From one student to another: Protect your mental health in the midst of COVID-19

 

I know you see articles about COVID-19 everywhere you look, and you know to distance yourself from others, clean surfaces and wash your hands for optimal physical health. Let’s take a moment to think about your mental health, though. 

This is a time of prolonged high stress, and our bodies do not do well in long, heightened states of anxiety. It can affect our immune system and decision-making skills. Here are some tips from Wichita State’s Counseling and Prevention Services on how to manage your stress levels during these unprecedented times. 

First, know that fear and anxiety are normal and valid responses. It is perfectly fine to have these feelings. 

One of the most important steps you can take is to continue engaging with friends and family who you feel comfortable with. We are social creatures, and our mental health can plummet when we are isolated. Practicing social distancing does not have to mean complete isolation, though. We live in a time with almost unlimited ways to communicate from a distance. Take time each day to interact with the people you love, whether that is talking on the phone, video chatting or playing a game together on Twitch. 

Limiting the time you spend thinking and reading about COVID-19 is also imperative. Constantly seeing updates about the virus worsening will only add to your anxiety. Instead of trying to keep up with every announcement, choose a trusted national or international source and a trusted local source to get your news from. Or get WSU-specific information at wichita.edu/covid19news. Check them once a day or every other day. If you see people talking about it on social media, consider blocking posts that have specific words like “COVID-19” and “Coronavirus.”

One particularly difficult aspect of the anxiety manifested by this virus is that we feel we have little control. The threat is invisible and unpredictable, and we can’t control other people’s adherence to social distancing. To give yourself a sense of control, find something you can control. I find that cleaning, eating plenty of fruit and veggies and doing lots of sudoku puzzles helps me. Do what you need to do to feel empowered. 

A disruption like this can often affect daily schedules. I know that when I don’t have to leave my house for school or work, all I want to do is cuddle with my dog and watch Netflix. After a couple days of this, however, my mood drops because I am not getting adequate mental stimulation or doing anything productive. Work on developing a schedule (that does not include watching TV for 12 hours straight) for yourself each day and stick to it. 

Your schedule should include dedicated time to allow your mind and body to unwind. Take a relaxing bath, stretch mindfully after working out or go to bed 10 minutes early so you can focus on releasing the tension from the muscles in your head, neck and shoulders. It is also helpful to check in with yourself throughout the day to make sure you are breathing deeply and your muscles are relaxed. 

Don’t feel like you are required to sit in your house all day, either. Going for a walk outside and getting fresh air can help clear your mind and calm you down. According to health officials, taking a short walk, away from other people, will not put you at risk. 

In addition, make sure you pay attention to your basic needs. Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, practice good hygiene and do some physical activity. It’s important that you don’t overlook these needs. They will help protect both your physical and mental health.

Even though anxiety is normal and is designed to help our body, panic is not. Panic has created shortages of supplies at stores and caused unnecessary chaos. Please remember to breathe, take care of yourself, stay positive and get your news from official sources. 

Finally, if you are worried about your classes, know that the faculty and staff at Wichita State are working hard to look out for students. Talk to your teachers about how you can succeed in their class online. Figure out how you can stay motivated to get your work done. And to those of you in your last semester – this might not be the college finale you expected. It certainly isn’t for me. But we will get through it, and no one will be able to doubt our ability to overcome challenges.

 


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