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Quarantine has cemented itself into our lives. Two months ago, the thought of such restrictive living held no more weight than a distant thought. As a junior in high school, having to live each and every long, redundant day often feels like a fruitless course of action.
The lockdown has been a struggle, and for the sick and their families, a crucible. Quarantine lingers like a bad bruise, hovering in the same spot, nagging us for a dose of attention. How long will this aching, throbbing, sore of a vacation last? How much more can we take? Where is the future? What will tomorrow hold? It often feels like we’re not living, we’re repeating.
But live we must. And repeat we must, at least for now. To help everyone from adolescents to teenagers to adults to families, here are a few suggestions to help fill your time that are fun and beneficial to our mental health.
Play more video games
Video games have a bad reputation. They are often cast aside as purely leisure-oriented activities. Many see them as a waste of time. However, according to a study at Nottingham Trent University, video games have become an unusual and innovative method of pain management. “The degree of attention needed to play such a game can distract the player from the sensation of pain,” wrote author Matt Griffiths.
In one case, an 8-year-old boy diagnosed with and scarred by neurodermatitis, a skin condition characterized by chronic itching, was prescribed a handheld gaming device after all other medicinal treatments failed. After two weeks, the affected area, categorized by rough and erratic scaling, had effectively healed. In other controlled experiments, researchers found that video games provide a cognitive distraction for children receiving chemotherapy. Furthermore, the study proved that each patient receiving video game treatment experienced less nausea and lowered systolic blood pressure than patients instructed to rest. All in all, video games offer a much-needed distraction in a time like this — a time when it’s so easy to forget what day it is.
Learn a new language
Learning a second (or third, fourth, fifth — why stop?) language has been proven to unlock several cognitive and health-related benefits.
According to a 2007 Massachusetts study, having some level of proficiency with a foreign language can lead to academic improvement, particularly in math. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages affirmed: “Children who study a foreign language, even when this second language study takes time away from the study of mathematics, outperform students who do not study a foreign language and have more mathematical instruction during the school day.”
Learning a new language may also be the mental remedy necessary for preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Another study done at York University tested roughly 450 patients — half bilingual and half monolingual (one language). Each patient was suffering from similar levels of cognitive impairment, although those who were bilingual saw the first signs of Alzheimer’s up to five years later than the monolinguists.
Make expressionist films
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy “is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process.” So activities like painting, sculpting, or even strumming a guitar can help people better interpret their emotions, reduce anxiety, increase self-esteem, and pave the way for self-discovery.
One thing I like to do is make short videos, drawing inspiration from an early 20th-century art movement — German expressionism. Nosferatu, a 1922 movie adaptation of Dracula, is a better-known piece from this period. Renowned English movie director and producer Alfred Hitchcock used certain elements and camera tricks in his films taken from the German expressionists. I’ve studied these masters and use similar elements in my own creations.
And if expressionist films aren’t your thing, there is always TikTok.
Listen to Django Reinhardt and Parisian swing
Music is versatile. Music can be boisterous; music can be gentle. Music can uproot you from despair. Music tames the serpent; music is the key.
In a 2016 study at West Virginia University’s School of Public Health, it was proven that music activates neurochemical systems associated with positive mood, emotional regulation, attention, and memory in ways that trend towards beneficial change. Older adults with cognitive health risks responded positively to relaxing music and simple meditation practices.
Certain music — dissonant songs, for example — contradicts these findings. Chaotic and up-tempo music can unearth negative emotions or breed anxiety. Calming music with drawn-out tempo and gradual progression are healthy alternatives to faster, crunchier songs. Everyone is different, however, and what is “calm” for one person can be intense for another. When I was a baby, my dad used to put me to sleep to Nirvana. I imagine that wouldn’t work for everybody. And sometimes, taste changes. Now, when I study, I listen to Mozart and Haydn; when I write, sketch, or sculpt, I listen to Django Reinhardt. But, if you love Taylor Swift, go for it.
It’s a brand you’ve all heard of — LEGO — the ubiquitous Danish toy company producing plastic bricks since the late 1950s. Everyone (okay, maybe not everybody) loves LEGOs, or at least, has loved them at some point in their lives. Nowadays, many of the sets are directed at adults. Several older fans claim that building LEGOs induces feelings of relaxation. Engaging in these tactile projects helps focus our mind and allows us to live in the moment — guided, brick by brick, to completion. As someone who has spent countless hours constructing sets, I can contest to these feelings of equanimity and accomplishment. I spent most of my early childhood as an architect of my own LEGO constructions.
Find “belonging” in online communities
We are all searching for that someone, that something, that “place” to belong. Some of us have found it; others are still looking. A netnography (online ethnography) study done on a LEGO building club in Finland, BrickBuilders, affirmed that social groups genuinely create a reality for their participants, via a mutual exchange of information and emotional support. These communities become a place of purpose, with the development of vocabulary, myths, and practices. Not affiliated with the LEGO Company, BrickBuilders is fully fan-based, drawing participants of joint interest. This shared enthusiasm generates intense feelings of positivity and mutual support. Find your group. Meet your people. You belong.
And, in this disjointed time in history, all of us need a place to belong.
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