Submitted on 31 March 2020
Letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Quest or the Editorial Board.
Life is very different today than it was two weeks ago for members of the Reed community. While we all have many feelings about the changes this pandemic has forced upon us, we can be successful in navigating these changes, and who knows, may even come out stronger than we were. We all have some control over things that can help us maintain our mental health and succeed in our new situation including: structure and organization, staying connected, being aware of our mental health, using open communication and setting boundaries, and practicing self-care. The counselors in the Health and Counseling Center (HCC) are going to share tips and recommendations on each of these topics in a series of “Letters to the Editors”.
Organization, time management, structure, and the power of place will all help as you transition from face-to-face classes to online learning. Many students told me they were worried about where they would study or that they wouldn’t feel motivated to do their work. I also heard concerns from students who were anxious or depressed, that without the routine of life at Reed, their symptoms would worsen. In normal circumstances, all of us benefit from having structure and purpose in our daily life. This is even more important when our lives feel uprooted and different than a short time ago. Much of this seems like common sense, but often we don’t take the time to truly plan and be intentional about our space and time.
Students have shared their concerns about the physical spaces they are moving back into. Some houses are overcrowded with siblings also returning home from college or abroad. Others have said they have small spaces and aren’t sure where they will work. Some students have mentioned that their childhood room feels just that, like that of a child. While some of you are still on campus, you may have moved dorm rooms. These challenges of space, both size and ambiance, are really important to consider when thinking about productivity and mental health.
If you can, try to rearrange your space, or even re-decorate to make it feel like a reflection of who you are today. Do some purging and declutter so there are less distractions. Put pictures of friends up or other things that remind you of your loved ones from Reed. Move your bed, desk, or other large pieces of furniture around so the space feels different and fresh. Change out some colors and make the space feel like you. Pull out some meaningful items that you had in your dorm room and put those in your current space.
The next item of business is to find a place where you will study. It would be really easy to overlook this and to “just start studying”. Being intentional in this decision will pay off by making your study time more productive and comfortable. Many of you are in “shelter in place situations” or minimally being asked to practice social distancing. This eliminates some of the options for studying at coffee shops or the library. You might have to talk with parents, siblings, roommates, or partners about this depending on your situation. Think outside the box on this one if you are sharing a room and space is tight. Students have shared they are looking at attic spaces, basements, decks, garages, or even closets to create a space to study. Many students are tempted to say “Oh, I’ll just study on my bed.” This is not an ideal study place, because when you get in bed, you are sending signals to your brain that you want to sleep. When thinking about where you will study, ask yourself where you have few distractions including phone, tv, and people. Is the temperature and lighting conducive to studying? Is my actual seat and writing/typing space physically comfortable?
Once you determine a location, put together a list of everything you need to complete your schoolwork. Typically, this includes a computer, paper, pencils/pens, possibly a calculator, sometimes art supplies, books, etc. Add to this an egg timer if you don’t already have one. These can be especially useful for managing your time and scheduling in breaks. A calendar or planner is also useful for keeping track of due dates, assignments, and daily tasks that you have scheduled. Have a white board handy for daily notes or reminders.
If your study space is one that needs to serve other purposes, such as a kitchen table or deck, you will need to make a portable work station. You can use things you might already have around your house like a shower caddy or even boxes to do so. Your goal would be to have everything in a portable station that you can move to your study space. Make sure you can plug in your laptop but keep your cell phone in a different space so not to be tempted to get sucked into texting or social media.
Now, make your space your own so it feels like somewhere you want to study. Put up some quotes from your favorite authors, some pictures, or some art that makes you smile or is inspirational. If you are using a portable station, write some quotes on the station, draw on it, or attach some photos to it. Write out an academic goal and put it where you can see it. Let others in your family, your roommates, or your partner know when and where you plan to study. Now, it’s time to get to work. Our next letter will address how to manage your online classes.
Michelle Berry, MA, LMFT
Staff Counselor in the HCC