Prioritizing mental health during the COVID-19 era: Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between

 It’s important to put time and energy into knitting together your mental health. GRAPHIC BY HALEY KEIZUR/FOGHORN

Clara Snoyer is a freshman English major.

From the time our lives were suddenly uprooted from the Hilltop, many of our priorities have switched to caring part-time for family members, searching for new work, and trying to find an internet signal strong enough for Zoom classes. Our world has demanded that we adapt, sacrifice, and accept the new normal overnight, while going as far as demanding we binge a certain seven-hour docuseries on big cats just to keep up with pop culture. 

However, as much as I’d love to bake trendy sourdough and attempt a 1,000-piece puzzle right now, finals are no longer creeping up on us — they’re here — and I’m beginning to feel the pressure. The unstructured nature of quarantine, increased anxiety about at-risk family members, and sense of doom present in almost every headline are evidently the petri dish for mental health issues to resurface in our lives. While prioritizing our physical health is the most important thing we can do right now to protect the people around us, we must also prioritize our mental health to ensure we’re taking emotional care of ourselves amidst all of the change and uncertainty. No matter how much we’re sanitizing, masking, and keeping our distance, our mental health can have more of an impact on our physical health than we realize.

The week that the emails cascaded in telling us we wouldn’t be returning to campus and thus needed to completely move out in a week was intense. I felt exhausted, both emotionally and physically, and actually developed a fever. I was instantly scared because I’d just flown home on a plane for spring break and had gone out a few times since my hometown, Dallas, wasn’t in shelter-in-place yet. 

However, when my fever ended after a few days and I experienced no other symptoms, I realized my illness could have been stress-induced since I became well as soon as I began to accept and reorganize my new reality. I’ve struggled with my mental health for years, and developing routine and positive coping mechanisms have helped me most when a lot of change occurs. Although, unlike the last major change I underwent when leaving my home for USF in the fall, today’s times are filled with less exciting and hopeful uncertainty. 

To reduce anxiety and depression during the era of COVID-19, Mayo Clinic recommends we keep to our regular routine as much as possible, limit our exposure to news media, stay busy, focus on positive thoughts, use our moral compass or spiritual life for support, and set realistic goals for what we can achieve each day. We should also try to stay connected with others while abiding by social distancing guidelines, find purpose in helping those around us, and support family or friends, while maybe even asking for support back. 

While it can be difficult to think of others as we’re handling canceled graduations, displacement across the globe, and keeping up with our credit loads, we need to embrace our Jesuit mission of cura personalis and serving others now more than ever. When President Paul Fitzgerald spoke in conversation with San Francisco Mayor London Breed on April 22, Breed advised students to care for their communities, care for their mental health, and reach out to those they care about. Although we’re no longer able to sunbathe in clusters across the green of Gleeson Plaza or see our friends face-to-face for some time, preserving our USF community is now more essential to our strength than it has ever been. 

Although our physical campus may be closed, the plentiful resources provided to us are not. Having a balanced well-being ultimately boosts our mental health, so it’s important to attend virtual office hours and reach out via Zoom to the Center for Academic and Student Achievement (CASA), Career Services, and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Also, take advantage of your USF provided Zoom Pro and host get-togethers, parties, or movie nights with friends using fun USF-themed Zoom backgrounds

As I’m sure you all do, I miss living in San Francisco — getting lost on Muni with friends, walking up to that amazing Lone Mountain lookout, and frequenting coffee shops and cinemas I’m not sure will still be in business when I get back. However, I’ve found comfort in these words of The Beatles: “There are places I’ll remember/ All my life, though some have changed/ Some forever, not for better/ Some have gone, and some remain/ All these places had their moments/ With lovers and friends, I still can recall/ Some are dead, and some are living / In my life, I’ve loved them all.” (“In My Life”)

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