While creating and sticking to a routine may be challenging for some students, it can be helpful to maintain one’s health, according to healthcare professionals.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, college students are adjusting to a new normal after moving back home. Students who once lived in the dorms and attended in-person classes must now attend online classes and work from home.
Deborah Humphrey, executive director of the Madison County Mental Health Board, said social distancing can have a negative effect on one’s mental health.
“We’re in a place where we’re social distancing. We’re not having that face-to-face contact with others so we have that isolation, away from community. When that happens, to anyone, you’re at risk of other things, like feeling depressed from the isolation and having feelings of anxiety,” Humphrey said. “If you just so happen to have a mood disorder or are an anxious person already, then that just complicates that as well.”
According to Humphrey, this situation can lead to a decrease in physical health as well.
“We can experience sleep disturbances and poor sleep as a result of that … our cardiovascular functioning gets affected by this, our immune systems become weakened,” Humphrey said.
However, Humphrey said keeping a routine may alleviate some of these pressures.
“Keep a regular schedule every day, just as though you would be going to work. Still set goals for each day, and still develop a plan on ‘what are the things I need to accomplish?’ and work towards those goals each day,” Humphrey said.
A healthy routine should include taking care of one's physical health, Humphrey said.
“Because we´re at home, working from home, scheduling time for workout times or exercise, getting up, being mobile as well, we know that the health benefits from exercise are [that it] helps our immune system, so those are really critical to keep those kinds of things,” Humphrey said.
Chris Kerns, a licensed marriage and family therapist and co-founder of Larkr, an on-demand mental health service, said it’s important for a routine to include self care during this pandemic.
“If part of your daily routine is exercise for half an hour, [then it’s] finding ways to still spend that half an hour … there’s ways to engage in physical activity without being in contact with people,” Kerns said. “Making that intentional, and really protect that time. In this time of crisis, in this time of need, the more we really need to focus on how are we going to manage what’s going on with us, knowing that there’s a lot of things going on outside of us that we cannot control.”
Kerns also said that despite a lack of access to in-person mental health resources, there are still ways to seek help from home.
“There’s ways that we can engage in those activities … there’s a lot of free resources out there online that offer different help and tools to manage any sort of anxiety-provoking situation. If you are feeling isolated and cooped up, there’s all these other resources to take advantage of,” Kerns said.
Emma Gieseking, a freshman psychology major from Marine, Illinois, said the structure of her typical day has changed.
“I wake up a lot later, because I don’t have any Zoom classes or anything … I eat. I don’t really do much, because I don’t have a lot of homework,” Gieseking said.
Gieseking said she has plans that she hopes will help to establish a routine.
“I’m going to try to start waking up at the same time every day … and then get up and get ready,” Gieseking said. “I don’t have to go anywhere, but it still helps to take a shower and stuff because then I feel like I’m actually being productive. Then set aside time to just do homework, and study and take notes from all of my lectures.”
In a press release, the Madison County Mental Health Board said there are coping mechanisms the public can use to stay healthy, such as receiving proper nutrition.
“Keep planned mealtimes with health nutrition and hydration (avoid comfort foods, reducing carbs will improve your immune system),” the press release said.
To check out Larkr’s online mental health resources, visit their website or download the app.