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Stress, College And Coronavirus: 5 Ways To Students Can Stay Motivated

Katie Lyon
Katie Lyon Student – University of California, Berkeley
Katie Lyon is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Political Economy and Conservation & Resource Studies, and hopes to pursue a career in environmental policy.
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    Image by Alexandr Ivanov
Lazy Dog, students stay motivated during coronavirus

I am a pre-law student at UC Berkeley. 


I’ve never had a problem staying motivated in college. But during this quarantine, I found myself:

  • Bored with schoolwork
  • Stressed from homework
  • Dreading online lectures

Although I had infinite time on my hands, I also felt like I had nothing to do. 

Time was going slow. But I couldn’t use it productively. I was frozen.  

But after six weeks of social isolation, I finally got the hang of things. 

I stopped telling myself that I had to use all of my free time on school. 

I learned how to play the guitar, painted 5 murals and learned to tango.

These were the steps I took to get my mojo back.

Maybe they’ll work for you. 

1. Make a list of all the big dreams you’ve never had time to accomplish

Sure, you could spend your free time watching Netflix and perusing social media.  They are readily accessible alternatives to hours of loneliness. But in the end, do they really make you feel any better? 

Many studies have shown that social media contributes to depression and anxiety.

Usually,  seeing what my friends were up to motivated me. But for whatever reason, that didn’t work during this pandemic. 

One day, I created a list of everything I have ever wanted to accomplish, but never had the time or energy to tackle, like:

  • hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
  • learning Spanish
  • mastering “Cherry Wine” on the guitar
  • learning Argentine tango. 

I knew that some of these dreams (including a 2,665 miles-long thru-hike) would be unlikely or impossible during the quarantine. 

But just the act of writing my goals down got my creative juices flowing.

Studies have shown that making lists eventually helps you reach your goals.


2. Make a schedule every day

But don’t just rely on a big list. Make mini-lists every day. 

Since sheltering-in-place also removed any semblance of structure from my once perfectly scheduled life, it was easy to put off things I had to do, like watching online lectures. With all day to do it, it was suddenly bedtime. 

So I started writing a to-do list each morning. I included checkboxes so that every time I completed a task, I put an X through the box. It’s a dopamine hit.

No task is too small. I included Wake up on my list because even getting out of bed is an accomplishment. And once I took a step, I could check the box and feel instant satisfaction. 

But you should also include an action item that works towards at least one of the big dreams. While I can’t go on a 2000 plus mile hike, I could go for a walk around the block. 

Another day, I wandered the streets of Berkeley without a phone to improve my navigation skills. 

Make sure at least one item on your list involves movement. Don’t stress yourself out with the word “Exercise.” Just write down “Movement.” 

A study from Evidation Health found, using data from over 68,000 fitness trackers, that activity levels in the US decreased 39% between March 1 to March 24. And remember - movement can be as easy as dancing along to your favorite music (perhaps over Zoom with friends, with your family in the living room, or alone where no one can see your eccentric dance moves). 


3. Schedule in 8 hours -  and only 8 hours - for sleeping

The same Evidation Health study found that time sleep time increased 20% after March 13th, the day Trump declared coronavirus a national emergency. 

This might be good, indicating that folks are finally catching up on the hours of sleep lost during the once-busy work week. Or it could be that they’re depressed.  

College students are known for their strange sleep schedules. After waking up for 8a.m. classes was no longer necessary, I stopped using an alarm. When I saw it was finally 2 p.m., the classwork I had been putting off feel more daunting. It was as if the day was over before it had even begun. 

You may be struggling with sleeping too many hours, sleeping poorly throughout the night, or a variety of other sleep-related issues. 

One solution is to start scheduling your sleep. This means deciding ahead of time exactly when you plan to rise each morning. I chose sunrise as my wake-up time, so I leave my blinds open at night.  The sun is my morning alarm. As a bonus, this reminds me to do the second item on my to-do list: see the sun before the sidewalks are too crowded for socially-distant street-side yoga.

Remember that light from phones and computer screens makes it harder to fall asleep. So get off those devices two hours before bed

4. Revisit your “big dreams” list and readjust expectations

You may find yourself shocked, as I was, that several of my “big life dreams” were far more attainable than I had planned. Learning “Cherry Wine” on my acoustic guitar took only two days of intense focus and three weeks of fine-tuning.

Other big dreams aren’t happening – for now at least. 

The Pacific Crest Trail Association announced only days after I made my list that people should avoid thru-hiking during the pandemic. 

Readjusting and adapting is good, however.  It teaches us to allow our goals to change with our ever-changing conditions. Allow yourself to revel in the joy of having tackled some goals, and to grow excited to take on the next.

5. Make new dreams

As your unaccomplished goals begin to dwindle, and your ambitions grow larger, don’t be afraid to add more items to your list.

Even those that seem too wacky, far-fetched, or impossible to accomplish may be closer to your reach than you think. 

One day, social distancing will end. But your dreams and goals will still be there. 


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