Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
It’s no secret that America is obsessed with outward appearances: Every magazine, billboard and commercial is adorned with people who fit a standard of beauty that, for most, is entirely unattainable. Yet, even the most aware consumer can fall victim to self-hate and hyper-criticism if they feel they do not meet the standards the media places on them.
For many, this immense lifestyle change might lead to the nightmarish reality that they are now “out of shape.” Yet, it’s important to remember that a national lockdown is not a government-allotted gym and diet period where you are meant to work out to extremes just because you have the time.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite.
A global pandemic is an incredibly stressful situation. Aside from the unpredictable and, at times, scary nature of the coronavirus, the lack of social interaction can leave many people feeling lonely and depressed. National mental health is on a steady decline as people worry about the ongoing pandemic and have to distance further and further from the people they love.
As a result, self-care is more important than ever. As the virus whips around the globe, it is important that we slow ourselves down and take time to relax, ground ourselves and heal. And for some, this includes eating an extra snack or lounging in bed for the day. These activities do not make you lazy or irresponsible — they make you human.
Our bodies also naturally fluctuate based on the food we eat, our stress levels and the quality of our sleep. At a time where mental health and stress are both on the uptick, it is expected that our bodies will react and change alongside us. Our bodies are built for change. It is an injustice when we look at ourselves and shallowly critique how we look, instead of honoring our bodies for allowing us to function and experience life. And right now, having a functioning body is definitely something to be grateful for.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t exercise during a pandemic, especially when working out has been shown to increase mood in times of difficulty. What I am saying is that exercise should add positivity to your life, not cause added stress at a time when it’s so widespread. One should work out with the intent of feeling good, not to meet some industry-set standard of beauty that is unachievable and can be detrimental to one’s mental health.
If you feel like you have put on a few extra quarantine pounds, don’t beat yourself up over it. A healthy body is nothing without a healthy mind. During this time, focus on how you feel: Get a good night’s sleep because you want a refreshing start to your day, take a walk because you need to feel the sunlight and, above all, be gentle with yourself and others.
Gabriella Kurczeski is a junior English and psychology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.