During the COVID-19 pandemic, college students have been upended from their typical routines, schedules, and plans for what was to come for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. The timing of coronavirus and the crackdown of public health and safety guidelines came right around the time of most college students’ spring breaks making the changes even more confusing and stressful. How has COVID-19 impacted your mental health and well being as a student suddenly displaced from your college or university life? I’ll write about some of the implications of COVID-19 on student mental health and how you can manage your anxiety during this particularly uncertain and isolating time.
Stay connected to your college experience as much as possible
It’s easy to lose sight of the student life when you’re not commuting or on campus anymore. It might be tempting to start living a pseudo-vacation life, but it’s important to establish and maintain your routines. These routines and predictable structures are excellent for your mental health. Here are some suggestions:
- Maintain as many of your old academic-related routines as you can. Keep to your scheduled class hours (You’re not off the hook for going to classes!), set aside consistent times during the day when you will study and get schoolwork done, and just as importantly, incorporate breaks in between work so you can stay mentally fresh and motivated.
- Stay in touch with academic and student services. While you may not be able to see people for in-person meetings to discuss course schedules, academic material, or attend in-person counseling sessions, the staff and faculty at your school are still accessible and more than happy to assist you.
- Maintain connections to your student community. A big loss for many students is the fact that you were suddenly and prematurely separated from your social circles and the environment of being surrounded by peers. This surely must be hard. But not all is lost because you can’t physically be around people right now. Now is the time to get creative about how you spend time with your friends.
Utilize technology to your advantage and establish a routine of virtual hang outs with your friends. Use video-conferencing apps like HouseParty, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or good ol’ FaceTime to see your friends. This face to face connection can do wonders for your mental health and increase feelings of happiness. Remember to be sure to talk about things other than COVID-19. In fact, why stop at just talking? Engage in some activities together while you’re virtually connected. Watch your favorite movie or episodes of a show together or cook a meal from the same recipe and see how each of yours turns out.
Stay on top of those self care practices
Due to all the stress related to constant news updates about the coronavirus, this can negatively impact your mental health, so stress management strategies are necessary to lift your mood and decrease your stress levels. Here are some examples:
- Develop an evening routine and get adequate sleep. Try to wake up and go to bed around the same time. Every student has the eternal struggle of “never getting enough sleep” but it’s never too late to start fresh with some more shut-eye. It’s incredibly important for your mental and physical health to get at least 7-9 hours. Your body and mind will thank you.
- Regular physical activity and movement. So many at-home workout videos, apps, and programs are being offered right now to make physical activity and exercise accessible.
- Practice conscious breathing or mindfulness exercises. Whether it’s in the form of mindfulness meditation, or paced breathing, these will help with calming the nervous system and bringing you to baseline. You’re breathing anyway – why not pay attention to it and reap the mental and physical health benefits?
- Take baths, listen to music, light some candles, and limit screen time. These are all small ways of engaging or disengaging your senses that are pleasurable and improve your wellbeing.
Reach out for help to support your mental health
There are resources available for students to help cope with the understandable fears and anxieties that have emerged and may be impacting your mental health. Telehealth or remote therapy via phone or video are effective and accessible ways to get support from mental health professionals during a time when in-person therapy sessions may not be recommended or possible. The Shrink Space features providers who specialize in student mental health and are offering remote therapy during COVID-19 to make sure you know your mental health is a priority and you can get the help you need. Simply filter by ‘Online Therapy’ (located under the ‘More’ tab) to start searching for licensed clinicians in your state.
If there is one thing I know from my years of working with students, it’s that students are incredibly resilient and resourceful. You are experiencing a time of challenge during COVID-19, something novel and scary, but you are not without your tool box of self-care strategies, your community of friends and family, and academic and mental health resources to guide you through it. For more student mental health resources during COVID-19 check out this list.