A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
The COVID-19 outbreak has initiated one of the biggest real time social experiments: what are the effects of staying at home for everything? Close to 3 billion people around the world are, or have been, in some form of lockdown for almost a year. Over this period of time our mental strength has been stretched to limits that one would not normally consider challenging. I mean in the beginning of this outbreak I didn’t think a couple of weeks of time out could be that bad, right? But as weeks turned into months and staying at home turned into studying, working and vacationing at home… the novelty started to wear off a bit.
The Lancet published a review of 24 studies that followed the psychological effects of quarantine on individuals. It was found that people who were in quarantines of some sort were all highly likely to develop psychological stress and disorders such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia, emotional exhaustion, depression and PTSD symptoms. COVID is inherently a trauma that has been inflicted on the close to 3 billion people in lockdowns and in turn it needs to be treated that way. Merely because a large proportion of populations are dealing with similar circumstances does not diminish the impacts of these circumstances.
Now, I’m in no place to go into the depths of the trauma of COVID because luckily I got to spend five months of that time with my family. Time which we would not have otherwise had together owing to our various locations in the world. However, I am well versed in the burnout and mental toll that it has taken in relating to working/studying from home.
The shift to your own four walls becoming your centre of life has many consequences. Especially, the consequences of the mismanagement of stress with regards to working from home. The combination of isolation, lack of communication, pressure to remain a productive individual and the blurring of work/home life leads to undefined territory in which we always think we have to be switched on and engaged. Because our lives are so automated currently, there is the assumption that we must always be readily available and contactable. I’ve found this to be quite challenging in terms of university. There is no longer a definite limit on when you should be able to attend classes or not, when you should be contactable by assignment partners or even colleagues. However, just because we are supposed to always be in the place where we work (home), doesn’t mean that we should always be available to work – remember the 9 to 5? … well that still applies. I mean this is rich coming from a university student but I still think that boundaries are important and that we should not be made to feel guilty for not being productive 24/7.
To take the advice of my dad, there needs to be living hours and working hours and those hours need to be as close to normal as possible. Thus, boundaries need to be set. I have found that separating where I study/work and where I relax helps me maintain a degree of normality. That goes for eating as well: you cannot work, eat and relax all in the same place. There needs to be a separation of activities and boundaries in turn. I have also found that prioritising relaxation, being consistent with sleep, exercising and making time for some form of socialisation has kept me from the looming burnout of lockdown.
COVID has undoubtedly been one of the greatest and unexpected shocks to the world’s system. Yet, just as the world has had to adapt to keep it operating so too do we need to make changes in our lives to ensure that we keep operating.