try not to feel the need to start a new project. It’s most important to focus on your needs at this time.”
On managing family time
Many students have found themselves unexpectedly back at home after spending quite a bit of time experiencing the freedom that comes with moving away to college. Faculty and staff also have found themselves spending every day with spouses, significant others, and children—some of whom have to be home-schooled. Regardless of the quality of your home relationships, maintaining your sense of self may be challenging.
“It can be challenging to be back at home in an unexpected way. A lot of students prepare themselves as they’re returning home for winter break or for the summer, and they may associate being at home with being on a break,” Alogna points out. “Now they’re back at home, but they’re still virtually in school.”
She suggests that students carve out time for themselves to study, read, listen to music they enjoy, or just spend quiet time. And whether you’re at home as a student or as a parent, there is an opportunity to invite your family to join you in your routine when it is appropriate—whether that’s walking or exercising together, creating a family book club, or participating in a game night.
“Developing rituals and routines with your family seems to improve overall connectedness, which may enhance happy memories of this difficult time,” she says.
On the importance of getting out in nature
Chances are, we’ve all been suffering from cabin fever. There’s only so much screen time we should be enduring each day, and it’s always better for your body to get up and move when you can make the time. For a real antidote to isolation, get out in nature. This is something you can do safely while still maintaining physical distancing—plus, it’s good for your mind.
“There are loads of examples linking nature and health,” Butler says. “Even tiny bits of nature help; patients in hospital rooms with views of trees tend to be discharged more quickly. There are links to physical and mental health. A fun read on this front is The Nature Fix. Given the likely emotional stressors associated with a change in lifestyle, routine, finances, and the like, the health benefits of nature are more important than ever.”
If you’ve noticed that parks and recreational trails are now more in use than ever, keep in mind that there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors without being in the exact same spot as everyone else.
“Not all outdoor time has to be spent walking down a trail where people are more concentrated,” Butler says. “Download a birding app, and you can learn a bunch of birds and their songs almost anywhere, even just walking down the street. If you can, buy a plant or two and cultivate a greener area inside your home. If you can get outside anywhere, you can read a book or do yoga or any other activity that doesn’t involve moving around—stationary outdoor time is easier from a physical distancing perspective, but you’re still outside.”
If you would like to speak to a counselor
Contact the Lafayette College Counseling Center. Lafayette counselors are available Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; emergency on-call counselors are available 24 hours a day by contacting 610-330-5005.