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Making lifestyle changes — and staying sane — while social distancing

Combatting cabin fever and avoiding all-nighters, one day at a time

<p>Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.</p>

Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

I suppose I should start with what everyone has been thinking these past few months — 2020 has been crazy, to put it mildly. Between the ongoing pandemic, incompetent federal government responses and protests over the continued presence of police brutality and racial inequity in this country, this year is one of few that I truly believe will be unforgettable. Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, a notable consequence of its nature — one that I'm sure we are all well aware of — was the shift to online classes for the latter half of the spring semester at the University. For me, reading President Jim Ryan's email detailing changes to the semester was the moment that made it all real. It was the definitive event that forced me to come to terms with the fact that this virus was here to stay.

Since the cessation of classes on Grounds and the subsequent transition to online classes, I have been living with my family, just a few short hours away from the University. During the almost five months since I moved out of Charlottesville, I have left the safety of my home maybe half a dozen times. That's a fairly liberal estimate, too. Each instance of my ventures into the real world was for no longer than an hour or two, and they were nearly all for the purposes of getting groceries or shopping for other necessary supplies.

In other words, I've been cooped up inside for a long time, with virtually no exposure to the outside world. That means no meetups with friends, no leisurely walks at the park, no planned trips to the beach — not even a casual trip to see or do something new. The most "fun" I've had outside has been staring out the window in the car, marveling at the change in the weather or seeing the trees for the first time in what felt like years.

I think I started to lose my mind as a result.

I didn't always feel so terrible about social distancing. In the beginning, when classes were still being held online, I'll admit that I was even a bit relieved. The time spent attending classes via Zoom and completing assignments online was a drastic change from the experience I had on Grounds. A part of me enjoyed not having to rush on foot to my next lecture, and I found it much more convenient to attend classes from the comfort of my own room. On top of that, I got to spend more time than ever with my family. It was a sign of privilege that I could find a silver lining during all the chaos — there were many students whose limited technological accessibility and difficult living situations hindered their learning. Though my own family also went through hardships during this period of time, I couldn't help but find a small piece of good amidst all the bad.

Then, when classes ended and I had slogged through the nightmare that was online final exam season, I felt a sense of exhilaration at the thought of being finished with my first year at the University. I was free! Free to…

To what, exactly?

I think that's where the problem began. During those first few blissful weeks of summer, I relished the idea of spending time normally dedicated to schoolwork to instead enjoying my hobbies. I watched television with my family, practiced the piano, played games and even picked up a few books. The more time dragged on, however, the more I found myself tired at repeating the same pattern of behavior. Wasn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? The inability to meet my friends — aside from phone calls and video chats — gnawed at me. As someone who derives most of my energy from other people, being stuck in a place where social contact was minimized to just my immediate family made me feel like climbing up the walls.

What made the situation worse was my development of unhealthy habits. When I was left to my own devices after classes were over, I began to lose track of time. Days seemed to blend together, until it was hard to tell even the month of the year. Minutes felt like hours and days felt like weeks. It didn't help that I pulled frequent all-nighters, forgot to eat meals and spent more and more time doing literally nothing — staring off into space or mindlessly scrolling through social media rather than doing something productive. With the news getting bleaker each day and my mental health spiraling, I felt more miserable than I had in years. 

So — I can hear you asking — what pulled me through it? If I'm being truthful, I'm not entirely sure. The incident that incited deliberate action, though, was a long, thoughtful conversation with a good friend of mine who assured me that what I was feeling was perfectly normal and valid during this uncertain moment. She told me that the most important thing I could be doing for myself was to keep myself occupied, one day at a time. We have to maintain some semblance of normalcy, even when the world feels like anything but normal.

Her words snapped me out of my daze. Above all else, I recognized that the routine I had fallen into was actively destroying my own ability to stay calm and composed. All-nighters only served to make me lethargic and inattentive the next day. Barely eating contributed to my irritability. Fixating on all the bad news in the world heightened my anxiety. I had to take a step back and reevaluate how I was going to spend my time social distancing — and whether I would come out a better or worse person for it.

I'm sure there are others who can relate to the feelings of isolation, boredom and restlessness that I still struggle with today. I hope that wherever you are, you are safe and healthy. I will say that the most helpful decision I made was to start new projects. I picked up creative writing and more collaborative hobbies again, constructed personal goals and reinvested myself into my relationships with my friends and family. What worked for me might not work for you, of course — we're all different, and keeping ourselves motivated to move forward the best we can requires different tactics. But I hope we can all stay positive and find peace in some way. And when classes resume, I hope we can adjust to a new "normal life.” 

Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at