Home from College and the Novelty's Worn Off: Now What?
How to manage your studies and sanity until life (hopefully) returns to normal.
Posted Mar 26, 2020
This is nothing you ever expected—being stuck at home 24/7 with your parents and siblings while being separated from your friends, your school and your job. Academic, social and financial changes increase your stress with no clear solutions in sight. It's natural to feel disappointed, confused, angry or worried. Plus, living around your family makes it tough not to fall back into old family patterns. All you want is to hold onto your independent identity but your life's been turned upside down. Now what?
While it may have been initially interesting, relaxing and even fun to be home without the structure of school and/or work, now it's less compelling. One of my clients with ADHD told me that he doesn't want "to float around the house all day doing nothing" but it's tough for him to create a routine and follow through with it. Yet, he doesn't want to follow his mom's recommendations to create a daily plan: "I have my own life at school. Why can't I have that here? I don't need her to tell me what to do." Another client struggles to get out of her pajamas all day and brush her teeth. "What's the point? No one is going to see me." Sound familiar?
In the midst of this bizarre, unprecedented pandemic, it's normal to feel distressed, concerned and unclear about what to do. But, you've got to figure out how to nurture a healthy life and maintain appropriate boundaries with your parents until things shift and life, hopefully, goes back to some semblance of normal. This means focusing on three areas: daily routines, self-care and social connections.
Follow these steps to lay out a satisfying, manageable plan for your life while you are at home:
1. Create the map: While you may not enjoy schedules, there's no way around making a practical structure for your days—one that you’ll actually follow. It can be a general guideline or something more specific. Separate your day into chunks that include specific times for the stuff you have to do and the things you want to do. These periods should include time for attending online classes, studying/doing homework, snacks and meals, breaks for phone/social media/YouTube/gaming and exercise. Give yourself enough time to study for a while, take a short water/snack/bathroom break and study some more. Then take a bigger pause that includes meals, socializing online or exercising. Now after that, you can do some more work. Write this general plan down or put these action items in your planner or phone and make necessary changes as you use it.
2. Ask for help if you need it: This is not the time to shun assistance. Many teens and young adults with ADHD struggle with organization, time management, planning and prioritizing. It's tough to use these executive functioning skills in a normal situation but, with the home distractions and new challenges wrought by shelter-in-place directives, procrastination and disruptions are bound to occur more often. Rather than feeling ashamed, get some help making a daily plan and starting projects by turning to a friend, partner, tutor or family member. Connect with learning services at your school. Be realistic about your capabilities or the schedule just won't be useful.
3. Manage time with alerts and alarms: When there's nowhere to go and your typical study/social/exercise routines are as unsettled as they are right now, it's even harder for folks with ADHD to manage their time. Use technology to assist you. Instead of keeping your phone next to bed at night so you can disregard the alarm when it goes off in the morning, move your phone across the room so you will have to get out of bed to get it. When your phone timer signals that it’s time for your study break, jot down some notes of what you were doing on a Post-it so you can remember where you were and get up. Use different tones to signal different events such as starting a task, taking a break and returning to the task.
4. Try something new: This is a great opportunity to get to projects you’ve never been able to tackle. Whether it’s learning to play the ukulele via YouTube, starting to knit, teaching your dog new tricks, taking photographs or baking a pie, put a block of time for play into your day or your week. Do something different that makes you happy, stretches you a bit and enriches your life.
Self-Care: Take Care of the Basics
5. Sleep: Wake up and go to bed (at mostly) regular times and get a minimum of eight hours of shut-eye per night. Let your folks know that you've thought about your sleep and this is your plan. You don't want them knocking on your door each morning at 8 a.m. when you've decided to let yourself sleep until 10. Set alerts and alarms on your phone to help you start the night-time routine and get up in the morning.
6. Exercise daily: Whether it's following a free online yoga or workout program, using FaceTime to exercise with friends, dancing to some favorite tunes, riding a bike or running up and down the stairs in your house, MOVE YOUR BODY a few times per day. The endorphins will help improve your mood, your energy will increase and your body will stay fit. If you can, go outside. Being outdoors in the fresh air clears your mind and relieves claustrophobic feelings from being cooped up inside all day.
7. Keep up with personal hygiene: Just because you're not seeing friends or co-workers in person doesn't mean that you should stop showering, brushing your teeth or washing your hair. Do these activities for YOU. It sounds corny but people usually feel better and ready to engage when they are clean and fresh. You'll feel a sense of purpose when you put on different clothes and have washed up before attending an online class or talking via Skype, Zoom, Snapchat, etc. with folks.
8. Eat well: Yes, it may be easier to grab those chips and salsa when you're hungry but a balanced diet will sustain you and feed your body with the nutrients it needs right now. Have some treats as specialty items, not the main course. This is also a great time to learn how to cook healthy options that are tasty too.
Social Connections: We're All in This Together
9. Enough but not too much: Social distancing is really tough for everybody but especially for teens and young adults. Your connections with friends are your world. It’s perfectly natural to feel devastated by this separation from the people you want to be around the most. But, in your efforts to overcome this isolation, spending hours on social media or gaming may not be helping you feel much better. Being online constantly can deplete your energy, disrupt your sleep, and give you the "computer cranks." Instead, opt for specific times each day to check your feeds such as during a study break or after a meal. Set a timer and, when it rings, get off: Taking a break means there will be something new and interesting to see when you come back.
10. Stay in touch face-to-face: To re-create a sense of community and hanging out with friends, consider using platforms that allow you to chat with several people simultaneously at once and see them. One of my college clients told me that her friends turn on Zoom and leave it running in the background while they do homework. This way, they can do things, ask questions that arise and just talk while working. You’re hanging out together despite being in separate locations.
Be kind to yourself and others during this strange period of time. Everybody—you, your parents, your siblings and friends—is doing the best they can under extremely stressful circumstances.