With COVID-19 affecting every aspect of life, there is (and should be) a renewed focus on mental health. The CDC acknowledges that living in a pandemic adds new stress to a person’s life, which can affect existing mental and physical health conditions as well as create new problems. And while a lot of people in the working world are struggling, students and new graduates are also facing a whole host of trials between their jobs, education, and big life transitions.
The struggles students face
Asia Wong, Director of Counseling and Health Services at Loyola University New Orleans, notes some of the ways the virus has manifested stress. “For people directly impacted (those who’ve gotten sick or have family members who’ve been ill), it’s been a very difficult time,” Wong says. But “there’s a big disconnect between an individual’s personal experience of the virus and the cultural zeitgeist around ‘keeping busy at home,’ she adds. “For individuals not directly impacted [by coronavirus], loneliness, boredom, anxiety, and depression are all significant concerns.”
For students, this stress has also manifested itself as fear and uncertainty as schools—colleges and high schools alike—have finally begun to announce plans for the fall 2020 semester. Even with the stress of classes going online this past spring, Wong says those classes provided structure to students’ lives. Now, students are scrambling to find that structure again. For many high school and college students, the summer has consisted of social media, Zoom, and FaceTime in an attempt to replicate the in-person interactions they had before. The fall semester will likely fall into much of the same virtual socialization, leading to another common fear: what will a student’s way of life outside of the classroom look like?
Loyola University New Orleans and many other schools have announced plans to conduct hybrid instruction, with some classes being completely online and others taught partially in person following social distancing guidelines. But as news about the pandemic continues to develop, these concerns and major decisions are still up in the air for many schools and individuals.
Ways to care for your mental health
With all these new stressors, mental health has remained a constant topic during quarantine, and it needs to be something students continue to prioritize. Here are some ways to manage your mental health as social distancing continues.
Find a creative outlet
One way to process fear and anxiety is to find a way to release them. Whether that be through painting, baking, or writing, everyone should find an activity that takes their mind off their worries or provides a way to express them. With restrictions on normal pastimes that involve large groups of people, it’s the perfect opportunity to pick up a new hobby like painting or having a pen pal.
Take time to breath
As Wong said, there’s been a focus on using the pandemic to stay busy and be productive. That might leave students wanting to (or feeling the pressure to) find a job or take a summer class, but it’s important for you to have time to process your emotions or talk with friends and family about them. Even something as simple as going for a walk can give students an opportunity to breathe and get a little change of environment.
Related: COVID-19: How to Cope With Anxiety
Have a conversation
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and concern, you should talk to a friend or family member. Verbalizing your thoughts could be all you need to get them out of your head and validate your emotions. Plus, it’s likely that whoever you decide to talk to is facing similar stress, and you can work through your feelings together. Having that first conversation will open the door for both of you, making it easier to talk through your feelings in the future.
Go to therapy
If therapy is an affordable option, now is as good a time as any to consider going. Wong recommends BetterHelp.com as a virtual therapy option, and many private practices are scheduling video or phone calls with new clients. Therapy can provide an unbiased perspective on an individual’s emotions and worries, especially when something feels overwhelming. If you decide to participate in online therapy, Wong encourages using headphones and finding a quiet place where there aren’t any distractions, like siblings or pets, for your focus and privacy.
Contact the Crisis Text Line
If you’re in need of immediate help, Wong recommends using the Crisis Text Line, which offers free 24-hour virtual support. It’s a secure platform designed to help people in a crisis reach a calmer state of mind. They have trained volunteers on standby to respond to crisis texts at all hours. Their website also has some resources and information specifically on coping with COVID-19 and isolation as well as other mental health topics. Students can reach out by texting HOME to 741741.
Amid all the chaos of the world right now, it’s important for everyone to prioritize their health in all forms. Everyone needs to be washing their hands, wearing face masks, and practicing appropriate social distancing—but you need to focus on maintaining your mental health too. Stay safe!
For more information on the coronavirus and how it’s affecting college, check out our COVID-19 student resources page.