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Creative coping: students, teachers use music, art, movement to relax during COVID-19 pandemic

A brown paper bag from Schnucks. A handful of markers. A stack of Crayola scrapbook paper in a rainbow of colors. 

While these may seem like simple supplies, they are exactly the materials freshman Julie Baguio uses when creating her homemade yearbook. Since Baguio has been unable to socialize with her friends in-person, she developed a clever way to bring them into her art.

“In my spare time I tend to draw or scrapbook. I started drawing on New Year’s as a resolution to get another hobby and began scrapbooking at the beginning of the school year,” Baguio said. “I’m actually making a yearbook for freshman year showcasing all my favorite memories and people.”

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019, Baguio said she occasionally did origami but wanted to find a new hobby to fulfill her love of crafting with different mediums. Sitting at her bedroom desk, Baguio consults a Google document containing a detailed outline of every aspect from color theme to text she wants to include on this page of her scrapbook. 

“When I have an idea for a page, I first establish a theme [or] color palette. On my google drive I have a document for every page I do. In there, I write prominent memories, inside jokes and put pictures from it in there,” Baguio said. “Next, I collect all my supplies, ranging from paper, markers, pens and the printed pictures, that apply and methodically place them on the page.” 

Sophomore Julie Baguio's art. Photo courtesy of Julie Baguio.
Sophomore Julie Baguio's art. Photo courtesy of Julie Baguio.
Sophomore Julie Baguio's art. Photo courtesy of Julie Baguio.
Sophomore Julie Baguio's art. Photo courtesy of Julie Baguio.

Baguio said she doesn’t mind working in the same space in which she completes her homework. In fact, she said her desk is adjacent to her bed, making it the perfect location if she gets the urge to randomly craft. 

At 12 a.m. Baguio often draws or scrapbooks while a movie of her choice, usually one she has seen before, hums in the background. Although she said she enjoys watching Korean movies and TV shows, she usually selects an English film when she crafts so she doesn’t have to read subtitles, which would distract her from her work.

Additionally, Baguio said she prefers to work at night so she can walk her dogs and enjoy getting sunlight during the day. Since Gov. Mike Parson (R) announced in a press briefing April 9 that all Missouri schools would remain closed for the duration of the school year, Baguio said she no longer has to get up for school at 7:40 a.m. 

“I wake up at 9:30 [a.m.] to let my dogs out and do the little schoolwork I have and exercise,” Baguio said. “If you had asked if I wanted my routine to be stricter prior to this change, I [would] definitely say yes.”

Besides having a schedule that is not as regimented as it was earlier in the school year, Baguio said her family stopped attending services through Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. She said her family still dresses up for services as they normally would, only now they watch videos of each week’s masses via Facebook. 

In a time where social distancing and self-quarantine guidelines are widespread, Baguio is not the only one experiencing shifts in daily routine. Like Baguio, junior Riley Neil said he also sleeps later now that he doesn’t have a normal school schedule. Despite the different routine, Neil said he has an increased amount of free time as online classes let him customize how he spends his days.

“Before this [pandemic], I did not have any free time; I was always behind on at least one class and had no time to take a breath or do the things I enjoy due to work and family,” Neil said. “With all this extra time on my hands, I feel lost and usually just resort to playing guitar. My love for country music and my Jeep has stayed the same, but now I have time to work with them.”

“I wake up at 9:30 [a.m.] to let my dogs out and do the little schoolwork I have and exercise. If you had asked if I wanted my routine to be stricter prior to this change, I [would] definitely say yes.” -Julie baguio, freshman

Neil said he spends his days cleaning his Jeep, browsing YouTube for new hobbies and playing guitar, an instrument he picked up four years ago. Each day, Neil said he dedicates anywhere from five minutes to most of a day to practicing guitar. He said he typically plays in his room, basement or living room but has recently ventured outside to enjoy the nice weather.

“Guitar is something I can never get enough of,” Neil said, “and with that comes a love of finding new music that moves me.”

Playing the guitar also keeps Neil’s mind off of issues he can’t control, such as COVID-19. He said it is important to have a hobby or some form of art to turn to to avoid feeling stressed. In addition, Neil said sitting at home worrying isn’t good for anyone, and binging Netflix isn’t as productive as learning a skill or art. 

Registered somatic movement therapist and educator (RSME/T) Victoria Day, who has a master’s level certification in Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis and is a licensed professional counselor, said the COVID-19 pandemic is stressful for everyone because of all the unknowns. 

“Guitar is something I can never get enough of, and with that comes a love of finding new music that moves me.” -Riley Neil, junior

“I think that the effects of things like the stay-at-home orders that we are doing to try to ameliorate the effects of this virus, while important for our community’s health, have also created added stress, especially on those who had strained resources prior to this pandemic,” Day said, “such as folks without a financial buffer, especially those in minimum wage and/or part-time jobs and anyone without a physical or mental health buffer due to lack of financial security or insurance, pre-existing health conditions and/or limited family or social support.”

Day said fear, worry, anxiety, frustration, impatience and anger are all emotional states that release harmful toxins into the body and can be detrimental to the body’s immune systems, making them “less effective at protecting us” over time. In a period where stressors people can’t control, such as COVID-19, have increased, Day said it is important to take charge of factors such as eating, sleeping and thinking that people can control. 

“To consciously decrease your stress load and increase the capacity of your immune system in general and during this pandemic,” Day said, “it is important to have a daily pattern that includes eating healthy foods, drinking adequate hydrating beverages, maintaining recuperative sleep habits and regularly moving the whole body, in big and small ways.”

As a RSME/T, Day works through Kindred Collective, a local community of health and wellness practitioners, educators, consultants and artists, to help her clients “find harmony and integration in all life activities” through different forms of movement, which can help them develop bodily awareness so they can “make more informed choices of how they move, think, act and interact with and in their lives.” 

While Day said there are no “right” forms of movement, some actions Day said she recommends to her patients include conscious breathing, walking, running, dancing, yawning, laughing, singing, jiggling, meditating and moving in ways that are “interesting and satisfying to their bodies.” Ultimately, though, Day said it is important people remain actively present and aware while they are moving in order to reduce stress, boost mood and support the immune system. She said a great example of how awareness impacts health is when two friends go on a walk.

Pro Tip
Victoria Day said the top exercise she suggests people practice daily to improve their health is to “consciously breathe for three to six breath cycles once an hour during their waking day and to notice the subtle, organic changes within their body as they breathe.” [Source: Victoria Day, RSME/T, CMA, LPC]

“Imagine two friends walking at a brisk pace for five miles on the MKT trail. While this action has many benefits to the body, including the cardiac, skeletal, respiratory and muscular systems and also has the potential to decrease stress, increase mood and support the immune system, it does not guarantee the latter,” Day said. “If these friends spend the entire five miles focusing on exchanging stories of fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, irritation, and confusion, then they could feel less refreshed and more stressed after the walk because they stayed in connection with, and actually focused more on, the stressors.”

On the other hand, Day said if the two walkers spend their time together sharing their stories about how COVID-19 impacts their lives while also focusing on their breath, bodily sensations and the sounds, sights, smells of the world around them, they will find greater mood recuperation after finishing their exercise will have “boosted their immune systems by releasing hormones of satisfaction and pleasure.”

French teacher Kristin Reed and her daughter's sidewalk art. Photo by Kristin Reed.
French teacher Kristin Reed and her daughter's sidewalk art. Photo by Kristin Reed.

French teacher Kristin Reed said she began walking several times a day after the shelter-in-place order went into effect. She said she often walks with a friend on the Missouri Katy Trail before noon, and she walks around her neighborhood with her 10 year-old daughter, Maddie, in the mornings and evenings to watch sunsets and sunrises.

“I just completed my walk of the day on the trail. It was amazing; I was able to visit with a friend, [and there was] a light breeze to cool you off as it was already toasty out,” Reed said. “I got to listen to the loud frogs and birds and avoid being run over by bikes.”

Reed said spending time in the nice weather is a blessing, and she is becoming addicted to it. She said she can’t imagine her life without walks, and if COVID-19 were not the cause of so much sickness and death, Reed said people around the world would benefit from having more time to get back to their roots and take care of their health. With regards to her well being during the pandemic, Day she has been more consistent with how she incorporates movement into her routine. Day also said she doesn’t feel as well when she spends lots of time in front of technology.

“A day that is spent with lots of sitting in front of a computer without breaks is a day when my back muscles will hurt from overuse tension, my capacity to soothe will be depleted and I will be unable to sleep restfully, which can then set up a cycle of overwhelm.” Day said. “Regular movement throughout the day and a 30 minute walk, bike ride or yoga session in the evening will transform all of that.”

Some activities Reed uses to take breaks from the screen include baking, cooking and visual arts such as watercoloring. She said engaging in these projects while at home with her daughter has also helped her fill time, slow down and adapt to changes in her routine, which include being unable to see her parents, friends and in-laws in-person. While COVID-19 has hurt businesses and put millions of people out of jobs in the U.S. according to the news platform BBC, free time is one of the pandemic’s upsides in Baguio’s perspective because she said it can be a way to decrease technology usage. In her case, it means doing something artistic. Baguio said she spends time on her school laptop completing academic coursework, and taking art breaks prevents her from being unproductive on her phone all day. 

Photo by Kristin Reed.
Photo by Kristin Reed.

“The feeling of accomplishing a piece of work is fulfilling, and I get to improve my crafting skills,” Baguio said. “Despite the social and economic downsides COVID-19 has brought, I see this break as an opportunity to become better as an artist. I hope everyone has this mindset for whatever they are passionate about.”

What activities do you use to cope with COVID-19? Let us know in the comments below.

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