Caring for your mental health through COVID-19
The major impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our lives (individually and communally) can feel deeply disruptive to our emotional wellbeing. For people around the world, the everyday flow of life has changed drastically within the past several months.
It will take some extra intentionality to stay on track with your coursework AND your general wellbeing – body, mind, and spirit.
Here are some tips to consider as you continually adapt to the shifting realities of pandemic life while continuing to work toward the goals that you’ve set for your university years!
- Care for mind and body
- Be informed about the COVID-19 situation so that you can take helpful precautions while staying reality-based. Access the information you need from credible sources, and then shift your attention to other things. Obsessively reading about coronavirus is not likely to benefit your mental or physical health! For an up-to-date synopsis of accurate information, check out the CDC website.
- Practice physical self-care—eat regular and healthy meals, get 7–9 hours of sleep per night, and work in some movement or exercise each day. For access to yoga and fitness videos, check out the DownDog app series, available to the Calvin community for free during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Think about what typically supports your mental health, and find ways to do those things (with modifications as needed). Activities like journal writing, meditating, praying, dancing, listening to music, and looking at happy photos can go a long way in supporting our wellbeing during challenging times. Make sure to take time for activities that you enjoy. Several mental health apps and websites are available to provide ideas, reminders, and structure around these type of coping activities—check out Sanvello, Headspace, and Ten Percent Happier, all of which are offering premium features for free during the COVOD-19 crisis. You’ll find more options on the CCW Self-Help Resources page.
- Build in time to learn mental hygiene skills. Notice when your thoughts become redundantly negative or when you are avoiding your feelings – these are opportunities to pause and try something new in support of emotional wellbeing. Use your Calvin email address for free access to Therapist Assisted Online (TAO), where you can learn specific strategies for managing a variety of difficulties, such as anxiety, depression, interpersonal conflict, pain, or substance misuse.
- Nurture your soul by cultivating an awareness of God’s presence. Maybe you like to walk in nature, sing, pray, or participate in church services. Maybe you connect with God by reading Scripture or practicing mindfulness meditation. If you haven’t already signed up for audio readings of Scripture through the Dwell app (available to Calvin students for free this year through Campus Ministries), this could be a great time! Find faith communities that embrace mental health as well so that your mental and spiritual health can grow in unison.
- Avoid mindless numbing. Scrolling through social media feeds and engaging in unmonitored Netflix binges may provide some short-term pleasure, but these behaviors are likely to increase unpleasant emotions in the long run. Likewise, using alcohol, drugs, or tobacco will increase your risk of mental health problems. Take time to engage in activities that ground you and get you in touch with yourself so you can pay attention to your needs!
- Get support
- Be intentional about social connection and reach out, even when social distancing requires that to be virtual! As events and gatherings are canceled, replace those plans with other forms of communication with friends and family so that you can stay in touch with the people in your circle.
- Recognize the wide range of emotions that people might display toward the situation. Some will feel anxious, others calm. Some will experience social distancing as a gift dropped from heaven, others will feel like they are crawling out of their skin without their usual level of in-person social connection. All of that is okay. We can support each other well, even when having different experiences. And if social media is your jam when it comes to mutual expression and support, don’t forget to follow your favorite Calvin support offices on Instagram - Center for Counseling and Wellness (CCW), Campus Ministries, Career Center, and Intercultural Student Development Center all have accounts!
- If you’re struggling to make contact with people you know, log into the Calvin Unmasked app to chat with supportive peers on campus. You can also find helpful peer support and free student webinars through the national Active Minds organization.
—Online virtual groups (including general support, fun activities, and substance recovery) are available for free through Health West – times listed are EST.
- Reach out for professional support as needed. The Center for Counseling and Wellness is available to help Calvin students connect remotely through this time of uncertainty (contact us online), and the Employment Assistance Program through HR is available for faculty and staff at Calvin who would like extra support from Pine Rest. The Optum Help Line offers free, 24/7 professional support at 866-342-6892 – and in the state of Michigan, those with anxiety related to COVID-19 can also access phone support through the Spectrum Health COVID-19 hotline (dial 2).
- Don’t try to handle a mental health emergency on your own, whether it’s yours or a friend’s. There are numerous 24/7 crisis resources available in the United States, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Crisis Text Line, and the Steve Fund (for young people of color). In the Grand Rapids area, emergency mental health support is available through the Pine Rest Urgent Care/Contact Center. On campus, Campus Safety is available 24/7 to help connect you with needed emergency supports.
- Create new routines
- Have a set schedule for each day. You might include communication from profs, homework, playing, resting, eating, exercising…. Getting it all done at the last minute is not a reasonable strategy! Whether your learning is remote, in-person, synchronous, or asynchronous, act as if you have to show up at the same time for each of your classes.
- Dress as if you are going to class (or work), even when you are learning remotely. Do your classwork in the same space every day so that the space itself is associated with doing your homework. Consider studying with friends (via videoconference, if appropriate) for accountability and company.
- Limit your screen time as much as possible, even with the massive increase of online work brought by the pandemic. Your brain will absorb material better if you give it a break. Talk a walk, look out a window, make coffee, draw a picture, make a list with pen and paper, go for a jog. Usually you walk a few minutes between every class—think about adding that physical activity between each remote class as well.
- Ask for help as often as you need to understand your course material and stay on track. Your professors are eager to make learning work for you, even during the disruptions of a global pandemic, and your classmates will be happy to help. You can also find support from the Center for Student Success, which has put together a great list of time management and study resources for your reference.
- Be patient with faculty and staff, and be patient with yourself. Most of us are relatively new to virtual modes of education! We are all learning together and we’ll get through this together.
- Living with family again?
- Establish clear guidelines about day-to-day expectations. Communicate about things like food in the fridge (is everything an option?), where you are and when you’ll be home (hopefully practicing social distancing), cleaning up after yourself, laundry, etc…. Parents and students may fall back into pre-college rhythms unconsciously, so having clear expectations about these things helps everyone adapt.
- Spend some intentional time together. Play games, make meals, watch movies. Having a shared task makes conversation flow more easily.
- Spend some intentional time apart. Healthy relationships have the right balance of togetherness and space. Be in communication about how this is going so that people feel connected but not smothered.
- Figure out schedules. Who needs quiet when? Who will sleep in, be up early, or need online access? When will you eat together?
- Allow for change. Things have shifted and you’ve been growing, and it might take some time to adjust. Invite conversations about new developments in your lives without pressuring one another for conversation.
- Covid-19 and Your Mental Health
Many organizations and media outlets are sharing helpful articles, podcasts, and other online resources related to mental health and the global coronavirus pandemic. If you have a favorite that’s not listed here, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll consider adding it!
- Keep Your Distance to Stay Safe (American Psychological Association)
- Dear Therapists's Guide to Staying Sane During a Pandemic (The Atlantic)
- How to Protect Your Mental Heath (BBC)
- Navigating Your Mental Health During Quarantine podcast (Be Nice)
- Manage Anxiety and Stress (CDC)
- Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure (Chronicle of Higher Education)
- Enabling People and Organizations in Trying Times (Center for Positive Organizations)
- That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief (Harvard Business Review)
- What Therapists Tell Patients Who are Anxious About Coronavirus (HuffPost)
- Mental Health and COVID-19 (MHA)
- COVID-19 Information and Resources (NAMI)
- Coronavirus Anxiety: 4 Ways to Cope with Fear (PsychCentral)
- Free Guide to Living with Worry and Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty (Psychology Tools)
- Coping with Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks (SAMHSA)
- Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety (Shine)
- Coping with Stress During the 2019-nCov Outbreak (WHO)
Feeling disappointed? It’s okay to grieve what you are missing. Everyone on the planet is disappointed right now. Travel is curtailed, athletics are cancelled, events are postponed, in-person entertainment options are slim, university classrooms are uncertain. Maybe you had a list of “lasts” for your university years that are no longer taking place.
AND, what is God giving us? We don’t want to be so focused on what we lost that we miss what God is handing us. Spend time each day naming the things you’re grateful for, especially things you wouldn’t have without this unique disruption. We can grieve our losses while being curious about what gifts are arriving unexpectedly.
We’ll make it through, together!