Keeping Myself Grounded in Routine During the Pandemic

Varun Gopinath
Published on May 22, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

One of the most effective ways to cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic is to identify factors in your life you have control over and create a routine. Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Varun Gopinath explains how establishing a structured routine helped him ground himself amid the constant flux. 

After spring break, I experienced a whirlwind of emotions: my schedule and sense of routine had been thrown into complete disarray due to COVID-19. A marathon I had been training for had been cancelled. Prometric sites were closing. Classes were moved online. Guidance from our local, state, and federal governments on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was mixed.  On one end, I saw people preparing for the worst and hunkering down for a long period of isolation; others seemed to brush off the pandemic as “just another flu.” Amidst all this, I felt more like little dog Toto spiraling within a tornado in Kansas—not like a medical student who was trying to prepare for my USMLE® Step 1 exam.

Osmosis illustration of a medical student spiraling out of control.

How I reoriented myself and set priorities

At first I simply did not know what to make of everything. I found myself striving to control whatever aspects of my schedule I could— everything around me seemed to be falling apart. This initially consisted of small things I could control, like my laundry and dishes that often go neglected (my place had never looked so clean and tidy!) This task-oriented coping worked to distract me for a while, but soon the feelings of frustration returned, my thoughts always returning to the uncertainty of the future.

After a couple of days, I told myself that the best thing to do was to focus on what I could control. I had to accept the current state of affairs as they were and focus on taking each day as it came. For someone who likes to plan ahead, this was not easy, and I was forced to confront the fact that my future plans were never guaranteed. Instead, I chose to focus on my everyday schedule, and it really helped me maintain my sanity. Keeping a regular schedule allowed me to focus on what keeps me going, and helped me prioritize strategies to maintain equilibrium during this global pandemic. 

My COVID-19 schedule in medical school

 To begin with, I decided to focus on immediate, basic priorities, and then slowly build my schedule from there. Things like sleep, exercise, and nutrition were first on the list. I now start the day at 6 AM with coffee and breakfast. At 7 AM, I participate in a yoga class that is live streamed from my local studio. I then study from 8 to noon with small breaks in between to help me avoid burnout and keep up my momentum. Then comes an hour break for lunch, and if things are going well, a short nap. I continue studying until 6 PM, which is when I head out for a hike, run, or bike ride. I’m usually back at home around 8 PM and wrap up some loose concepts till 9:30 PM, which is when I do some leisure reading or start getting ready for bed.

Osmosis illustration of a healthy daily schedule in medical school.

For me, having a set routine upon which I can rely allows me to achieve flow in my work and has helped me stay on task stress-free. Rather than focusing on what I can’t do, I choose to focus on what I can do. For example, instead of stressing out about the latest case numbers in Ohio, I choose to focus on what I can control in the present, like my own health. Though my social life has come to a halt, this time has allowed me to focus on studying so as to aid future patients down the line. Oddly enough, this time has been a period of blossoming in some ways; I have a greater understanding of why I am pursuing medicine, and have had more time to invest in myself—a silver lining that I hope others have experienced amidst the chaos of COVID-19.

About Varun

Varun Gopinath is a second year medical student at the Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown, OH, and is currently participating in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program. He enjoys marathon training, making whole food plant-based meals, yoga, and doing long distance thru-hikes when he’s not consumed with the fascinating world of medicine.

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