Hakuna Matata! We are mask-free and moving on; welcome to April 2022! Do we just want to look forward and forget about the pandemic of the past or should we reflect on the valuable lessons learned from this tragedy?
COVID-19 has negatively impacted society in countless ways. People were robbed of their financial stability, isolated from social connection with friends and family, plagued by uncertainty and fear, and surrounded by loss and suffering. Individuals are rightfully hopeful for brighter days ahead, but it would be a mistake to leave behind our efforts toward personal improvement that taught us about ourselves and the ways to enhance our wellbeing.
Prior to 2020, society awarded little priority to mental health, work-life balance, and personal fulfillment and wellness. One of the best outcomes of the pandemic is the increased attention to personal well-being. In order to tune out the societal whirlwind induced by a worldwide crisis, people turned inwards to perform activities that brought them a sense of stability and restoration. Disguised as new hobbies and ways to pass the time, self-care practices became a new norm.
As a college student before this crisis, I was accustomed to constant movement, minimal sleep, and almost no time to myself. When life shut down, I was bombarded with free-time and a plethora of mixed emotions. To cope, I spoke with friends and read on social media about the different ways that people were taking care of themselves and passing time throughout the day. I decided to start a process of trial and error to find a practice that brought me peace and formed a habit to improve my day.
I stumbled upon ten minute yoga classes on the Peloton app, and I would like to argue that the way in which I begin each morning has changed forever.
Waking up and practicing mindfulness sets the tone for the rest of my day. Yoga provides an opportunity for reflection and gratitude and centers me before all of the noise of the outside world kicks in. Plus, it only requires as little as 10 minutes a day! I caught myself constantly thinking “Why did I never try this before?”
I found a passion for self-care and set out on a journey to advocate for these practices beyond the restraints of a pandemic era. This restoration is increasingly important during society’s return to normal as people need to continue to tend to their well-being.
On the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, I interviewed college students of all ages to learn about their individual experiences with self-care. To my surprise, every student I interviewed participated in some kind self-care activity during the pandemic. Students started to read, cook, bake, meditate, play music, and more.
First-year engineering student Alex Smith started to meditate and improve his sleep schedule. Danielle Calling, a senior business student, started to go on walks and allocate more time to spend with her family. Both students continue these practices in smaller ways today because they recognized that acts of self-care made a positive impact on their lives.
When asked why she took up baking during Covid, first-year Pitt Law student Lauren Bauer said, “[Before Covid] who had time to make macaroons?” Bauer claims she has always enjoyed baking but simply never had enough hours to experiment.
Time shortage appears to be a common barrier. First-year psychology student Maeve Sheehan started doing various forms of art that she had only performed for classes prior to the pandemic. She claims that this activity calmed her anxiety and took her mind somewhere peaceful because the pandemic brought a surplus of time to overthink. Even though she does art less while school is in session, she plans to return to it this summer when she has more time.
While college students and people of all ages alike may have less time to devote to personal activities, the importance of practicing self-care and seeking rejuvenation has not faded. There might not be enough time to make macaroons each day or read an entire book, but continuing these practices in small ways can still offer worthwhile benefits.
Sam Hovis, senior business student, allocates ten or fifteen minutes a day to sit down and read a book. Even though reading only assumes a fraction of her day, she attests that “it helps me stay relaxed and know that I am doing something for myself.”
According to a 2019 study published on the “Impact of a Yoga and Meditation Intervention on Students’ Stress and Anxiety Levels,” college students who took one hour over the course of six weeks to practice yoga or meditation reported a significant reduction in stress and anxiety. The findings of this research “suggest that adopting a mindfulness practice for as little as once per week may reduce stress and anxiety in college students.”
Student interviews and research support the idea that the most effective way to continue restoration practices is to devote a feasible amount of time to this practice either daily or weekly. A sustainable way to practice self-care is to make it a habit. Start small. Instead of hoping to have time to meditate for an hour each day, block out five minutes daily on your calendar for a week. If all goes well, increase it to eight minutes the following week, then ten minutes the next.
There is no perfect formula: no perfect activity, no perfect amount of time, and no perfect way to take care of yourself. Those decisions belong to you. The best act of self-care is the one that renews your individual energy, centers you, and is something that you enjoy.
I urge you to continue practicing what centered you during the pandemic. If you did not practice self-care, start now. The benefits may feel invisible at first, but over time they may just change your life for the better.