Online classes are starting, and I’m worried about my ability to concentrate on school during a global pandemic. I’ve had difficulty focusing on anything even vaguely academic these past two weeks. Instead, I’ve been on Twitter, where I’ve seen a lot of tweets about being productive in quarantine. Knowing that William Shakespeare wrote "King Lear" during quarantine doesn’t make me feel any better.
If you don’t feel especially productive while you’re social distancing or in quarantine, that’s OK. The value of your life is not dependent on the things that you produce. It's also OK if you feel overwhelmed by the stresses of the current crisis. Now more than ever, you should be focusing on your health and your relationships with the people you love.
A global pandemic is an anxiety-inducing situation for many people, and understandably so. There have been dramatic changes in the past few weeks, from IU’s decision to move to online classes for the remainder of the semester to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order.
IU made the right decision by extending spring break. In addition to giving faculty enough time to adapt classes to an online format, the extra week meant students had time to make moving arrangements and get settled in their new learning environments. Even if it is still hard to focus, the start of classes this week might help give students more structure to their weeks. Establishing a routine is important for mental health while social distancing or quarantining.
Quarantine has been linked to psychological distress. Researchers from the University of Toronto, ASK Information Technologies and New York Academy of Medicine conducted a survey in Canada to study the effects of quarantining during a severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003. They found that 28.9% and 31.2% of respondents reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, respectively. Symptoms increased as more time was spent in quarantine and as household incomes fell.
Depression can affect factors such as energy levels, concentration and mental ability. Depression is also associated with lower grade point averages, and this is worsened by anxiety.
The American Psychiatric Association conducted a national survey March 18-19 and found that half of adults reported high levels of anxiety. More than 1 in 3 survey respondents reported that COVID-19 is seriously affecting their mental health, and 1 in 4 reported difficulty focusing on things other than the pandemic. These rates are likely to be higher now as COVID-19 continues to spread.
Taking care of your health — mental and physical — should be a priority. Washing your hands is important, but so is exercising and doing activities you love. You should still be active while you’re stuck at home, but this isn’t limited to tasks that are traditionally thought of as productive.
A focus on productivity above all else is dehumanizing. There have been more than 2,500 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, and that number is only growing. These are real people, not just statistics.
Check up on your friends and family, and let them know that you care about them. Be patient with others — and with yourself. Your health is more important than your level of productivity.
Allyson McBride (she/her) is a sophomore studying English and political science. She is the director of outreach and diversity for College Democrats at IU.