Written by Sarah Pearce
It’s safe to say this was not in any of our plans. I’m a planner, but I haven’t always been. At some point, maybe during sophomore year, I started thinking five steps ahead and haven’t stopped since. Of course, it’s been harder the past few months.
I think most of us, planners or not, had some idea of what our post-college life would look like. Maybe it wasn’t set in stone, maybe it wasn’t that specific, but we had an outline or a blueprint. Then, the world turned upside down.
I’m not here to tell you that everything is going to be fine. Things are decidedly not fine at the moment. What I am here to tell you is that you are not alone in what you are feeling. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to let yourself feel grief (yes, grief) over the loss of the last quarter of your senior year and the world you were preparing to enter. I’m here to tell you that having empathy for yourself does not take away from the empathy you feel for other people. You’re right, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the worst that could happen. There are people who have it worse than we do. It still hurts, though.
I’m no more qualified to give advice in this situation than you are, but I’m just as much an expert in being a senior during the time of COVID-19 as anyone else. Here are a few things that have helped me:
1. Taking walks.
I live in the middle of nowhere, so I’m lucky that social distancing is no problem in my neighborhood. For those of you who live in urban areas, this might look like opening a window and streaming a trusty exercise video. The idea is to feel the fresh air on your face and in your lungs. More importantly, it’s about remembering that the world is wide, and there is more to look forward to than our own claustrophobic moment. Also, I have to say it, exercise really does help.
2. Controlling the media I consume.
This has been a major learning curve for me. At the beginning of the social distancing period, I scrolled endlessly through month-by-month projections, infection counts and the same headlines from different sources. Then, I swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, watching only the happy Disney movies and a few sitcoms that felt safely mindless. That wasn’t working either. What I’ve settled on since then is a good middle ground. I look at headlines once a day from a trusted news source, and I balance entertainment between stuff that challenges my mind (i.e. my classic novel/movie bucket list) and less challenging stuff.
3. Eating well.
By this I mean eating healthy, but I also mean finding ways to really enjoy this thing that can slip by in our daily routine. Cooking has given me a low-pressure creative outlet, one I can share with my family without losing my cool. Plus, if I’m making my own food, I’m more likely to be mindful of how it’s helping or hurting my brain and body. All in all, good food, as usual, is something I’m grateful for.
4. Finding a routine that works for me, then adjusting it when it doesn’t.
Routines provide structure and security, something we need now more than ever. But, for me at least, it wasn’t sustainable to stick to a stiff routine every day. I think it’s important to give ourselves the structure, but equally important to give ourselves permission to break it every now and then. Don’t get stuck in a guilt cycle, just get back to work the next day.
5. Making life better for the people I can.
Sometimes I get such lofty, philanthropic ambitions in my head that I forget the simple stuff like being a good neighbor. COVID-19 has forced me to settle in and encourage the people right next door, in my contact list or my own living room. So, make that phone call. Send that letter. Clean those dishes. It matters.
Fellow seniors, and anyone else reading this, hang in there. Figure out what works for you, because there is another side to this thing, even if it isn’t in sight yet. I want to sign off with one more suggestion for how you can use your time at home: Look for the things that don’t change. What are the values you still hold, the people you still count on, the things you still believe about yourself and the world around you? Hold onto those things and consider letting go of the other stuff.