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DEMAREST: Lessons on self-care, productivity amid pandemic

Column: Democrats Need to Change Their Strategy

The pandemic can have a negative impact on mental health, but setting a schedule for yourself that includes both productive tasks as well as self-care habits can help. – Photo by Pixabay.com

Eleven months ago, we were all taken by surprise when a mysterious new disease came knocking on our doors and turned our lives upside down. You would be lying to say that this did not shock you or affect your life drastically.

Those of us who lived on campus had to abruptly return home to our parents, professors suddenly had to adapt their lesson plans to remote learning and we have all had to endure the virtual pause on the society we have been so used to. 

Terrible as it may be, the disease itself is not the only illness we are contending with. Depriving humans, the social animals we are, from being surrounded by people is undoubtedly a recipe for the formation of diseases of the mind.

As a result of this loneliness and isolation, there has been a massive spike in depression, anxiety and suicides. This is true across almost all demographic groups, but it has especially affected our age group, Generation Z. Some have taken to calling this the "second pandemic."

Yet still, there are people who have maintained a positive mental profile throughout the pandemic. We have all likely seen or heard about those who have been utilizing this time to learn, reflect, develop new skills and pick up new hobbies. Many have taken to learning a language or an instrument or perhaps reading a book. I personally have been writing more music and poetry. This productive mindset that some have gotten into is quite admirable.

Some have insisted that you have no excuse not to seize on a once-in-a-century opportunity to be productive with copious amounts of free time. But others emphasize the importance of taking care of your mental health in a stressful and lonely time. This should not be a debate.

There is no reason that you cannot take steps to improve your mental health while being productive at the same time. In fact, I believe these two go hand-in-hand with one another. I define being productive as investing in your long-term well being. I have heard it said that there are three important passions to cultivate in your life: one which earns you money, one which keeps you healthy and one which makes you happy. Therefore, any activity that leads to wealth, health or happiness is productive.

As far as careers and money moves are concerned, everyone is in a different stage of their life. This pandemic struck me in the second half of my sophomore year, the prime time for beginning to plan my future. If you are in this stage of your life, focus on achieving whatever career goals you may have.

Communicate with potential employers and business connections. You will have to work hard to get there, but like they all say, hard work pays off. Envision the future in which that hard work has paid off.

If you can write, draw, paint, act or have any other creative skills, create some content and find a platform on which you can publish it and make some money. If you have a skill or knowledge and are able to provide a service, such as teaching, capitalize on that as well.

The stock market has been in the news lately. If you have the means, invest some extra cash into it. Of course, be careful with that. Do not invest with money you cannot afford to lose. Do not let me be the reason that you lose out. But if you do it with careful consideration and research, you might just be able to make quite a bit. 

The two main pillars of health are eating right and exercising. These are two of the most potent mood boosters available to you. If you do not have weights or access to a gym, you can do exercises with just your body. Push-ups and planks are a mainstay, as well as going for a run. Sports that you can still do by yourself or with a small group of people, such as basketball, are great options too. 

Replace your junk food with a balanced diet. If you take some time to cook, it will be much easier to eat healthily. Even if you are not much of a chef, make yourself some nice and healthy dishes. It does not even have to be bland, be sure to use plenty of spices.  

Be sure that you have a good sleep schedule. Seven to eight hours is usually best. Too much sleep can be just as bad as too little sleep. Limit your social media usage. Scrolling through your Instagram feed will only make you feel depressed and warp your perception of the world.

With the reduced amounts of distractions, you may find it easier to make a schedule and stick to it. Be careful, though, that you do not beat yourself up over falling out of a schedule. You are not perfect, and you do not have to be. The goal here is to build you up, not break you down. Make a schedule that has wiggle room, and make it work around your needs.

Part of happiness as well as health is nature and mindfulness. Be sure to go outside for a walk. It may be a cold, snowy winter, but even 5 minutes of fresh air and the sights of nature are therapeutic. It helps clear your head and sort out your negative thoughts. Do some meditation as well.

Before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, I would attend a yoga class once a week. It taught me to be mindful and calm and to approach life with a sense of gratitude and wisdom.

Even if yoga is not your thing, meditating for just 5 minutes in the morning or at night is a great way to improve your state of mind. Sit still and listen to either a chant or slow, calm music. Focus on your breath, and do your best to shut off the constant stream of thoughts and impulses in your head.

You will sleep better, feel better and generally be more aware of yourself.

Everyone has hobbies, so take some time and indulge in yours. If you are so inclined, explore some new ones as well. This can be a perfect time to discover a new passion. Find things to do that are so engaging that you can do them for hours with nonstop focus. Get into a flow state. It does not matter how niche it might be.

I am personally obsessed with "Game of Thrones" (except for the last 3 seasons) and the book series "A Song of Ice and Fire," and I spent a lot of time involved in the dedicated fandom. I recently spent an entire day re-watching the first season!

Be sure to text and FaceTime your friends and family. Just because we cannot see each other face-to-face, that does not mean that we should neglect our social lives entirely. A conversation with a true friend is almost universally an instant mood booster.

If you cover the three areas of building wealth, creating health and cultivating happiness, you will have already achieved productivity. Making the best of your situation does not require denying our harsh reality, but rather doing what you can to overcome it.

Kenji Demarest is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science and minoring in South Asian studies. His column, "Democrats Need to Change Their Strategy," runs on alternate Tuesdays


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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