Screening Out the Stressors: 6 Lessons Zoom University Has Taught Me About Self Care

By Luke Forrester (He/Him)

QMUNITY Volunteer

When I first heard the word “virtual” used to describe a classroom, I imagined a complete online emulation of how it feels to attend classes in-person. I thought that somehow, someway, it wouldn’t feel weird. 

Two years later, I realize I was wrong. 

There’s no denying that online classes are wildly different from how we “normally” experience education in-person. Pretending like nothing much has changed holds us back from creating new learning strategies to suit our current situation. It was when I finally accepted that a true “virtual” classroom doesn’t exist that I was able to reset the way I approached school. 

As classes move online again for (at least) the start of this academic term, thinking critically about how to implement self-care is even more important now than ever. Although I’m continually learning about myself, I like to think that I’ve learned some lessons from two years of online and/or blended classes in university. While none of these strategies have restored a sense of “normalcy” to my education, they have made school (and life!) more enjoyable during what has arguably been a fairly unenjoyable global pandemic. So, whether you are a veteran of online university classes or are being newly introduced to them, I hope that some of this advice can help you cultivate peace and joy during this academic term and beyond.

Lesson #1: Routines create boundaries between work and life.

Cultivating a work-life balance can be hard when your bedroom exists as a classroom, your professor’s office, and the library at the same time as being your sanctuary for sleep and late-night Netflix binge sessions. Normally, there exists a physical boundary between school/work and what constitutes home. Now, I use time to delineate “work” and “life” activities so that they don’t blend together into one big soup of stress. I schedule times during which my schoolwork is out of sight, and out of mind. Having a routine can also be a good way to hold yourself accountable to a healthy sleeping and eating schedule! 

Lesson #2: Life is not online, even if school and work is.

Spending the entire day indoors has its psychological consequences and getting outside at least once a day (even if it’s just for a short walk) can have a huge impact on your mood. I challenge myself to notice something new in my surrounding nature every day, which helps me tune-in to life and find joy in curiosity. 

Lesson #3: It’s important to stay in touch with people that energize you.

Online school can deplete your energy levels, especially because of the lack of social interaction that it entails. Staring at a bunch of grey squares is just not the same as, well, staring at actual people. Your friends and family are not “virtual,” and connecting with them on the daily (even if it’s just a 5-minute facetime check-in) is a good reminder that you are not alone. Connecting with friends is always something that I work into my routine so that it doesn’t fall to the bottom of my priority list.

Lesson #4: It’s better to adapt to the present than to wait for the future.

When this pandemic began, I remember wanting to just wait for the situation to “end” so everything could go back to the way it was. Needless to say, I was repeatedly disappointed. Rather than fixating on things that are out of my control, I now try to focus on how to make the best out of the present. A gratitude journal, as cliché as it may sound, can be a great way to transition your mindset from grieving what you have lost to appreciating what you can still gain. This can help with staying motivated and resilient in school!

Lesson #5: A return to in-person activities can’t “cure” mental illness.

If you are experiencing distress, the time to seek help is now. Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are not solely dependent on being in a stressful life situation and ignoring your mental health until it improves on its own may just make things worse. Even if you don’t have a diagnosable mental illness, therapy is a fantastic resource that can provide you with new skills to protect and improve your mental health. If you are a university student, check what coverage you have under your university healthcare plan! There are also some low-cost/free therapy options for those in tough financial situations, and organizations like QMUNITY or Foundry BC can help locate the right resource for you. 

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call 1-800-SUICIDE (in BC) or Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566. 

Lesson #6: Go easy on yourself.

If you feel overwhelmed with school or life you are not alone. It’s important to celebrate the small victories and practice positive self-talk. Notice when you overcome an obstacle that FELT big, even if you THINK it was small. Congratulate yourself on getting out of bed, submitting assignments, making yourself food, or really anything and everything you manage to do throughout the day. If being compassionate with yourself is hard, fake it until you make it! Like any other skill, practicing complimenting yourself makes the process come more naturally over time.

While these lessons aren’t an exhaustive list of how to practice self-care, you might find they might form a solid foundation! At the very least, just the act of getting to think about your mental health and how to protect it can go a long way. Start noticing what works and what doesn’t and build from there! When treated as an opportunity to reflect on self-care, “virtual” school can be a blessing in disguise. 

Whatever happens next, you got this. Toodle-oo for now!

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