Mental health and coping during COVID-19

It goes without saying that this is a time of uncertainty for everyone. COVID-19 has forced individuals to change their lifestyle for an unknown amount of time. Many are left with more time on their hands, and with that comes a lot of extra time to overthink. Quarantine has made it much more difficult to distract oneself from toxic thinking, guilt, and anxiety. Everyone is facing new, unfamiliar stressors. Though it may not seem like it, it is absolutely acceptable to not handle this situation well. It is, however, a lot harder to forgive yourself for not doing well when you have all this time to yourself.

As someone who has struggled with unhealthy relationships with food, exercise, and body image, this time of uncertainty only calls for more struggles mentally. Initially, the thought of this quarantine sounded to me like the opportune time to finally lose that extra weight. I would come out of this quarantine period with the body I’d always wanted, because why couldn’t I? All of my previous excuses were gone! I now had an open schedule for exercise, along with time for three home-cooked, nutritious meals daily. Shopping is minimal, so I could limit myself to keeping only healthy foods in the house. My habit of stress eating would disappear because without school and all of my other commitments, there was nothing to stress about! To me, this quarantine sounded like a gift from the heavens. It was my time to get my life together, because now, there was no excuse not to.

It seems in my initial calculations, I had chosen to ignore a lot of other side effects of this quarantine. These included snacking out of boredom, obsessing over my caloric intake, seeing unrealistic body representations on social media, and dwelling on extra calories. All of that combined with the stress of uncertainty meant that this extra time on my hands turned into a breeding ground for toxic thinking. 

When the high of my new routine had begun to fade, my mental health went downhill along with it. Unhealthy eating has always left me feeling guilty in the past, but in quarantine, it is so much different. Now, instead of brushing it off and moving on to homework like I would in my usual routine, I sat on the couch for the rest of the night, scrolling through social media. I was stuck with my own thoughts, and drowning in regret. Looking back, regret should have never crossed my mind. I was adapting to this new way of living! This was a new routine that I had to get used to, and I needed to cut myself a break. 

This time does not have to be used to lose weight. I don’t need to burn off every extra calorie I take in. I do not need to feel constant guilt because I am not adapting flawlessly like I had hoped. What I needed to do was make time for myself to find a balance that works for me. So, I added yoga into my routine. The positive energy of movement with a purpose brought me a sense of peace during this trying time. I reconnected with myself and became humbled. I cooked nutritious dinners for my family and snacked along the way. I began nightly walks to help digest my dinner and to clear my head of any nagging thoughts of regret. My lifestyle was slowly becoming healthy again, because it was catered to my current self and situation. It was physically healthy, but most importantly, it allowed me to be easier on myself and feel happier.

So yes, it is a good idea to use this time to better yourself. But expecting only perfection with the current situation is unrealistic. It is completely normal to struggle with your mental health right now. Throughout these few weeks, I’ve learned that balance and self-forgiveness is key. Spend your day baking that fun comfort snack and share it with your family! Eat whenever you’re hungry, and snack when you feel like it! Get your body moving because it is good for you! Put your physical AND mental health first by getting your nutrients and exercise in a way that makes you feel good. We’re all going to have a tough time adjusting, and that is perfectly okay! This is unchartered territory for all of us, so it’s all about finding your own healthy balance that makes YOU happy.

Illustration by Nate Garcia.

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