Surviving (& Thriving) During COVID-19: Eight Tips from SACNAS Members
By Daniela Bernal, SACNAS Membership Manager
Earlier this month SACNAS surveyed members on how they were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, and what advice they would share with fellow members, students, and scientists across the country. Thanks to all of the responses, we collated the main themes into eight concrete tips to help you survive and thrive.
As you explore these tips, we encourage you to remember that while these tips are for “Surviving and Thriving”, we are living in an unprecedented time. Simply surviving is an endeavor worthy of recognition and support. As you adjust to remote learning, social distancing and more, remember you are not alone. SACNAS is a community rich in warmth, persistence, expertise, and generosity. While we’re apart from our peers, colleagues and family, we will get through this together — just like always.
#1. Embrace Your Community
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of social distancing is the obvious: lack of interpersonal interaction. Many of us feel lonely and isolated, even if we are physical distancing with someone else. It’s natural to miss the people you used to see many times a week — Maybe it’s your lab mates, your co-workers, or your SACNAS chapter members! Luckily, we live in a time with ample technology solutions (Zoom, Slack, Skype, Online Forums, etc). Use these platforms to make time to socialize and stay connected. Whether you’re connecting socially or professionally, it’s important and helpful to stay engaged with the groups you are a part of.
“Don’t forget that you can reach out and still be social even without being together physically. Don’t let your mental wellbeing fall behind your physical wellbeing”
— Maya Matsumoto, Seattle, WA
Reach out to family, coworkers, lab mates, peers, professors, and of course your SACNAS chapter members for casual conversation and checking-in. More than likely, they want to hear from you too.
ACTION: Join SACNAS online community groups. Sign-up or sign-in for a free SACNISTA-level membership to gain access.
#2. Designate Your Space
Many SACNISTAs (SACNAS members) have moved home and are continuing their school and/or job in the same space as siblings, parents, children, grandparents, etc. Without a doubt, this can be an overwhelming (yet unavoidable) distraction. If you can, designate a space that’s just for you — a specific place where you do your work.
“If you can, don’t create your workspace in your bedroom. Have a location other than [where you sleep].”
— Dorthea Lynch, Phoenix, AZ
Having a dedicated workspace may help set boundaries for those you are sharing your home with. Even if your workspace is shared with someone else, identifying this space for yourself (in a place separate from where you sleep) may help you avoid distractions and encourage you to be more productive. Perhaps time may even be scheduled in this space to be designated soley for each person who shares the space. (Make sure to read step #3 regarding productivity below!)
#3. Reclaim Your Time!
School and work often creates structure for our days and without it, many SACNISTAs expressed feeling lost, disoriented, and overwhelmed. Reestablish the structure in your day by creating a schedule for yourself (It works for children, too!). This schedule should include work/school time, but also personal breaks for fun and relaxation.
“Find a happy medium for yourself in this chaos and make sure to listen to what you need. Set up a schedule for each day, but if it isn’t working, you are allowed to take a break or change it completely.”
— Maya Matsumoto, Seattle, WA
“There is a difference between working from home and being at home trying to work during this crisis. I personally find that as long as I can keep myself distracted or busy, that the time usually passes quicker and I can stay on top of keeping myself motivated for whatever assignment or chore I’d like to overcome.”
— Conager Robb, Denton, Texas
The intention is to enjoy your hobbies in order to care for your physical and mental health. This is an equally important part of being productive while physical distancing, and living through a pandemic. It’s OK to take time to process what’s going on in the world, and a valuable part of that is to take care of your body and mind while you adjust to the new normal. (Make sure to read #8 for some tips on keeping positive)
Many SACNISTAs also recommended creating a list of realistic goals you’d like to accomplish today, this week, this month, etc. to help you stay organized. They keyword here is realistic, which brings us to #4 below.
#4. Forgive Yourself + Others
“There is a difference between working from home and being at home trying to work during this crisis.”
As you adjust to your new routine (mentioned in #3 above), it’s important to be realistic with yourself and with others. As you consider what your goals and your schedule will be, it is critical to be realistic and consider the other obligations you (or others) may have to family, physical health, and mental health. “Productivity” may not look like it did several weeks ago and that’s OK.
Another member added, “Be gentle with yourself and realize that productivity doesn’t mean — you learned another language, got all your assignments in, completed all the deadline — it means you drank water, it means you maybe did some yoga. Take care of yourself. This is a pandemic.”
If you are a professor, mentor, mentee, parent, student, homeless person — remember to be patient and kind with those you are interacting with. Times are tough, expectations are changing, and people will react differently to the stress.
One member explained, “Many of my students have been having technology difficulties, I try to be understanding within reason with my due dates.”
If you encounter challenges with others, it can help to remind yourself that everyone is living through this pandemic with different degrees of access to technology, financial resources, family obligations, and more. Be mindful of those around you and if you can, be flexible with your expectations of them.
If you or someone you know is feeling stressed, read recommendations from the CDC.
#5. Exercise Your Mind, Body, & Soul
Keep your mind active and growing by reading research in your discipline, brainstorming your next experiment, or signing up for online professional development opportunities. Some SACNISTAs even suggested venturing outside of your discipline to expand your thinking! For those who want and have the space for extra professional development, this may be a good time for that. As mentioned in #1, we live in a time with many technology solutions, which means lots of webinars and virtual events could be available to you — and many are now free!
“Webinars are especially helpful right now to stay connected.
Other virtual events could include fun activities to connect the community, to laugh together, and learn about each other.”
Don’t be shy — Register for a webinar and, most importantly, participate. This means you ask questions, get follow-up/contact information, and aside from boosting your professional development, you might find a new community where you can wholeheartedly be your whole self.
#6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
For many, it can be difficult to ask for help. Whatever challenges you may be facing, there are likely resources out there for you, but you won’t know until you search for them. If you need help — educationally, professionally, or personally — ask for it.
“Look for help from your institutions, coordinators, representative students and mental health professionals.
Everyone is being affected in some way. Hang in there and we will make it through.”
It’s important to listen to yourself, assess what you need, and ask for it unapologetically. You can do this knowing that you are not alone. This is a difficult and unprecedented time — nobody expects you to do everything all on your own.
As an example, we’ve curated this resource list for Native/Indigenous members. If you’d like to share specific resources on other topics, please add them to our COVID-19 Twitter thread or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
#7. Transform the “Negative” into Personal Power
As we continue to watch the developments with COVID-19 unfold, many SACNISTAs praised the empowering feeling that can come from helping others.
One member suggested “Ask yourself, “Who needs help in your community?” I found out recently that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, both nurses, need masks for home-use and also masks that don’t fall into the mouth (pleated versus curved).”
If you can, take safe and responsible actions to help those around you. This includes checking in (while physical distancing) on family, neighbors, or other groups in need. It also means taking a look at your company or student group and taking the initiative to organize a virtual study session or coffee hour. Taking action in this way, helps to quell the feeling of helplessness, and transforms it into something productive and positive.
ACTION: Volunteer (online) to support our students
ACTION: Join the #ScienceRising Challenge to raise your voice in this year’s elections!
#8. Seek Out Positivity
Not everyone has the capacity to lead a virtual group or organize donations, and that’s OK. As an alternative solution to bringing positivity to your routine, many SACNISTAs recommended taking intentional time to read positive and empowering stories. Like #7 above, this can help combat feelings of helplessness. Keep in mind, it is important to acknowledge negative feelings and not suppress them.
One member added “Highlight the good news, we already get plenty of news about the societal challenges from the media.”
Just like getting your work done, it is important to remind yourself that there is good happening in the SACNAS community and the world. Like those that came before us, we are a persistent and hard-working people doing the work necessary to change the world for the better. Create intentional time to seek out and embrace those stories, role models, and bits of inspiration; especially those that are suppressed.
Lucky for us, SACNAS has plenty of stories to share. In addition to joining our online groups (see #1), be inspired anytime with the following options:
ACTION: Read stories on our digital publication STEM + Culture Chronicle or biographies of Role Models showcased in our Biography Project
ACTION: Follow our social media @SACNAS to get real-time updates about awesome members
These tips would not be possible without the insight of all of the SACNAS members who took the time to respond to our COVID-19 community survey — a tremendous thank you to all of the members listed below and our anonymous contributors.
If you’d like to take the survey, you can still do so here or contact email@example.com any time.
Jocelyn Baca, Nacogdoches, TX
Natasha De La Cruz, Sunrise, FL
Mariluz Franco-Ortiz, Cayey, Puerto Rico
Maria Pontes Ferreira, PhD, RDN, New London, CT
Ángel A. Garcia Jr., Harrisonburg, VA
Hannah E. Gilbonio, St. Paul, MN
Michael Greenlief, Columbia, MO
Jennifer Harrington, Clinton, MT
Azalia Martinez Jaimes, Chicago, IL
Robert M. Jonas, Ph.D., Seguin, TX
Dorthea Lynch, Phoenix, AZ
Maya Matsumoto, Seattle, WA
Kenneth C. Millett, Santa Barbara, CA
Bethany Kristi Morin, San Francisco, CA
Shirley Murillo, Miami, FL
Rose S. Perea, Alexandria, VA
Carolina Reyes, West Los Angeles, CA
Alyssa Rodriguez, Nashville, TN
Vicente Robles, Santa Ana, CA
Miquella (Kelly) Chavez Rose, Research Triangle Park, NC
Jerry Route, Pohnpei, Federated States of Miconesia
Starlette M. Sharp, Lemont, PA
Kristine Schroeder, Seattle, WA
Lindsey Silva, PhD, Foster City, CA
Angela Sy, DrPH, Honolulu, HI
Diego Fabian Trujillo, Albuquerque, NM
Desiré Whitmore, PhD, Oakland, CA
Cynthia Wyels, Ventura, CA
Martha Cecilia Zúñiga, Santa Cruz, CA
Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM. Learn more at sacnas.org.