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How to stay busy and sane during isolation

Concordia counsellor Jewel Perlin shares tips for studying, connecting with friends and managing stress during the COVID-19 pandemic
April 14, 2020
By Kelsey Rolfe

“Make sure that you are helping yourself identify your emotion — then find a way to release it.” | Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Like so many in Canada and around the world, Concordia students are facing weeks in some form of isolation — with their roommates, family members or on their own — as Quebec works to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

While it’s a stressful time, with schoolwork to finish and limited social contact for the foreseeable future, there are still many things one can do to keep busy and stay sane. That’s according to Jewel Perlin, a counsellor with Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological Services. She shares a number of useful tips for how to get through these challenging times.

‘Sometimes we need to connect to people to realize that we’re not alone in this’

How can  students be sure they’re making the most of their day at this stressful time?

Jewel Perlin: I strongly recommend practising emotional hygiene. This involves keeping a routine, making sure that you’re sleeping well — going to bed and waking up at a reasonable hour — and eating healthy, nutritious meals. Also make sure that you are exercising and finding ways that are healthy to relieve some of the stress and anxiety about the uncertain situation and your academic performance.

What can students still do to get exercise?

JP: Go outside for a walk, while practising physical distancing, even if it’s just around the block. Take in a little bit of that sunshine in a healthy way. We’re also fortunate that a lot of local gyms and personal trainers are sharing free exercise videos. It’s important to make sure that you are still getting the exercise that you need — 30 minutes of daily physical activity is what’s recommended.

Even if you’re home, you can walk around your apartment or jog on the spot. You can put on music and dance to your favourite song. One reason people enjoy going to a gym is they get to form a community. So you could arrange to see your friends and do a virtual workout, or do an activity with your family.

How can students set up an effective at-home workspace?

JP: I do recommend you get dressed. Staying in your pyjamas all day is not going to help you be productive. Just doing that activity will help.

Setting up a space to study is often challenging for people who have roommates, who might have traditionally used the library or coffee shops or labs to work. I would recommend trying not to study on your bed because it is often used for relaxation. Make sure that you have a dedicated study space and try to work at your productive times of the day.

It’s also important that you try to differentiate your work and home environments and the times when you’re working from the times you’re not. That could mean moving your desk into a different room, changing up the scenery so you don’t spend a full day in your bedroom or starting and finishing your day with opening and closing rituals.

An opening ritual could be practising a mindfulness exercise before you sit down to do your work. At the end of the day, when you’ve finished all of your work, one of your closing rituals could be to shut down your computer — even if you’re going to use it later on to watch Netflix.

What role can hobbies play in this time?

JP: If you have old hobbies, bring them back if you have some time to invest in them. We all have something we’ve always wanted to try or do.

Do you want to work on poetry? Do you want to learn how to play an instrument or learn a language? Do you want to learn how to knit, or maybe even help health care workers by making masks for them? Now’s a great time to take up a new hobby that is of interest to you, that will provide you with pleasure and maybe also meaning and purpose.

There are going to be days or hours when students will feel really overwhelmed. How can they work through and deal with those feelings?

JP: It’s really important to make sure that you are helping yourself identify your emotion. Then find a way to release it. You could do a physical release or a creative release. A physical release is something you can do to release the emotion through your body, like practising a breathing exercise or putting on music and shaking it off. A creative way of releasing it could be journaling or focusing on poetry or art or colouring.

Sometimes we also have to do the opposite action of what an emotion wants us to feel. We’re talking a lot about anxiety and fear — you might need to release it by shaking it off, but afterwards you need to say, “What can I do to help myself relax?” Because that would be the opposite of feeling anxious.

Sometimes we need to connect to realize that we’re not alone in this. We need that opportunity to vent, but also that comfort from others.

You can also do a mind shift. A lot of people are saying to me, “I feel very stuck at home, and I’m really struggling with social distancing.” We have to shift our mind and say, “I’m at home, and I have to be at home, but I’m also safe at home.” Can you look for the things that are going well, that you are grateful for, and take note of one each day?

Are there any other tips you have for staying busy and sane during this time?

JP: Going back to studying, you can make a study club, even if the people are not in your program. Find people you can study with to help stay motivated and be accountable to one another.

And remember that social distancing does not mean that you can’t get in touch with your family and friends. It’s really important to connect with people.

Need someone to talk to? Concordia’s
mental health support page lists available counselling resources. Also check out the university’s physical wellness page, which offers tips to work — and work out — safely at home.



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