Coping with Social Distancing

Coping with Social Distancing

By: Dr. Kaitlin Gallo, Chief Clinical Officer

College and graduate students across the country are facing an unprecedented situation now that the coronavirus has forced the closing of many dormitories and transformed the classroom experience by moving to online learning. If you are one of these students, you know all too well that things are changing rapidly.

The onslaught of information from the news, social media, health officials, your school’s faculty and staff, friends, and family can elicit strong emotions, all of which are completely valid and understandable. You might be experiencing anxiety, fear, stress, confusion, frustration, anger, disappointment, sadness—and even perhaps some more desirable emotions, like relief (like about postponed deadlines) or happiness (about having unexpected time away from responsibilities).

Many of you will be spending more time away from your friends and loved ones, or more time completely alone, given the closing of your campus and advice for “social distancing” to slow down the spread of the virus. Even without this social distancing, the majority of college students already report feeling very lonely. While some loneliness, worry, or frustration may be inevitable, there are things you can do to stay mentally healthy and connected. (All of the below tips are assuming that you and the people with whom you’re living remain healthy!)

  1. Routines: Decide on a routine and stick with it–go to sleep and wake up on a regular schedule, and get dressed and ready for the day. Make a plan for what you want and need to do each day, prioritizing self-care (healthy eating, exercise, sleep, limiting substance use).
  2. Don’t get cooped up: If you live in a place where you can leave your room, do it. Spend time in other rooms in the home, go outside each day if you can, and open your shades and windows if possible to let in natural light and fresh air.
  3. Stay connected: Be proactive and creative about maintaining connections with school friends and loved ones whom you can’t see in person. Reach out to and respond to people every day. Hear their voices and see their faces; don’t only rely on texts and DMs. Group FaceTimes/hangouts or even old-fashioned phone calls will help you to feel and stay connected. If you do have a reliable internet connection, you can even plan something more creative, like a “group” dinner “party” (everyone supplies their own food and location) or a game night (a game like charades can be just as fun to play virtually!).
  4. Change the subject: Talk about things other than the coronavirus. You can request this of others, too, by saying something like: “I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed by thinking and talking about this all the time. Can we talk about [a different topic] for a little while?”
  5. Give and get help: Ask for help when you need it. Whether you need emotional or logistical support (such as with food or housing), your social network, school, or community hopefully has people or organizations who can help. Social media or listservs like NextDoor can be useful resources. On the flip side, reaching out to see how you can help friends or loved ones, or just to see if they need someone to talk to, is a way to help your own mental health and feelings of loneliness.
  6. Log off: Speaking of email and social media, take at least a couple extended breaks (at least an hour) every day. While they can help you stay connected to the outside world, almost everything is about one topic right now, and you need a break from thinking about it.
  7. Time commitments: If you’re going to have more free time than usual, think about setting a goal (perhaps with a friend, and check in to keep each other accountable)—something you’ve been meaning to get to—cleaning a closet, mastering a new yoga pose, sleeping 8 hours a night. If you’re going to have less time than usual (maybe you have to care for loved ones, or help around the house, or work more than usual) try to take even just a few minutes every day for self-care, whether it’s a breathing exercise, watching some funny YouTube videos, or listening to some of your favorite songs.
  8. Get professional support: If you’re distressed, reach out for help from a professional. Many schools’ counseling centers or other offices on campus have remained open to help students. Ask someone on campus or call your insurance to see what remote services are available to you. You’re not alone, and you deserve to feel better.

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