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If you read a script at the beginning of the year about how 2020 would unfold, you would have assumed you were reading a work of fiction. However, the global challenges that unfolded are a sobering reality. The stock market destroyed retirement investments for many. In a timeframe of just three weeks, more than 16.7 million people in the U.S. applied for unemployment. The case count and death toll from COVID-19 continues to grow each day, and racial protests have reignited discussions about systemic racism, inequality and police reform. On top of all that, long-term issues such as food insecurity and global warming continue to dominate headlines. This year’s influx of crises have also taken a significant toll on higher ed and students.
As these issues in the U.S. and around the world disrupt our day-to-day, there is a tremendous impact on mental health, particularly that of college students. Many students had to scramble home or find housing after sudden campus closings due to the pandemic. This required students to adapt quickly to distance learning technologies and environments. The resulting loneliness and isolation from social distancing are significant risk factors for the mental health challenges of students.
Structure your day.
Your daily schedule is likely much different than it used to be. Identify your preferred way of scheduling days — highly structured, flexibly structured or unstructured. Recreate that the best you can in your current environment.
- Keep your schedule consistent when it comes to class, meals and sleep schedule. Use familiar apps and programs for keeping a consistent schedule and sending you reminders.
- Re-evaluate expectations and focus on what you can realistically accomplish each day.
- Create specific spaces for work and rest to help you shift mind states. For example, if the only place for your school work is in bed, rearrange your pillows differently from your sleep set-up. If you live with others, set ground rules and discuss how to share space during periods of self-isolation or quarantine.
- Stay active and exercise. Explore virtual workouts—many do not require equipment.
- Make time to do things that lighten your mood: take breaks, read, watch movies, make music, dance, play games, and revisit past hobbies or start a new one.
Connect with others.
Self-isolation and social distancing can create feelings of boredom, frustration and loneliness. Maintain a sense of belonging by engaging with others.
- Schedule time to communicate with friends, classmates, coworkers, as well as biological and chosen family. Video chatting, telephone calls, texting and emailing are ways to stay connected with others without in-person contact.
- Connect with family members at your comfort level. You may be placed in situations where you need to interact with people that you don’t have a good relationship. Maintain physical and emotional proximity at the level that is right for you.
- Advocate for your needs and support the needs of more vulnerable community members.
- If it’s part of your identity, engage in religious or spiritual activities, as many of these activities are moving into virtual spaces.
- Revisit a hobby, interest, or a new creative endeavor. Share this with your support network. It’s important to allow space for creativity, and it’s okay to find peace and happiness during difficult times.
Set boundaries for media consumption.
Information about our world is rapidly changing, and news outlets provide constant coverage. Consider what level of media consumption is right for you. Aim to be informed and updated, rather than overwhelmed.
- Obtain information from credible media outlets, public health websites (e.g. CDC) and local public health authorities.
- Maintain distance from sensational media coverage that may be exaggerated or not grounded in scientific evidence. Be aware of scams related to COVID-19.
- Consider setting limits on the number of minutes or hours per day that you spend obtaining news updates on your phone. Your phone may have ways to set limits for screen time.
Manage negative thoughts and feelings.
Uncertainty can bring up undesirable thoughts and feelings related to change and the unknown. Take time to reflect on your mood and how you feel.
- Identify and label your feelings. Are you feeling disappointed, bored, excited? You can help soothe difficult feelings by meditating, journaling, shifting environments or doing something different until the feeling passes (e.g. cook or take a warm shower for 15 minutes).
- Identify negative thinking patterns. Are you assuming the worst, predicting a negative outcome, or defining things in black and white terms? Take some time to challenge defeating statements.
- Stigma and rejection may be experienced by healthcare workers, people in affected communities and those with other illnesses. Separate out institutional, cultural and personal aspects of the problem. This can help you see the total picture and separate systemic issues from ones that you can control.
- If you use alcohol, cannabis or other substances, utilize harm reduction techniques.
Make a plan.
It’s normal to experience concern about contracting disease during a pandemic. Develop plans that balance out your needs with the needs of others.
- Know the symptoms of COVID-19.
- Update emergency contacts and keep helpful phone numbers in an accessible place.
- Make a simplified contingency plan if you become ill. Who can help you with daily activities like shopping and errands? How will you notify professors?
- Think through how you can support someone you know who becomes seriously ill or who experiences a loss during this time.
Utilize mental health resources.
What mental health resources are available to you? Start by checking your school’s website for available mental health resources. Many schools offer counseling services that are in-person or virtual, like telehealth. Organizations like Active Minds and The Jed Foundation (JED) feature online resources that can help.
In a recent study of college students by TimelyMD, 75% of students said they’re open to utilizing telehealth to receive mental health care. Of the students who had previously used telehealth services, 65% reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their experiences. One student from Abilene Christian University said, “I appreciated the speed at which someone was able to help me and that they were knowledgeable.”
Care delivered through telehealth is fast, easy and efficient. It eliminates wait times, reduces the stigma of seeking care, and is available in the moment you need it. Telehealth care is a great resource to have in your back pocket, and easy to access with apps like TimelyMD. Want to know if your school is a TimelyMD campus? Head to our “For Students” page and enter your school into the search.
TimelyMD is here for you.
TimelyMD is focused on supporting the health and well-being of colleges and universities, and that includes both the physical and mental health of students. We are monitoring COVID-19 as we continue to support students across the country. Learn more about our commitment to transforming healthcare in higher education.