March 30, 2020

SMITH | Caring for Our Minds In the Time of Coronavirus

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It’s no easy feat to write about mental health in the midst of a global pandemic. There is fear, frustration, sadness and so many different experiences in society right now, and I cannot hope to capture them all. Every single student at Cornell has been impacted by the decision to move to online classes and evacuate campus. I am one of the few students who is staying in their dorm, and it’s been a bittersweet experience to send goodbye texts and watch friends load cars in this time of social distancing. It all feels too fast, too soon and too unreal.

Conversations I’ve had with seniors are even more melancholy. They thought they had at least two more months before they would have to say goodbye to friends, faculty and favorite places that they could potentially never see again — or at least see as they once were. An NPR article recently came out in which trauma counselor Terri Daniel discusses how the emotion so many of us are feeling is grief.  Daniel, who works with the dying and bereaved, says that “we need to recognize that mixed in with all the feelings we’re having of anger, disappointment, perhaps rage, blame and powerlessness — is grief.”

We’re experiencing loss. Loss of social connections, habits, our homes (or dorms), our ability to make assumptions about the future, our sense of security, trust in our systems and the loss of lives. One of the most frustrating aspects of grief is that it can’t be “cured” or “solved.” It must be experienced, embraced, learned from, and ultimately let go.  Daniel recommends talking about your experiences and feelings with others — writing, drawing, and other forms of creation and expression — and to “make sure to let joy and gratitude into your life during these challenging times.”

In the spirit of gratitude, there are some undeniable perks of this time, if that’s what you can call them. I’ve made it through books and TV shows I thought would gather dust on my “To Read/Watch” list. I’ve gotten to see more of Ithaca’s trails and made pancakes and banana bread and other things I’ve never seemed to have time for. In the hustle and bustle of Cornell life, there have been many times I wished that I could just put everything on pause, and while I wish it were under different circumstances, this is indeed quite a pause on business as usual. I also never realized just how much I appreciated certain things, like being able to go to the gym with friends, the smile from Choklay at Temple of Zeus when I came to get my daily soup, or, dare I say it, being ousted from bed by the necessity of attending a 9:05 a.m. class.

While we’ve been inundated with messages about washing our hands and practicing social distancing, there have been far fewer announcements regarding how to manage mental health in this time of uncertainty and upheaval. As one of my friends put it, “social distancing plus going home equals loneliness, boredom and at least some kind of depression.” While I also have fallen victim to quite the case of quarantine blues at times, there are things that can make the passing of time more manageable and enjoyable. One of the most helpful tips is to establish a routine. Getting enough sleep, getting out of pajamas, taking a shower, brushing your teeth and eating a healthy diet are all great ways to take care of yourself that will help you feel better and less like a pajama gremlin that subsists off pretzels and Netflix.

Exercise, which could even just be going outside for fresh air, can be a great help. While staying home is indeed ideal, going for walks in local natural areas or spaces that aren’t that populated is a great way to feel less cramped up at home. There are also a plethora of home workouts available that can get your heartrate up in a good way instead of an anxious way. You can build structure into an otherwise unscheduled day by scheduling all of these activities and needs. It might feel a little weird at first but it can help.

Another great thing to work into your schedule is time with friends and family, which can be texting, calling, video chatting, gaming or watching the same movie or TV show or YouTube videos together and chatting about them later. Also, it merits saying that we should all be consuming news wisely at this point. There is a lot of information out there about COVID-19, and while I’m not saying we shouldn’t stay informed, it’s equally important to not eat sleep and breathe COVID-19 news and fuel worry and anxiety by reading and watching hours of coverage. I hope you all stay safe and look after yourselves.


Please enjoy the banana bread recipe below for some quarantine baking fun!

Banana Bread

  • 4 medium ripe bananas
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup unsweetened non dairy milk
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour *can sub GF flour but add 1.5-2x more egg/egg replacer
  • 1 egg or substitute for 1 egg (1 Tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with ⅕ Tbsp water and allowed to gel or powdered egg replacer)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ bag semisweet chocolate chips (check that they’re vegan/gluten free

if that’s important to you)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9×5 loaf pan with nonstick spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, roughly mash the bananas. Add the brown sugar, oil, vanilla, and almond milk, and whisk to incorporate.
  3. Mix in the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon using a wooden spoon.
  4. Next add the chocolate chips and mix in.
  5. Transfer the batter to your prepared pan.
  6. Bake for about 45 minutes, then cover with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes longer, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a couple crumbs.

Emma Smith is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Emmpathy runs alternate Wednesdays this semester.