Isolated and restless, but also free of most responsibilities, mental health in the time of the novel coronavirus is confusing, especially as a student.

At home, in the security blanket of my old room and surrounded by family, I'm bombarded with feelings of missing friends and longing to do classwork on campus.

The typical Western University student is used to spending long hours at the library, after which they cook for themselves, hang out with friends and housemates, attend various club meetings and put in their hours at The Barking Frog or The Ceeps. It is a privileged life, but one that can also be stressful, especially for those of us who have issues with mental health. 

The constant social interaction paired with the endless to-do list of being a university student can feel suffocating. In 2015, The Seattle Times reported that 34.6 per cent of students felt overwhelmed by university life, and two months ago, that couldn't have felt more true.

I used to wistfully dream of a break from the pressures of the real world. It felt like as soon as I completed one task, another popped up, leading to an overall state of anxiety. I felt the need for an escape — maybe some time at home or a night alone with Netflix.

Now, I feel as if I’ve been slapped with something I used to crave. The four walls of my bedroom that always felt so comforting now feel like a cage; the lack of responsibility and interaction has become anxiety-provoking and overwhelming. 

Drinking with friends over Zoom still feels like drinking alone. Even studying is worse, knowing moving from my bedroom to the bustling kitchen is the only change of scenery possible. And listening to the same lecturer online feels painfully bleak, even compared to the concrete lecture halls of the Natural Science Centre. 

After the SARS outbreak in 2002, the U.S. National Library of Medicine published a study that showed 31.2 per cent per cent of respondents experienced signs of depression as a result of quarantine. The virus may be different this time, but all the same, the lack of university life has not produced the magical solution I thought it would.  

But, it also helped me realize something universal about my mental health. If too little socialization wreaks just as much havoc as too much, then it might be time to pull a trick from Goldilocks herself and seek the metaphorical perfect porridge, or in other words, a balance. 

While in quarantine, we have the rare opportunity to choose what we put on our plates. You can choose who you talk to and, with school ending, how much work you do. Finding a balance is no easy task, but listening to yourself and figuring out what you miss is a good start. While it takes a lot more effort to reach out in self-isolation than on campus, this mindset can be carried forward out of the pandemic.

This pandemic is strange and challenging, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come out stronger for having lived through it. 

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