March 16, 2021

TAARIQ-SIDIBE | You Are Not Lazy, You Are In A Pandemic

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Some tasks that I once considered simple have now become taunting, such as starting an assignment, sending an email or eating three meals a day. Though the tasks themselves did not change, my perception of them and the conditions in which they were completed, have.

Since the start of the pandemic, many students and workers have been forced to adjust to new, functional environments. But our “new normal” has presented itself with its own set of challenges including potential harm to our physical and mental health.

According to a study by the CDC, “Three out of four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 report poor mental health tied to the pandemic.” Moreover, the same study reports that “80 percent of students around the country say that COVID has negatively impacted their mental health, their spiritual health, and career aspirations”.

As a college student, I have also experienced negative effects on my mental health and productivity as a result of the pandemic. But with the social prevalence of hustle culture, and being in a competitive academic environment such as Cornell, the expectation to continue to perform just as well (or better) remains. This has resulted in a sort of dissonance between my desire for rest, and the social and academic expectations of productivity. In short, it makes me feel lazy.

Mental health plays an important part in our productivity. One study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research identifies multiple stressors that contribute to an increased level of depressive thoughts, anxiety and stress among students. This includes (1) fear and worry about your health and of loved ones, (2) difficulty in concentrating, (3) disruptions to sleeping patterns, (4) decreased social interaction due to physical distancing and (5) increased concerns on academic performance. Research also notes, “A normal brain thinks about 70,000 thoughts a day; an anxious brain processes two to three times that amount of thoughts and can lean to low productivity from spending time perseverating on numerous thoughts.”

Based on this research, wouldn’t it be beneficial to slow down and do less because our brains are struggling to cope with the overwhelming chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic? Although it’s easy to berate ourselves for not doing things like start a company, initiate groundbreaking research or solve climate change, we have to think about our wellness first. In order to do our best work, we have to be our best selves.

If you’re a student and you found yourself feeling “lazy” as of late, the number one thing to remember is that how you are feeling is completely normal and you are not alone. These tumultuous times have sparked feelings of frustration, anxiety, uncertainty, anger and grief in many people. Forcing ourselves to work through our struggle won’t help solve it, and in most cases, may exacerbate it. Listen to your body. Take time to focus inward and find some kind of peace.

Note, this isn’t an invitation to engage in harmful behavior and call it self-care. Rather, it’s a reminder that the world around us can really impact how we feel and that we have to take care of ourselves. Maintaining a routine is another helpful way of combating this feeling of perceived laziness. Set up mealtimes and study hours throughout your schedule, as well as times to get active or unwind. Having a routine also means practicing good hygiene and trying to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Personally, incorporating things like mindfulness and meditation into my routine has also been very helpful.

As social beings, inward reflection is only half of the battle. With many of us stuck at home, feelings of seclusion and loneliness aren’t foreign. A response to collective trauma must  include collective healing; Try your best to maintain social connection with friends and family, and reach out for help or reach out to someone who may need help.  

While it’s important to stay informed, it feels like there’s an overwhelming amount  of things we need to be knowledgeable about now. Try to avoid excessive and harmful media consumption and technology use. Now that we spend so much time plugged in and with our eyes on the screen, it can be easy to forget the present reality in our peripherals. With the weather finally getting warmer, there will be more opportunities to go outside and connect with nature.

Mental health plays a big role in our productivity. Cornell Health also offers mental health resources  and services such as drop-in Let’s Talk consultations, CAPS-led workshops and 24/7 phone consultation. Instead of giving yourself a hard time, give yourself a break. It’s not you that’s lazy, you are in a pandemic.

Aminah Taariq-Sidibe is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at ataariq@cornellsun.com. I Spy runs every other Tuesday this semester.