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[re:tell] Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic

[re:tell] Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Several weeks ago now, I can remember going to school and noticing increased safety precautions being implemented as sad news spread of the growing negative effects of COVID-19 on the health of humans around the world. 

 

I had a conversation with my statistics professor about what life might look like if we were not able to come to school in the coming weeks. I wasn’t sure and he wasn’t either. Our conversation was hopeful. We spoke like it was all just hypothetical. He concluded by saying, “we’ll see when the time comes.” Just hours later, Ontario declared public schools would close after March break. Post-secondary institutions soon followed suit and with that, our lives turned upside down. I haven’t seen my professor in person since our conversation.

It’s weird how life works, even though we’d been hearing reports of this virus spreading for weeks and knew it was only a matter of time until it came to Canada, the thought of seeing the country shut down and daily life stalled never settled in until the hammer dropped that Thursday evening. The school closures and the countless government actions that followed brought along fear and panic as anxiety and confusion about the situation escalated rapidly. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind, with ups and downs, moments of hope and feelings of despair.

At first, I tried my best to stay informed with what’s happening in the world by watching CBC’s The National newscast on a daily basis. It felt important to keep up with what was happening to understand how best to protect myself and others, but as the days went on, with my usual schedule disrupted, I felt little motivation to do anything else but watch the news. It stopped serving any positive purpose. Every time I tuned in, I heard the sadness and fear in the stories that grew hour by hour as more Canadians were affected and strict government action increased. The feelings of despair and anxiety increased. Survival instincts had kicked in. It was clear we were at a pivotal moment.

At home, I started a serious cleaning regimen to be extra safe. I wanted to do everything I could to stop the spread. After a quick weekend trip to the grocery store, I was in for a surprise to see how people had forgotten the basic grade school lesson, sharing is caring. I walked into the grocery store prepared for a messy situation, instead it looked like it had been struck by a tornado. My neighbours managed to ravage every aisle of the store as if preparing for years in lockdown. I stood in the middle of the shop and took a deep breath. It seemed like the worst in humanity was coming out. Without the guidance of public health education and calm leadership, I thought, this could lead to disaster.

While I sympathized with these emotional reactions to uncertainty and instability, it became very clear to me that in times of difficulty, we need to learn to do better for ourselves and for each other. The challenges we face dealing with COVID-19 as a collective aren’t going away any time soon. In the weeks and months ahead, some things will improve and some things will get harder. It doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of the situation and try to find the silver lining in a catastrophe.

Here are a few hopeful reflections I’ve had over the past few weeks that I’d like to share:

  • People are mostly kind, love to socialize and desire human connection. Though we’re all at home helping to flatten the curve, checking in on each other regularly through technology is what will help spread positivity and joy in our current way of living.
  • We are fortunate to live in a country with some of the best doctors in the world doing the best they can to help save us from this difficult dilemma.
  • Some of the things that have helped get me through might help you too: read a book (I recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma), learn a new skill (Cooking? Baking a cake?), catch up on family stories. Try to nurture your spirit. 
  • Given the loneliness and other difficult feelings that social isolation can cause, sometimes we need something that excites us to draw our focus away and get us motivated and energized. In the past few days, I’ve turned to goal-setting and planning and I’ve taken up passion projects like joining student advocacy groups. Joining these groups with like-minded individuals has helped me develop a creative outlet to brainstorm new ideas and get involved with the greater community. Isolation can take a toll but I firmly believe that by engaging in projects that get your creative juices flowing, mental health and happiness are boosted.
I understand that a call for positivity may not speak to all the struggles and stresses that you may be facing, whether with finances or family separation. I’ve been reminding myself time and time again that, although the anxiety associated with the pandemic will stick around for some time, staying true to my values and listening to public health advice is the way to weather the storm. 

I want you to know, we will get through this and this too shall pass! Together as fellow students, Canadians, humans, let’s be sure to have each others’ backs!
 

 


Himanshu Luthra is a George Brown College student. This is his second contribution to re:tell.

3 Tips for Studying from Home if you’re Living with ADHD

3 Tips for Studying from Home if you’re Living with ADHD

To study or work from home is challenging. If—like myself—you’re a person living with ADHD, it may feel especially difficult to adjust to the lack of structure that can come with switching to a fully online work/study environment.

Studying (and for some of us, also working) entirely from home means that we are more susceptible to the distractions of our household, and may find ourselves overwhelmed. The habits we’ve developed to adapt to traditional formats for work and study and are not so easy to tune into from the bedroom or living room. So— how is an ADHDer supposed to adjust to remote studies during the current COVID-19 pandemic?

Here are 3 tips to help us cope:

1.     Prioritize your own structure and routine

An issue that arises for ADHDers is that at times we may struggle with internal structure. This means that we may be more distracted and feel less tolerant of boredom, which can affect the ability to accomplish tasks in a routine way. In this case, it’s important for ADHDers to set up a structure and routine that is specific to their unique needs. Instead of looking at a routine as boring and infringing on creativity and freedom, we can look at routine setting as a way to get things done efficiently, so that later we can spend time on unique interests without having to face the overwhelm and guilt that can come from pushing aside work tasks.

Routine-setting doesn’t need to be boring! It can actually be helpful, for example, to structure breaks and fun into the work day. This may look like pre-structuring and planning routine breaks, like scheduling 20 minutes after you complete a task to go for a walk or have a quick call with a friend. Planning a consistent and predictable routine may feel challenging at first, but as time goes on, it can become second nature and habit, which can really benefit ADHDers while working from home.

2.     Limit household distractions as best you can

Decide early on in your remote-working journey where you will be doing most of your work. Keeping this space consistent is helpful for implementing a routine. Be sure that the area you choose to work in is quiet (if possible) and limited in visual distractions. Making sure things are uncluttered amongst your work space can help the ADHD brain to remember to prioritize and focus on only what is in front of it.

3.     Set boundaries with loved ones and housemates

You are allowed to be clear about and set healthy boundaries. Now more than ever, it is important to be upfront about what is needed to allow your remote study journey to be successful. Try your best to make it clear to family and/or housemates that you have set a specific schedule, and that this means you need to be off the clock for house duties, answering texts or calls from friends, having conversations with your housemates, social media, etc. Implementing these boundaries can help take the pressure off of trying to juggle your school and/or work responsibilities while also remaining a supportive housemate, friend and family member.

Why a Visit to the Art Gallery Can Improve Our Mental Health

Why a Visit to the Art Gallery Can Improve Our Mental Health

As a student, you have a unique privilege you may not have considered. Many schools have art galleries on campus that you can visit for cheap or for free, and many off-campus galleries offer student rates, meaning you can see great art on a budget. Have you considered taking advantage? It could be just what you need. Visits to the art gallery allow for the chance to step away from daily life and engage with the world in a new way.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of viewing art in a gallery is the mental exercise of creating our own interpretation toward the art we are observing. This is a practice that encourages the type of creative thinking needed for problem-solving. By practicing this type of creative thinking, we learn better ways to come up with our own unique solutions to difficult problems, a key skill required for better mental health. When we leave difficult emotional problems unsolved, we may end up feeling even more frustrated and stressed. Understanding how to solve problems in a creative way may at times be what we need in order to improve difficult relationships, our own self-esteem, and circumstances within our lives that are causing us stress and anxiety.

You do not need to be a Renaissance painter or a beret-wearing artISTE spewing art-speak in order to reap the mental health benefits of visiting a gallery. The actual act of observing and appreciating art stimulates the same areas of the brain that are involved in processing feelings of pleasure and reward. When we’re feeling especially anxious, stressed, or emotionally down, a visit to the gallery may help us re-focus our attention in a therapeutic way. This can allow us a moment to take a step away from our overwhelming emotions and provides us with the opportunity to revisit these feelings at a time when we are less emotionally drained or anxious.

A gallery visit may also be a source of inspiration and has the power to boost our own personal creativity. Engaging in creative expression has significant therapeutic effects in decreasing anxiety. For example, acting creatively can get us into the mental state known in Positive Psychology as “flow.” It’s where we are totally and completely immersed in the enjoyment and involvement of what we are doing, and it’s why being creative feels so good.

The next time you’re having a difficult mental health day, consider the therapeutic benefits of visiting a local art gallery. It’s a wonderful way to incorporate creativity into your self-care practice!

How to Make Make the Best of Going Back to School

How to Make Make the Best of Going Back to School

The seasons are changing. The days of layered long-sleeves, sweaters and coats are just around the corner and kids have thrown on their backpacks and headed off to school. I’m not even a student anymore but every year it’s still hard to accept that school’s back in session. 

For those who are headed back, adjusting from a summer of doing other things like travel, work or socializing can be challenging. Here are a few tips to help get you back into the swing of school:

 

1. Rebuild your routine slowly 

Start with sleep. If the summer has disrupted your sleep routine, start by spending the first few weeks with a set wake-up and/or bedtime. Consistent and quality sleep will have you recharged and ready for everything the school year throws at you.

2. Make lists 

Knowing what you need to do for your classes and extracurriculars is important. When you know what’s coming you can plan for it.

3. Set up a support network 

If you’re new, know who you can contact for support on and off-campus. There are often great resources available on-campus for those who look (most student centres or student unions can help you with that information). For those returning to campus, it’s time to get back into the swing of connecting with friends, classmates, and/or student groups. Making sure you have a strong support network will help you get through the midterm and exam seasons.

4. Experiment with your study habits 

It’s easy to put off studying in college and university because no one’s there to tell you to get down to it. The best antidote is to get to know your study style. Do you have certain productive hours in the day? What kind of space do you need to study in? Are you a snacker? What kind of learner are you? Contact your school’s learning/academic support center, they can help you learn to study effectively and efficiently.

5. Create a self-care plan 

What nourishes and recharges you? Get to know what you need: for some, it might mean regular trips to the gym, daily meditation, or 3 square meals a day, for others it may mean cutting back on work hours, or 2 days off each week for rest. Regardless, have a sense of your unique needs and try your best to meet them so you’re recharged for the more stressful periods.

 

Remember that adjustments take time. Give yourself some time to get used to the hustle and bustle of campus in September. 

I wish you all a wonderful school year. Happy studies!

How to Make New Friends

How to Make New Friends

Unlike our family, we can choose our friends. So in a way, friends are our “chosen family”. It’s important that we choose wisely and surround ourselves with supporting and loving people. Happy International Friendship Day!

Are you finding yourself lonely during your summer away from campus? Look no further!

Here are the top 3 places to check out to meet new peeps!

1. Meetup.com

This is a great website to meet people who share similar interests to you. Sign up on the website, choose the categories that interest you, i.e. sports, nature, movies, etc., and then get out there!

2. Bumble BFF

Yes, you read that correctly. Bumble⁠—best known for its dating app⁠—also has an app to meet your future bestie. Add a few photos of you in your element, write a brief bio and then start swiping!

4. Eventbrite

You’ve probably bought tickets on Eventbrite before (maybe even for a Shift event!) but did you know it’s also considered the “new” meetup.com. Perfectly Search by date, location, cost and category to find the perfect event to mingle with like-minded folks.

How to Grow Up

How to Grow Up

Here’s some wisdom from a 32-year-old on a second round as a university student:

It’s really hard.

Not exactly a revelation, I know, but hear me out. Completing assignments, keeping up with readings, and managing time – we all know how challenging this can be. What I want to highlight instead is that the hard work isn’t always the hardest part. For me, trying to figure out how to get to bed early enough, how to wake up and make it to class on time, how to keep my bedroom from looking like a junkyard, and how to resist daily temptations is really hard. While others seem to be worrying about making time for self-care between classes and work, I’m sprinting to class only to find I forgot my notebook. Sometimes it’s the stuff that is supposed to be simple that ends up being really— you guessed it— hard.

It can feel like there isn’t much sympathy out there for those of us who struggle with the day-to-day stuff. If someone hasn’t done laundry in two weeks, it’s easier for people to judge and label them lazy than it is to try to understand why they find it difficult. We’re all guilty of passing quick judgment – and this has its consequences. In my case, people often presume I’m either carefree or careless. A friend told me years back that it seemed like I have no passion. It felt awful to be seen that way. For a decade I almost believed that story about myself. I often felt like a let down, both to myself and to the world. I worried I’d never grow up to be someone I could respect. None of that was true.

The First Round

With that mindset, completing my first degree somehow seemed like both a miracle and barely an accomplishment. I didn’t find the schoolwork very difficult. I loved learning, I made it to class, I paid attention, and for the most part, I got good grades. But I spent the majority of my six years as an undergrad (that’s right, six) procrastinating. I wish I could say I spent all my time partying and enjoying myself. Mostly I agonized about how much work I had to do instead of just doing it, or I beat myself up because I didn’t feel I was trying hard enough. I knew what I needed to do, I just couldn’t seem to do it. I always felt like I could do better, or like I never gave it all I had. At graduation I knew I was smart enough to be handed that degree but somehow I felt like I hadn’t earned it. Now upon reflection, I see I gave it everything I had at the time. I earned that degree Sinatra-style— I did it my way.

We rarely hear this sort of student story. Ever notice in the movies how college students always look like they’re having the greatest time of their lives? They’re winning trophies, getting laid, and going on spring break holidays. How do they make time to have all this fun? They’re never studying, working their asses off to afford tuition, or staying in because they can’t afford to party. The message is that our college years are supposed to be all fun all the time. I’ve done it twice now, and I call bullshit! If you can relate, you’re not alone. I’d say we’re the silent majority.

The Second Round

This time it’s different. The same simple stuff I found difficult ten years ago is still hard and it probably won’t ever be easy for me. I have grown though. I’ve slowly adopted some better life skills (so much more to go), a lot of patience with myself, and the pièce de résistance, I’ve developed a who-gives-a-shit swagger – a gift of confidence that seemed to arrive right around the time I turned 30. Much to my partner’s chagrin, my room is still a pig stye, and I still struggle to hand papers in on time. But my world isn’t collapsing around me. I’m imperfect, and that’s fine. There are a lot of us!

These days I juggle a job, classes and a co-op position. I never thought I’d be able to do that much at once. For the first time in my adult life, people say, “Wow! That must be so hard to manage!” about my life. The irony is, in a lot of ways, it used to be harder. It’s harder to wake up in the morning when you have three or four chapters to read on your own time, two assignments due in a week, and instead of doing any homework the night before, you smoked a joint with your roommate and stayed up watching cartoons. That is stressful. That life is never free from the anxiety of having too much shit to do. Now, waking up groggy to get to my co-op placement after a late night at work is easy in comparison. It would be even easier if I could just decide to go to bed earlier, but at least I have a better excuse for being late.

What’s Next?

Each of us struggles with different aspects of the transition into adulthood. Moving toward my mid-30s now, I realize that the development period is actually never finished. You never wake up to find you’re all done building yourself. But you do get better at it.

I wanted to write all this because I wish people had recognized and acknowledged ten years ago that even when I didn’t look like it, I really cared. To everyone living in that eternal awkward phase, I’m right there with you. I know you care. Keep at it and take all the time you need.