By Yan-Jhu Su, UMB gerontology doctoral student

Reprinted with permission from the April 2022 Gerontology News

The year of 2021 wasn’t a typical year for students. First, it was the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, for me as a second-year doctoral student with an international background from Taiwan, it was a mixed year (half the year we were doing everything online, and the other half year we were doing most everything in person). The anticipated opportunity of seeing friends in person at the GSA Annual Scientific Meeting was also replaced by online modalities for both 2020 and 2021.

I believe many of you, like me, are looking forward to a “new normal.” I would like to share some resources and my personal experiences regarding coping with this transition. Obviously, the biggest challenge during the COVID pandemic has been socializing.

Because of the pandemic, we have been forced to stay home and work remotely. To be honest, at the beginning of COVID I was very grateful for not having to commute because it saved me a lot of time. I was so happy that I could start my work in 10 minutes after I wake up. However, after a few weeks, I felt very anxious about such a routine. It was not only because my mental state was not quite good enough but also that my physical state was not as good as it used to be. So, that’s when I started thinking about how to deal with this “new normal.”

First, I started to figure out how my routine could be different before and after the pandemic. Learning that routines and schedules can be important to stay on track, I started to set up a schedule so I could be more focused. I also learned how to rest when it’s time to rest, and exercise when it’s time to exercise. Although it was strenuous and difficult in the beginning, this new schedule did help me to use my time wisely and concentrate.

Secondly, I used the dialectical behavioral therapy list to help me cope with the stress during the hard times. For example, I found awareness exercises to be really helpful for me. My physiology responds, like my heart rate increasing, to certain situations. I often don’t realize it until I already have heart palpitations. While working from home during this time, I often drink coffee instead of water, plus I sit for long periods of time without moving. This often makes me ignore my biological responses. However, awareness exercises help me “listen” to my body and the world. Using this exercise, I learned to do everything more consciously. This also saves me from some automated behavior.

Finally, I would like to share some of my experiences and suggestions on coping with stress and anxiety during this time of transition. In addition to the above-mentioned exercise of doing things consciously, I think positive thinking is important. People experience anxiety due to uncertainty during transitions. For example, during the pandemic, the specifics of the virus were not well understood. Therefore, there have been many people expressing a lot of opinions about the virus on the Internet. I was very confused after reading this kind of information myself. After that, I decided to cut down on reading those articles and spend some time reading unrelated books that I hadn’t had the chance to read before. I feel like I’m thinking more positively and less focused on viruses and pandemics all day long.