On March 12, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic (link is external) by the World Health Organization. This unprecedented event in our lifetime presents an unpredictable global and local set of circumstances that may bring up experiences of uncertainty, danger, and additional feelings of shock, confusion, frustration, and worry. The following may provide some guidance as you develop a health plan to support feelings of stability and security through the coming days and weeks.
What is Your Response to Stress?
Which of the following is familiar in terms of your current stress response? Knowing your stress response can help you determine the best coping strategies.
- Response: I feel the need to mobilize. I have a desire to take action or take control.
Coping Strategy: Focus on balance—set goals and take breaks.
- Response: I want to run away. My thoughts are racing and I feel keyed up.
Coping Strategy: Soothe worried feelings by decreasing sensory information—set boundaries with media consumption and identify negative thinking patterns.
- Response: I feel immobilized. I don’t feel like doing anything and can’t motivate myself.
Coping Strategy: Support your mood by increasing sensory information—plan on connecting with a friend and create a flexible daily schedule.
- Response: I feel disconnected. I compartmentalize negative feelings and avoid addressing them.
Coping Strategy: Make time to reflect and connect with intolerable feelings in small doses. Journal or talk with friends. Move on to something lighter when you begin to feel overwhelmed.
- Response: I feel okay. I have ups and downs as I adjust but am able to stay within a comfortable enough emotional range. I’m consistently taking steps towards my goals.
Coping Strategy: Engage in self-reflection to identify the coping tools you’re using; this will help you harness them reliably when needed.
Develop a health plan that fits your current stress response and needs. Remember that your response and needs may also change over the coming weeks and months. Find a way to express positive feelings like gratitude, compassion, and hope. The goal is to have a plan that works for you.
Some Important Guidelines:
Structure Your Day
- Identify your preferred way of scheduling days—highly structured, flexibly structured, or unstructured, and recreate it as possible.
- Keep your schedule consistent when it comes to class, meals, and bedtime. Use familiar apps and programs for scheduling and reminders
- Create supportive spaces to work and rest
- Stay active and exercise. Explore virtual workouts
Connect with Others
Self-isolation and social distancing can bring up feelings of boredom, frustration, and loneliness.
- 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. Maintain physical and emotional proximity at the level that is right for you.
- Engage in religious or spiritual activities if this is important to you—many are moving into virtual spaces. Look for meaning in your life.
- Revisit a hobby, interest, or a new creative endeavor. Share this with your support network.
Set Boundaries with E-mail and Social Media
Identify the most important communication channels and manage how frequently you sue them. Often-times less is more.
- Set a schedule for interacting with social media and email. For example, limiting screen-time before bed can decrease anxiety and increase sleep quality.
- Consider which emails should be reviewed immediately and which can wait
- Uninstall social media apps from some of your digital devices to decrease usage.
- Block social media for a few hours a day on your browser.
Set Boundaries for Media Consumption
Information 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 anxious or overwhelmed.
Manage Negative Thoughts and Feelings
Uncertainty can bring up thoughts and feelings related to change and not knowing. Take time to reflect on your mood and what is coming up for you.
- Identify and label your feelings. Use meditation, journaling, shifting environments, or doing something that lessen or sooth feelings.
- Identify negative thinking patterns and challenge or deflect them.
- Adopt mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Practicing meditation, deep breathing, and being present can help with worries and anxiety. Find free meditation and mindfulness resources at Calm.com, Headspace, and Ten Percent Happier.
- If you use alcohol, cannabis, or other substances, also use harm reduction techniques (link is external)
- Don’t underestimate your own resilience. People often overestimate how much negative events will impact their lives, and/or how well they can cope (source: 7 Science-Based Strategies to Cope with Coronavirus Anxiety).
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 (link is external).
- 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 period.
Connect with Mental Health Services At RU-Camden
Consider how you are going to take care of existing or emerging mental health needs. The RU-Camden Student Wellness Center provides counseling and psychological services (Psychological Services website). Check the Student Wellness Center webpage frequently for updates on how to connect with our services.
- People with existing mental health conditions may find that the pandemic increases symptoms. Reach out to established providers or the Student Wellness Center for support, medication refills, and update your treatment plan as needed.
- Look into online support groups. There are a numerous peer support groups for a range of topics (e.g., depression, co-dependence, substance use, eating). They can provide a place to share experiences, discuss coping skills, and get or give support. Make sure to investigate whether these are legitimate organizations or groups or consult with The Student Wellness Center for recommendations about online support groups.
- Add relevant 24/7 hotline numbers into your phone. These resources offer both phone and text options.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline (link is external): 1-800-273-8255
- SAMHSA Disaster Distress Hotline (link is external): 1-800-985-5990
- For life-threatening emergencies, call 911 and go directly to the nearest emergency room.