Welcome to the first third of the semester, as students enter their seventh week of the Spring semester, we all sort of fall into this funk. Winter is straggling on, despite what the groundhog said, and the cool winds of Maine make it bitter to be outside. This causes students to be stuck inside their rooms, dorms, apartments, and family homes for days and days on end. Cue the joke “I haven’t left my house in so long, I don’t even know what day it is.”
It’s not much of a surprise that this routine of sleeping, studying, zooming, eating, and relaxing in one space has caused more stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s becoming full circle as we inch closer to March 13, the day USM students were sent home for a two-week “spring break” last year.
Now that we have all accepted that it’s not okay to stay inside, what do we do about it? How bad is it to stay in one place all day? How do you stay productive when you are exhausted from doing nothing?
Victoria Libby from the USM Health and Counseling Services and a professional clinical psychologist, explains that people often feel more stressed and less productive when they don’t move, “reducing the amount of time you move around can make you feel more tired, and the best way to ward off depression and stress is to move.” She states that especially during this pandemic, “we are in a continuous stressful situation, and moving less in general, so when our bodies are not even doing the basic amount of movement, that’s an issue.”
Libby recommends that keeping up with your routine can help your regular movements and improve your mental health. “I encourage students to practice a routine, such as getting up and making your bed, changing out of your pajamas and into clothing.” She goes on to say, “this can be an unconscious reminder for your brain that you are switching from one mode to another. “
These small things can amount to a healthier space both mentally and physically. Getting ready and dressing for yourself can be a way to acknowledge that you are no longer relaxing and now time for school or work.
Sydney Morton, a junior in the communication and media studies program, is living at her childhood home in Pittsfield, ME. She explains while she doesn’t feel depressed, “I am just tired all the time, I feel so exhausted from sitting and doing nothing, it’s not sadness or depression, I am just burnt out.” These feelings are completely relatable, as students have been balancing classes, clubs, meetings, internships, and work all remotely and from one place for almost a year. These routines are boring and repetitive. As students have to be constantly in one spot and always on their computers, staring at their screens.
“It doesn’t feel productive to sit and be on my computer all day, I feel like I am not doing enough,” Morton said.
Libby explains how important it is for a healthy environment to stable mental health and productivity: “Generally cleaner and neat spaces will make people feel more relaxed, it will feel like you are put together.”
Morton took this advice for herself, “when I decided to stay home for the Spring semester, I completely gutted my room.” She shares that she threw away a lot of her items from high school, repainted the walls, and rearranged a few things.
“Sometimes it’s strange to be in class while in my room, almost like an invasion of privacy,” Morton explains that she still isn’t used to her professors and students being able to see the simple things in her room, such as her wall color and bedspread. This is valid, up until this pandemic, your room was for friends and family, not for your CMS 423 class to see each Thursday.
Yet, Morton does say that this cleaning up and always being on camera has made her more aware of her tidiness, “It’s honestly helpful, it makes me clean up more, throw away stuff I don’t need, and with less stuff, I feel less anxious.”
Libby also recommends that while being clean and tidy can help mental health, also dividing up your space for work and play can be helpful. “Divide up your room, use your bed for relaxation and intimacy, but try not to do homework or zoom from it.” She says that keeping spaces for school separate will allow mental space to allow your brain to flip on and off for when you need a break. “You don’t want your bed to be associated with things that are stressful, just a space to relax.”
When talking about those living in small spaces, like dorms and apartments, to take advantage of going outside, moving your body and being in the fresh air can be the best way to spend your break.
Morton says she spends her breaks playing guitar, or with her dog. She also finds herself changing location in her house. Similar to the advice Libby gave about having places for rest and work. Morton explains she shuffles from her desk in her room, the couch downstairs, and the kitchen table for homework, reading, and zoom.
“Our bodies were not made to be this stagnant, try to study for 45 minutes to an hour, and then move around, even for a little bit. Like, moving your ankles under your desk, refilling your water, and stretching.” Libby shares. She explains that with the world becoming faster and faster and how our concentration has been getting shorter and shorter, it’s important to give yourself a break.
Morton, like many students, tends to “judge my worth in how productive I am.” However, it is even more important now more than ever to practice self-compassion. “This is a stressful time, students need to understand that they need to give themselves breaks, these breaks will allow you to be more productive in the end,” Libby said.
Self-compassion is listening to your body, giving yourself a break to go for a walk, move your body and be kinder to yourself. Adding stress to yourself and giving pressure to be productive will not make anything easier.
To break the funk you need to listen to yourself, and be easy, talk to your professors if you need an extension, reach out to friends and family, they are there to help you. USM Health and Counseling services are also here, you don’t need to be struggling to get help. There is no shame in asking for help. “Lean on the resources you have,” Libby said.
The way Morton has been breaking her funk is by waking up earlier, she listens to her body and knows that homework will not get done after 7 p.m. Waking up earlier has been a way for her to navigate this semester. “This entire semester has been one big balancing act,” she said.
Take advantage of the sunshine hours, go for a walk, listen to music, read the Free Press Health & Wellness section, call home, reach out to Victoria Libby, reconnect with old friends, and try to make new ones within the zoom calls we have scheduled for the next nine weeks. Good luck Huskies, we believe in you.