In Aug., when I pushed through the hefty doors to begin my third year, I never imagined how different this year would be apart from the previous two. After the first week, each day became more uniform and began to blend in with the next. Less and less sleep caused more and more stress, and a cloud of dissociation consumed my restless body as I walked the halls.
By Dec., stress was normal. Every day was a constant challenge to focus and maintain empathy for others until March 13 when the doors closed behind me for the last time. What I did not know then is that a different door was also opening.
Now that I am at the end of the year, I can see that remote learning actually gave me the chance to work on my mental health. The following four practices helped me navigate the chaos of the pandemic.
A gratitude journal: By writing in mine, I am able to center my attention on simple pleasures rather than obstacles that bring me down. I usually write in it as I get ready for bed every night to carry positive thoughts into the next days with me. Over the past three weeks, I noticed an immense change in my attitude. Although writing what I am grateful for does not make my concerns and fears disappear, it does allow me to live with less anxiety.
Communication: I keep in touch with friends and family through FaceTime, Zoom calls and Google Meets. By connecting online, my friends and I are able to maintain our relationships, while at a safe distance and with no physical contact. Many other friends who live locally struggle with stress just as much as I do. Like me, some are overwhelmed, they also feel like they barely made it out of this year. Digital communication has helped me feel comforted and connected.
Teacher Input: Many of my teachers assign optional non-academic activities to keep in touch with their students. For example, one of my teachers asked for input on how much stress the workload was causing and what kinds of activities we prefer. She then went back and adjusted the amount and kinds of assignments based on our input. Her concern made me feel more relevant and important. She cares about me, not just the curriculum. When it comes to schoolwork, I am grateful to be given the opportunity to work at my own pace. This decreased the amount of stress I have encountered because I can focus more on catching up in some classes and studying for my upcoming Advanced Placement tests.
Family Time: By staying busy with my family, I am able to step away from the news. We have had the opportunity to bond and share a variety of laughs. While we play games, our competitive sides arise. As we watch scary movies, we find ways to comfort each other. As we eat dinner together, we talk and discover more about each other. The news can’t feed my fear as often because I’m spending more time with my family.
Stress occurs in everyone’s life, but most of the time it is pushing us to do things we lack. As I move close to the beginning of my senior year, I understand that stress will return. I plan to keep these tools for when it does.