By Ed Brennen
How many times have you woken up since last March wondering what day of the week it is? Or even worse, what month it is?
Being stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic has often been compared to “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 movie in which Bill Murray’s character, TV weatherman Phil Connors, relives the same day over and over again in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
With the spring semester under way at UMass Lowell — and with the Groundhog Day holiday upon us on Feb. 2 — we asked Marianne Specker, a counseling clinician from the university’s Wellness Center
, to share a few tips on how to break up the ongoing monotony of learning and working remotely.
Not only has the pandemic left us feeling disconnected from time, it has also disconnected us from other people.
“Staying connected is really important for students, whether on social media or through platforms like Zoom or Skype that allow us to connect from a distance,” says Specker, who meets with students in virtual counseling appointments.
Unlike Phil Connors, who was the only one aware that he was reliving the same day in Punxsutawney, Specker points out that we’re all experiencing this pandemic together.
“We’ve all been kind of grieving and missing out on events and milestones,” she says. “For students missing that connection to campus and the typical college experience, that’s understandably really frustrating.”
It’s tougher in the cold winter months, but finding new ways to stay physically active is important, Specker says.
“Everything can seem so boring and dull because it feels like we’re doing everything the same, so try to bring some variety to your exercise,” says Specker, who suggests connecting with friends on Zoom while doing Zumba or yoga, or hosting a virtual dance party. “Bring in a new person every day, or a new playlist.”
Campus Recreation offers a variety of virtual fitness and wellness programs
so you can connect with fellow River Hawks while working out.
And if you’re having trouble sticking to your exercise schedule, Specker says even the simple act of changing into your workout clothes right after a class or meeting can help.
“If you’re already dressed for it, it makes it a little bit easier to keep going,” she says.
With so much thrown into limbo by the pandemic, Specker says some students are experiencing a lack of motivation.
“It’s hard to look forward to things when we’re doing the same thing over and over,” she says.
The screen fatigue that comes with spending five or six hours a day on the computer for classes and homework doesn’t help.
Besides limiting non-essential screen time, Specker recommends maintaining barriers between your school or work space and your living areas at home as much as possible — even if it’s in the same room.
“Trying to have a mental separation from what we’re doing each day can be really helpful. It can alleviate some of that feeling of doing everything in the same place all the time,” she says.
Stay structured (and unstructured)
While healthy daily habits like getting to bed on time, maintaining a regular meal schedule and exercising may feel monotonous, Specker says they can actually help you cope with the pandemic.
“Knowing what to expect can be helpful, especially in a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns,” she says.
But it’s also important to allow some unstructured time in your daily schedule.
“Bringing in that variety — maybe reading one day, watching Netflix another day, doing something creative another day — can help,” she says.
Stay informed (to a point)
If it feels like you haven’t stopped doomscrolling since last March, you’re not alone.
Between the global health crisis, the pandemic-related financial turmoil, the fight for racial justice, climate change, and a bitterly divided presidential election that culminated with a deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol, it has been almost impossible to look away from the torrent of bad news on our phones over the past year.
“It’s a lot of hard things that students might be experiencing; then, to constantly see it, it can be hard to get away from it,” says Specker, who encourages students to find a balance between staying informed and realizing what they can let go of.
Specker encourages students to be mindful of their overall social media consumption.
“It can be a really great way to connect, but it certainly can be difficult if someone in another state has less restrictions and they’re out doing things. ‘They seem so happy in quarantine, and I’m so miserable.’ I think that’s a hard thing to process all the time,” she says.
Stay kind to yourself
If you haven’t learned to play the guitar or speak French during the pandemic, that’s OK, Specker says.
“Learning a new skill is definitely something you can do, but my concern with that is students are already learning how to deal with the pandemic. They’re already doing something that’s hard,” she says. “For some students, being productive might be getting through class today.”
“Being mindful and nice to yourself at this time is important,” adds Specker, who suggests savoring the unexpectedly good moments of each day. “It could be having a great cup of hot chocolate — that was the thing that got us through this day.”
There are several relaxation apps that Specker recommends, including: Headspace; Stop, Breathe & Think; Smiling Mind; UCLA Mindful; and Calm.
For those who enjoy listening to podcasts, she recommends The Happiness Lab
and Feeling Good
And of course, Counseling Sources also provides a wealth of resources