Student Life

How to Self-Quarantine Wherever You Are

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College students might be in self-quarantine for the long haul. The coronavirus pandemic isn't going away anytime soon, and students may be stuck in isolated dorms, hotel rooms, or at home in a different country.

Nobody likes being cooped up for months on end. Isolation can harm mental health, making it harder for students to stay focused on their studies.

To help out, we've developed some tips for self-quarantine, wherever you hunker down. Some are useful but temporary distractions; others are more long-term solutions.

You could learn a new skill, create a daily routine, or binge-watch Netflix with friends. Whatever you do, the goal should be to make self-quarantine feel like an obstacle to overcome rather than a source of existential dread.

Create a Daily Routine

Days spent at home can become unstructured, aimless, and stressful. If you're struggling with productivity, it might help to give your body and mind a consistent routine to follow.

A loose strategy could include getting dressed, completing a few manageable goals, and capping the day off with some exercise. Or, you might prefer to have a more strict, hour-by-hour schedule.

Either way, try to find ways to signal to your brain when it's time to be productive. Merely changing from pajamas to pants might do the trick, or you could pick specific times to go for walks to break up the day.

  • Give your body and mind consistent things to do at the same times each day.
  • Create a schedule that works for you.
  • Find ways to signal to your brain when it's time to be productive.

Eat Well

It's tempting to munch out when there's nobody watching. It's fine to treat yourself sometimes, but going overboard with junk food can wreck a lot of havoc on your body and your life.

Overeating foods with high calories— such as chips, candy, and fried fast food— may increase your risk of chronic diseases. Meanwhile, a balanced diet can increase your immune response. If you do come down with the coronavirus— or any other type of sickness— you'll need your body to be in the best possible condition to maximize your chances of a positive outcome.

Do your best to eat healthfully, even when nobody is watching. A diet rich in fiber, lean proteins, and whole vegetables and fruits can help lower your cholesterol, reduce your blood pressure, and support your immune system. These nutrient-dense foods can also help reduce symptoms of depression.

  • Overeating junk food with high calories can reduce your immune response.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet improves your overall health.
  • Your mood can increase with healthier food consumption.

Stimulate the Brain With Fun Activities

Humans are social creatures, and prolonged self-isolation can be harmful to mental health. It increases negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and depression, and it can even throw off your sleep schedule.

Luckily, you can stimulate your brain to manage your stress and mental health. Keeping the brain active helps reduce inflammation in your body, according to Hackensack Meridian Health, which improves your overall health. Keeping your brain "in shape" can also help you focus and be a more productive student when class is in session.

Popular strategies for brain exercise include learning a new skill, picking up a hobby, or solving challenging puzzles. You could also play card games, meditate, or read. Do whatever works best for you, but try to find activities that expand your mind.

  • Self-isolation can have adverse effects on mental health.
  • Keep your brain "in shape" with challenging or stimulating activities.
  • Expanding your mind helps improve your mental and physical well-being.

Find a Purpose

Social isolation can feel like a gigantic pause on your life, just waiting until things return to normal. It's normal to lose productivity during a stressful time like this, but remember: The time you spend in quarantine is still part of your life. You'll feel better about it if you have a sense of purpose.

To make the most of your time in quarantine, find something you care about to focus on. This could be something as simple as your household chores for the day, finishing an assignment, or working out. It could also be something bigger, like a long-term creative project, or getting involved in social advocacy. Donating to charity, signing up for future or virtual volunteer work, or educating yourself on social movements will help you see the bigger picture.

Whatever speaks to you, focus on that task and keep your mind in the present moment. Avoid overthinking about events outside of your control— that can quickly overwhelm you. Even in quarantine, there's plenty to do, and finding a sense of purpose can help the days move more quickly.

  • Treat days at home as an opportunity to work on something you care about.
  • Focus on the task at hand instead of things outside your control.
  • Keeping your mind present helps avoid overthinking about the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay in Touch With Friends and Family

The coronavirus has upended our social lives, leading to feelings of loneliness in many people. If you're struggling with this, one solution is to chat regularly with friends and family.

Apps like Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime offer a great way to connect from a distance. WhatsApp is another helpful tool, especially for international students. You also could hang out using watch party platforms, which operate with steaming services like Netflix or Twitch, or play virtual games, like Jackbox or Board Game Arena.

The effects of social isolation won't be as severe if you're able to talk with people you care about— especially if you do it on a regular cadence. Even though the interactions aren't happening face to face, social connections make it easier to manage your emotional and mental health, and they help reassure your loved ones that you are okay.

  • Social distancing can lead to feelings of loneliness.
  • Virtual chats with friends and family help develop a sense of connection.
  • Regular social contact makes it easier to manage your mental and emotional health.

Limit Time on Social Media

Social media might help you keep up with the outside world, but it can also harm your mental health. Overuse of social media can trigger depression, anxiety, and fear of missing out.

According to research by the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, reducing time spent on social media can lead to better mental health outcomes. That research recommends limiting yourself to 30 minutes per day on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

College students who cut down their social media usage can experience "significant improvement" in well-being, but that can be a tough task. To begin, consider setting a time limit for your apps, or setting periods of the day when you aren't allowed on social media at all. Taking a break like this may also help you focus on school during that time.

  • Overuse of social media may worsen negative feelings like anxiety and depression.
  • Limiting your time on social media can lead to better mental health outcomes.
  • Cutting down social media usage can help you focus on your studies.

Get Some Exercise

Exercise and mental health are intrinsically linked. Aerobic activities like walking, swimming, and cycling improve blood circulation in the brain, leading to elevated mood and cognitive functioning.

Working out increases oxygen flow throughout the rest of the body, too, allowing your lungs, heart, and muscles to function more efficiently. Better oxygen flow also helps improve your immune system and defenses against potential diseases and illnesses— including COVID-19.

Aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. This can be as easy as squeezing in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day. This also gives you time to take a break and clear your head.

  • Exercise leads to elevated mood and cognitive functioning.
  • Aerobic activities help increase blood circulation and oxygen flow in the body.
  • Working out enables you to fight off potential illnesses, including COVID-19.

Remember to Treat Yourself

As hard as you may try, sometimes you won't feel as productive as you used to be. Life at home during the COVID-19 pandemic is tough; try not to beat yourself up about it. Instead, permit yourself to unwind and indulge when you really need it.

There are many ways to do this. You could have some sweets, read a new book, cook a favorite recipe, or practice meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing.

Whatever you do, the goal should be to find activities that allow your mind and body to relax. Let go of any strict expectations and try to enjoy the moment.

  • You won't be productive every day while you're stuck at home, and that's okay.
  • Find ways to relax your mind and body, such as reading, cooking, or meditating.
  • Let go of expectations and enjoy the moment.

Top Tips for Self-Quarantine

  • Create a daily routine
  • Eat well
  • Stimulate your brain with fun activities
  • Find a purpose
  • Stay in touch with friends and family
  • Limit time on social media
  • Get some exercise
  • Remember to treat yourself

Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.