Last week, my Italian roommate decided overnight to return home. She wasn’t sure when she’d be able to see her family again, so she caught the last flight out of London. 

Last weekend, my second roommate, who is from Spain, broke down when her father insisted that she come home immediately. She had mere hours to decide what to do.  

This week, my home country, Canada, shut its borders. From self-isolation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “Let me be clear, if you’re abroad, it’s time for you to come home.” 

His statement was hard to digest. It dawned on me that maybe I was taking this pandemic too lightly by just working from home and practising social distancing. I felt like I was going to have to witness chaos all alone. I naïvely assumed that staying or leaving would not be a decision I’d also be faced with. 

“I’m very worried about your health… come back,” my mom texted immediately. “It will get worse,” my sister said. The final straw was when a close friend replied, “Apocalypse.” 

At that point, I’d lost it. I slapped my laptop shut to silence the constant pings of news updates and messages asking if I’m okay and forced myself to bed. The mattress had my body print embedded on it when I got up 24 hours later.  

This is an emotional time for all of us. Within a matter of weeks, and for some days, conventions like birthday celebrations, grocery shopping and embracing loved ones have changed. Others have had a big part of their lives turned upside down, whether through travel, layoffs or health issues.   

With so much going on, we can’t afford to risk our mental health. So, while in bed, I drafted some tips for staying calm, productive, and even creative during this outbreak. 

Limit news intake

Whether this means clearing hashtags “coronavirus” and “covid19” on your timelines or putting electronics away for several hours in general, these are the most important steps towards clearing your headspace. I’m guilty of scrolling apps for hours after I’ve responded to notifications – fight that urge.  

Try not to tend to your phone as soon as you wake up or two hours before you sleep. I realised I was having nightmares about the virus too because I was getting anxious about my constant news consumption.  

As for social media, unfollow people who are still travelling or going out for non-essential purposes. Not only are they making the situation worse by showcasing it to the world, but also setting a negative example you do not need.  

Get the right updates 

Of course, it’s still important to stay informed, so follow official health organizations such as the WHO, along with one national and one local news source. Check these sites twice a day max. While the news is constantly changing, obsessing over minute-by-minute updates won’t do you any good. 

I’m also practising telling my friends that I’d like to speak about something else when I feel overwhelmed speaking about the same topic.  

Go outside 

No one said nature was off-limits. If you have a backyard, spend some time stretching there. If there’s a park nearby, go for a run. If your options are limited, indoor plants are your friends. Even though the space I live in is small, I like to keep a small jade beside me while working from home.  

I’m also synchronising my lunch breaks with friends so we can do home workouts that follow YouTube videos while the spring sun shines into my bedroom. 

Make something  

The options are endless on this. It is in times of uncertainty and fear that we depend on art to remind us that beauty and originality still exist. Creating something — whether it’s a painting or a pie or a podcast — can help you and others find order and make sense of a confusing world. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, creating helps build a skill while also keeping you busy.  

I always eat out at work but since I’m working from home these days, I’ve challenged myself to save some money and make lunch. It doesn’t taste the best but knowing I’m saving for a vacation in a post-quarantine world makes it worth it.   

Memes 

Whoever said laughter was the best medicine really knew what they were talking about. No matter how serious, internet culture has a way to make a meme out of it. Creating group chats and forwarding funny memes has really brought a smile to my face.  

Connect 

Call your mom and your grandmother. Many of us do not live with our parents so it’s important to check in on those more vulnerable. This situation is just as hard on others as it is for you. If they cannot go out to buy groceries, offer to get it delivered for them or teach them to use apps like UberEATS.  

Be prepared 

By this, I don’t mean buying 40 rolls of toilet paper. Sure, grab your weekly groceries but also make sure you’re prepared for your health needs. Since I’m new to this city, I made sure to register with a doctor in my community. I also jotted down numbers of helplines to call if I or someone around me starts to show symptoms.  

Sleep well  

Working from home and Netflix binges tend to mess with our sleeping schedules, save that for the weekend. Not only do I set my alarm to wake up, but I also set one to remind myself to go to bed as well. I want to make sure I get to do everything I want in my day, so being well-rested helps me keep going.  

Show gratitude  

Hearing numbers of cases and deaths induce a lot of stress. As soon as I feel a drop in my mood, I count my blessings and tell myself it’s going to be fine because I’m doing whatever I can to keep myself and my community safe. 

Zahra Khozema

Journalist at Truly Belong
Zahra is a Pakistani-Canadian journalist who’s currently living in the U.K. She has a BA in media production and a master's in journalism.

Zahra has written for platforms like CBC News, Brown Girl Magazine, Broadview Magazine, and Narcity Toronto. Her work often centres around topics related to social justice, culture, and travel. She enjoys fondling Spanish on Duolingo, practicing salsa moves in the shower, and talking to strangers on the subway.
Zahra Khozema