March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of COVID-19, but with that comes time for reflection, a celebration of milestones, and emotion-filled memories and thoughts. One year ago today, I had never thought my mental health would be impacted by going to school remotely, being isolated from friends and family, or cutting my in-person college experience short—but it was, and I don’t think I was the only one feeling this way. The pandemic year was a tough one for all of us, and you should be proud of yourself for overcoming adversity and hardship during those difficult times. However, more than ever before, mental health during the pandemic has become a huge aspect in our lives and it is important to check in with ourselves, stay connected with others, and develop coping skills to overcome these waves of anxiety, stress, and loneliness.

A change in relationships with food 

More than anything else, my relationship with food has significantly changed since the pandemic began. I remember the constant stress and worry I felt around food prior to the pandemic—eating and avoiding certain food groups to ensure I was able to perform well in class and at the gym. I remember being able to eat intuitively and channel my energy into other aspects of my life. I remember the stress around my gut health issues, and how it impacted my food choices in school. 

Although it is common to think of eating disorders and disordered eating habits as lifestyle changes, a lot of it is actually part of mental health. During lockdown, I realized I had more time to eat, stressed less about my food choices because I knew I wasn't going anywhere, and understood that my gut health issues were heavily stress induced—not just triggered by food. However, being in isolation has also opened the door to stress-eating, overeating, and the temptation to lose the "Quarantine 15." When we find ourselves in a period of stress or anxiety, it's normal for our bodies to turn to food as a way to cope. In doing so, we may tend to reach for less nutrient dense foods and eat past our satiety levels and that is okay. It is important to remember to give yourself grace, compassion, and remind yourself that these are difficult times for everyone. 

#SpoonTip: If you ever find yourself struggling to have a positive relationship with food, remember to forgive yourself and channel your energy into a hobby, stay connected with others, and think positively. 

Move your body when you want and however much you want

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

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When lockdown began, it made me feel anxious to be moving my body less often because walking to classes was no longer a thing. With this mindset came the mentality that I had to work out for extra long periods of time to make up for these calories, and it took a toll on my mental health during the pandemic, relationship with food, and physical body. However, it is important to exercise not only to make up for less physical activity, but also to improve our overall mood, energy levels, and physical fitness. When we exercise, our brains release a hormone known as an endorphin—a chemical that can enhance our sense of well-being. If you decide to take a rest day, remember to honor your body's fatigue and remind yourself that your body still requires food even when it is resting and not engaging in physical activity. 

#SpoonTip: Feeling unmotivated without a gym? Try a home workout or yoga routine, or go for a run or walk around your neighborhood!

Stay connected with others 

Photo by Finn on Unsplash

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I cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining human connection in periods of isolation, worry, and anxiety. Yes, it is important to practice social distancing during a pandemic, but remember to check in with your loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. Studies have shown that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety, depression, and have higher self-esteem and empathy. Send a quick text message to a friend, enjoy a meal over Facetime or Zoom with a loved one, or converse with someone each day to boost your mood and help you feel supported during difficult times. 

COVID-19 has brought about dramatic change in all of our lives. As with any experience, taking the time to reflect on our mental health during the pandemic over the past year is always rewarding and can be of benefit to our personal growth. 

For more information pertaining to mental health, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone for help or the Tang Center for counseling and resources.