Shenandoah University occupational therapy students are accustomed to learning in a hybrid format that combines distance learning with classroom experiences. So, this makes program students and alumni equipped to offer some advice that can prove useful to those of us newly studying and/or working full time while at home with family members, including school-aged children, who doing the same, as OT student Cynthia Drury so perfectly reveals in this reflection:
Like everyone else, I am reeling from the abrupt change our semester has taken in light of all that is going on with COVID-19. I miss my classmates and professors, and I’m still grieving the loss of what would have been. For me, this is my last semester of graduate school, and it’s hard to imagine that I won’t be on campus again for class. At the same time, I am so busy adjusting to the “new normal” that there isn’t much time to dwell on any of it. I am home full time now with my husband and two school-aged children, who are bouncing off the walls and also have their own school work to complete each day. It has been hard, as I imagine it is for everyone right now, as we collectively try to find our bearings in unknown territory.
One of the hardest aspects for me has been the lack of quiet space to read and do my school work. Someone is always here, asking me for something! I find it hard to get into the zone and concentrate on my work. As I write this, my 12-year old is video chatting with her friends in the next room and I am still trying to convince my 9-year old to get out of her unicorn pajamas and go outside to play so that I can finish some reading. Another major challenge has been finding a structure to my days, which now seem to bleed together into one long jumble. It can be hard to find the energy to get started when Thursday feels like Monday and I can’t remember the last time I got out of these four walls.
Fortunately, my training in Occupational Therapy school here at Shenandoah has really helped me navigate this new terrain. Occupational therapy is all about creatively adapting to challenges, figuring out what the barriers are, and harnessing the strengths, so that people can still do what they need and want to do. It can be helpful to take a close look at a situation and ask ourselves, what specifically is getting in the way? Maybe it is the constant distractions from others, and you might want to set up a workspace in your basement or even in a quiet corner with noise-canceling headphones. For others the social distancing may bring a sense of loneliness, and we may need to find new ways to recreate the social interaction that comes from school. If anxiety from what is going on in the larger world is a challenge, we may need to develop a strategy for interacting with the news or reach out to others for support. We are all unique and these changes will impact us in different ways.
A few things that have worked for me:
Try to find a routine that works for you. For me, getting up at the same time every day, showering, and getting dressed has been huge. I know I could stay in my pajamas all day, but putting on real clothes has provided a sense of normalcy for me that helps me be more productive and happy. For others, that might not matter, but having a dedicated time to exercise, or a plan for when to start your work might really help.
Then, tweak it. At first, I tried to keep the same hours for school work that I normally would, but I quickly realized that the constant interruptions weren’t working for me. So now I am getting up earlier than everyone in my house, working in the quiet, and getting a chunk of work done in the evenings as well when things are calmer. A nap in the middle of the day helps me recharge. I imagine I’ll need to keep adjusting, but having some type of “schedule” for school work is helping me to stay on top of my work, but also plan for breaks and time to relax.
Set up a space for your schoolwork. I love to get out of the house, and that isn’t an option right now. Maybe you were used to going to the library or a coffee shop, and now you’re stuck at home doing all of your work. My husband repurposed a small table by a window in our main room, because he loves nature and likes to be in the middle of the action. I have a small room with a door because I need quiet to hear myself think. Whatever it is, it helps to find a space that you dedicate to school work and keep everything in one place. When I walk into that space I am ready to work, and when I walk away, it is easier to “turn it off” mentally.
Use resources. For example, voice-to-text has been extremely helpful for me. I will often go for a (socially distant) walk and bring my phone. I open up an email to myself, tap the little microphone, and just record all of my thoughts. When I get home, I have most of a reflection or discussion board written and I can copy it into a Google Doc and simply revise. I always feel better after the fresh air, exercise, and a break from these four walls. There are so many creative ways to use technology when we are doing so much work online.
Choose what is most meaningful, and let other things go. A wise professor once told me “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” We are all juggling a lot right now, and this may not be the time to be the perfect student, friend, athlete, chef, parent, employee, housekeeper, or whatever else you are managing. I have had to ask myself several times this week, what matters most right now? If a stressor doesn’t fall into that category, I have to let it go. Now more than ever, we need to give grace to ourselves, and those around us. We’re all in this together. Done is better than perfect. Now pardon me while I go help someone with their math assignment, finish a discussion board post, and scrounge in my fridge to see what on earth we are going to have for dinner!
Learn more about Shenandoah University’s occupational therapy programs at https://www.su.edu/occupational-therapy.