Opinion: Mindfulness during COVID-19

While surrounded by negativity, it is important to keep a healthy mindset during the COVID-19 pandemic.


David Harmantas

A wall of exercisers looms over Burlington St. on Monday, 14 January, 2019. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Signe Nettum, Opinions Columnist

“If you don’t come out of this quarantine knowing new things or with a new body, you’ve failed as a human being.”

After spending time on social media during spring break and my subsequent extended stay at home, I have seen variations of this phrase on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr — some without the body shaming, others with different criteria. Because of the many variations, it is hard to track down the original post.

During spring break, I told myself that I needed to have the same workout routine and eating habits that I had in Iowa City, albeit with modifications because of my surroundings. I soon learned that I could not because of a lack of supplies and space. I told myself that right now, in this situation, I can give myself a break. But it took many days to achieve this mindset.

I am not here to judge. I am not here to give you a set of rules or guidelines to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic. The only message I have for you is to have mindfulness during this time. Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

Multiple people — parents, school counselors, and therapists — have spoken this word to me multiple times. I will not lie to you, it is a hard mindset to get into during this time, or even when the world is not knocked off its axis. You can easily have mindfulness with certain parts of your life, but it is difficult to achieve with all.

Amid COVID-19, my mindfulness focus has shifted from academics to my physical and mental health. I have sat on my butt for many hours of the day as an English major, listening to lectures, writing, or reading. I sometimes spend all day in my pajamas. I let myself fall into a grumpy mindset because anything else takes too much effort.

As time passed, I knew that I would need to change. A lot of change all at once is hard and sometimes not healthy. I started setting guidelines for myself to stay mindful. I would not let myself stay in my pajamas past 10 a.m., I would take a 30-minute walk around my neighborhood every other day — if the weather was bad, I would do the stairs in my house instead. While my cupboards are filled with Little Debbie cakes and my freezer with ice cream, I try — and sometimes fail — to eat fruits and vegetables every day.

During this time, I walk the fine line between giving myself a break and punishing myself for slacking off. I tend to beat myself up for not achieving the high expectations I set up. While I should give myself a break for all of the stress I am dealing with right now, I should not let myself take 10 steps back when I have only taken three forward. If I cannot progress, I should at least dig my heels in and stay in my current place.

I should be mindful, not cruel, to myself during this time. Even if I don’t come out of this with a better body, I will come out with a better mindset. It is important that our mental health takes priority over social-media users urging for new hobbies or slimmer waistlines.