Coping with Being Cooped Up
Resources and tips for avoiding cabin fever
Amid the grim headlines and empty streets caused by the COVID-19 crisis, talking to Jarrod Clement is a needed pick-me-up. The records administrator for BU Judicial Affairs focuses on the positive aspects of our new work-from-home, shelter-in-place existence.
“It’s the same amount of work, the same volume, but more relaxed,” says Clement, who has taken over the office in his Hopkinton home. “I have windows and sunlight. I don’t have that in my office at work.”
He doesn’t miss his grueling three-hours-a-day-or-more commute on the Mass Pike. And he enjoys the resulting extra time at home with his wife, whose office is nearby, and their daughters, ages 9 and 12. The girls have remote learning assignments from school to keep them busy.
“They’re used to me just coming home as playful daddy and commencing Wrestlemania,” he says with a chuckle. “They’re not used to having me home and in work mode. All I have to do is use my deep ‘I’m working’ voice and they scatter.”
Clement is just one of thousands of BU faculty, staff, and students working or studying at home as COVID-19 dramatically alters daily life. They must balance the comforts of home with work or homework and discomfiting news reports about the coronavirus, all while washing their hands frequently and keeping six feet away from anyone who might come calling. It can be a tricky balancing act.
“It’s important to really give our attention to thinking about alternatives to our usual ways of coping,” says Karen Brouhard, director of BU’s Faculty & Staff Assistance office (FSAO).
FSAO offers free and confidential counseling and consultation sessions to BU faculty, staff, and their immediate family members, but now it’s via Zoom. BU faculty and staff can schedule an appointment through the FSAO website or by phone, at 617-353-5381. There you can also get information about the virtual workshops and online “drop-in” sessions they offer—including a virtual support group, Coping with COVID-19, next Wednesday, March 25, and a workshop, Mindfulness during a Pandemic, on Thursday, March 26.
Compassion is essential for all of us to get through these times—for others and for ourselves.
Brouhard says that the counselors have gotten calls from people who are stressed by the ambient level of threat and change, and so much of their efforts this week have been devoted to promoting mindfulness and other therapeutic activities. An excellent place to start is at FSAO’s Twitter feed, @BUFSAO, where they will continue to post helpful information about coping strategies. She also recommends downloading the free Headspace meditation and mindfulness app from the office’s website.
Students can seek help from Student Health Services Behavioral Medicine, which has a website devoted to managing coronavirus-related anxiety. Carrie Landa, Behavioral Medicine director and associate director of clinical services, says that because of the disruption of the academic year caused by the coronavirus, many students don’t realize that Behavioral Medicine is still open for business, via telemedicine at present.
“Students can still call the number on the back of their BU ID to schedule an appointment with a provider,” she says. “The groups program is still going strong, with students using technology to join their peers from all over the map.”
“The Wellbeing Project is also collating a list of online-based resources that students can access from anywhere, including ways to stay healthy and resources for academic support, social connect, and self-care,” Landa says. “Students should look out for that email in the next couple of days.”
Social distancing goes against our instincts
The various forms of social distancing required to avoid COVID-19 transmission conflict with one of our primary needs, Brouhard says. “We are such social animals and that is part of what sustains us. Thinking of ways to stay socially connected is critical, even with six feet between us.”
There have been a variety of videos and articles showing neighbors—including some in Jamaica Plain—coming out on porches and decks and singing together, their voices echoing through the neighborhood. “That seems like a really creative way for people to feel connected with one another but still maintain a safe distance,” Brouhard says.
Taylor Peyton, a School of Hospitality Administration assistant professor, has been helping her scattered students cope in ways not found on her syllabi.
“Today I ran Zoom sessions with my students on fear and/or anxiety management and meditation with a friend of mine who has martial arts expertise in the former area,” Peyton says via email. “We would talk about the practices conceptually and do breathing exercises with our cameras on and connect socially with our cameras on, but then turn off our cameras while lying on the ground, and he would lead us in a body scan anxiety-reducing meditation. It was cute because afterwards we’d return on screen and most of us looked sleepy :)…gotta practice relaxing somehow!”
Many people suggest video calls as a way to stay in touch with family and friends holed up in other locations, such as a virtual dinner over FaceTime. Peyton reports that some of her students have a text-based way of connecting—starting a group diary on a Google Doc shared by about 20 friends as “a space for collectively processing all that’s going on,” she says. “It’s a virtual tool to keep a sense of community.”
Of course, the ominous headlines keep coming, whether on TV or websites, through social media, or repeated by friends and family members. Everyone advises against getting hooked on CNN or any other sort of continuous media coverage of the crisis. “Limiting news consumption is helpful,” Brouhard says. Setting limits on screen time or scheduling a particular hour of the day to tune in to the news are common ways to balance staying informed with staying well.
“I’m consuming very little news,” Clement says. “Actually, I’m more or less staying away from it. I’m staying informed, but not getting buried in it.”
Creating a routine for your day and following it helps maintain a sense of normalcy, Peyton says, advice echoed by many. Wake up, shower, and get dressed as though you were going to work, and stick to official start and stop times for your workday.
Fitness activity is important to many. Abby Gross (CAS’22, CFA’22) wrote a piece for the HerCampus website on efforts to stay active while cooped up at a friend’s apartment, including using a deck of cards as a sort of virtual trainer. “Each suit is a different exercise (sit-ups, push-ups, etc.), and the number on the card drawn tells you how many of that exercise to do,” she wrote. “Face cards are worth 10, aces are 15, and the jokers are 100 jumping jacks. Working your way through a deck is a great way to stay active while staying inside.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you blow off a workout or break a diet, though. “Compassion is essential for all of us to get through these times,” Brouhard says, emphasizing “for others and for ourselves.”
Get outside, just to take a walk or go for a bike ride if you can, she says—keeping six feet from all the other fresh-air-seekers, of course. “Movement is helpful. Fresh air. Seeing people, but at a safe distance. Just being in nature. Research says being in nature is revitalizing, and we need sources of revitalization because so much of this stress is very depleting.”
For many, of course, work or classwork has to take priority, and that comes with another stressor. “Getting all of our technology up and running so we could offer services from home was a big effort,” says Brouhard. “It’s a lot to absorb and transition to all at once.”
Clement offers some dos and don’ts for those setting up a home office and logging on to Zoom for the first time: do set up a dedicated space, preferably out of the traffic flow around the home. Do be confident in your ability to master the technical hurdles eventually, even if the first day is bumpy. Do take advantage of all the help offered on the IS&T website. (We’d also suggest the student-written Zoom tutorial online).
Clement has only one don’t: “Don’t take it for granted.” Instead of looking at this time as a trial, he says, “enjoy the extra family time. Enjoy the fresh air and sunlight.”