How I keep calm: Online classes

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How have you been keeping calm during the pandemic? Carillon

Inspired by HeyAlma.com, How I keep calm is our new series featuring different ways students are finding peace and contentment during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

by Hammad Ali, Contributor

Even the people who love me the most would never accuse me of being calm in the face of stress. If you have known me for longer than an hour, you have seen me stress about things both in and beyond my control. If you are a close friend, you have helped me through several moments of paralyzing anxiety. So, how is someone like me faring in 2020?

To be honest, when the lockdown started in March, I was anxious about everything. Finances, having to be indoors all day for who knows how long, having to occasionally go outside to get essential supplies. Toward the end of Winter 2020, I still had one class to finish, and trying to get everything done on my less than stellar laptop was an added stress. 

I would like to tell you that I got on top of everything within a few weeks, and have been performing at my peak since then. However, I would also like to not lie, and those two goals are rather contradictory. However, I can say in all honestly that over time, I started doing better. There are still days, even weeks, when getting out of bed is the last thing I want to do. But as someone once told me, those days will always be there. We just work on making them less frequent, and of lesser duration. That is a goal I work towards, and in this I would like to share what has worked for me.

This might just be me, but when I am caught in a feedback loop of stress and anxiety, I find it very hard to detach myself. While in normal times I love reading and movies, at such times I need something more mentally taxing, to sort of not have any spare brain cycles to stress, in a manner of speaking. Well, one of the silver linings of the last six months has been that I found something that works.

Soon into the lockdown, I got an email from my old alma mater back in Bangladesh. They were entering a partnership with several online teaching websites, to offer students and alumni the opportunity to take classes on a variety of topics ranging from math to neuroscience, critical thinking to project management. Trying to fill my hours, I signed up for a few. One of the first courses I signed up for, and finished, was called “Managing Your Mental Health During Covid-19”, offered by the University of Toronto on Coursera. The class was barely five hours, but it was the perfect class to begin with. I soon noticed that watching a small lecture, and then answering some questions, gave me a sense of accomplishment that made the rest of my day easier. I was able to better focus on schoolwork, with that small win as the wind on my back. Once the class on mental health was done, I signed up for a class on mathematical thinking, and a more general one on how we learn best. None of this related to my schoolwork, but I think that is why it works as the perfect palate cleanser. And unlike books or movies, I find it easier to be drawn completely in, knowing I will soon have to take a pop quiz to show I learned the material. In fact, once I have spent as little as 15-20 minutes to make some progress on the current course I am taking, I find it a lot easier to focus on work, on household chores, and even reading a book. I guess it goes to back that cliched but apparently true statement – sometimes you need a win. For me, a short lecture online followed by a quick MCQ, has been that win. It is keeping me calm and helping me do better. I will definitely be trying out a lot more courses!

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