As graduate students, spending a lot of time in a lab alone isn’t anything new. However，with recent social distancing efforts, spending time alone is no longer voluntary. This forced separation from our normal lives means that in addition to threatening our physical health, the coronavirus pandemic is also putting our mental health at risk. In this article, I will share some of my personal tips that have helped me during this difficult time.
Be kind to yourself
My anxiety has definitely increased since the beginning of quarantine, and I often felt guilty because I equated productivity with lab time. The first step I took to cope with these negative emotions is to practice radical acceptance. Radical acceptance simply means we need to acknowledge the reality and our feelings. It does not mean we are repressing our negative feelings, but that we are acknowledging the stress and anxiety we are feeling and accepting that sometimes things can get out of our control. For example, I have accepted the fact that it is hard to concentrate and be productive at home and practiced recognizing that feelings of guilt and anxiety are justified and felt by everyone. Something as simple as placing our emotions in the context of our difficult circumstances can help shift our mental stance from frustration to acceptance. You can find out skills for emotional regulation by trying out online Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
If the gym was once part of your daily routine, then you were probably left feeling a little panicked once everything closed. This was how I felt, and for me, this quarantine has been a great opportunity to learn different ways to exercise. I have tried running, following high intensity interval training (HIIT) videos on YouTube and home workouts to help me keep my routine. Exercise is an especially important habit because it can reduce your stress, anxiety and risk of depression. Researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have conducted studies showing that just running 15 minutes a day can reduce the risk of major depression by 26%. Their research also shows that simply allocating dedicated time for work, exercise and hobbies can help you to feel occupied and productive. Developing and sticking to a routine can help you to cope with changes in life and provide a sense of control over difficult situations. If you find yourself lacking the motivation to work out at home, you can always try to exercise with friends virtually, and this will provide the positive effects of both working out and social interaction!
Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. We are living in the age of technology, meaning we don’t need to be physically close to be connected with one another. As you know, the University of Toronto has purchased a Zoom license for all staff and students. Using virtual communication tools can also help us stay connected with our friends and family and help each other to stay strong during this difficult time. By using Skype, Zoom, or WhatsApp, you can stay connected with your colleges and loved ones. Another advantage of having virtual communication is its efficiency; you can meet with your friends multiple times a day while still being productive at home.
In addition to monitoring our physical health during this pandemic, we need to allocate same amount of care to our mental health. It can be challenging sometimes to spot the signs of anxiety and depression, which is why it is important to listen to your mind and not disregard your emotions. There are many resources out there that can help you to stay mentally healthy and mindfulness skills you can practice on your own to help relieve stress and anxiety. One example of these online resources is My SSP App, an App developed by University of Toronto to support student mental health. It provides 24/7 online counselling in 146 languages. There are also guided mediation apps such as Headspace that can help you practice mindfulness. Most importantly, remember that we are all going through this together.
1. 2020. How to Protect Your Mental Health During a Quarantine. UVA Today
2. Jagannathan, M. ‘We can get through this’: How to manage your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. MarketWatch .
3. 2018. The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise – HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org .
4. 2020. DBT: Dialectical Behavior Therapy. https://dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com/distress-tolerance/radical-acceptance/
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