Over the last few weeks, we college students have faced a lot of upheaval due to COVID-19. Not surprisingly, this has had an impact on our mental health. According to Dr. Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist and author of The Stress-Proof Brain, there are a number of emotions people are likely to feel during the COVID-19 crisis, including fear, anxiety, and worry. While these emotions are all related to each other, there are also some important differences. Fear arises from a concern over the immediate danger. Anxiety is characterized by a general sense of unease, and often features symptoms in the body, including a racing heart and fast breathing. Worry, on the other hand, is more in the mind and is reflected through "what if" questions. Students are also likely to feel a sense of sadness or loss, having left their friends and second home behind.
Ashley Kuk, a second year at Grand Rapids Community College, has gone through all of these feelings, which has had a huge impact on her mental health. "My anxiety and depression have been very high due to worrying about my friends and family members, the uncertainty of everything going on, and what could come next. It's all been a lot mentally!" she says.
Here are a few actions you can take and resources available that can help you stay mentally and emotionally healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Things you can do yourself
Limit your intake of news and focus on the facts.
The constant barrage of news reports about COVID-19 is enough to cause anyone to feel anxious, especially with all the rumors and misinformation spreading around on social media. Instead of letting your mental health deteriorate, try restricting the amount of news you watch, read, or listen to and make an effort to focus on facts — facts help minimize fears. Kuk achieved this by downloading CNN and her local news app, and setting both to receive notifications for any breaking news regarding COVID-19. Besides these alerts, she avoids the news. "It's been really helpful in making sure I don't spiral into obsessiveness and despair over the situation," Kuk says.
You can also gather your information from the WHO website and local health authority platforms, which can help you distinguish facts from rumors.
Even if you're under a shelter-at-home order, there are still plenty of ways to get your endorphins up through exercise. There are tons of free fitness tutorials online that you can follow, from barre to indoor running. One option Dr. Greenberg recommends is the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene, with features meditation exercises aimed at easing anxiety as well as classic yoga tutorials.
Watch how you're using your time.
One last bit of advice Dr. Greenberg has is to take stock of how you're spending you're time. It can be easy to get bogged down with social media or binge-watching The Good Place all over again, but spending so much time on the same thing won't help your mental health. Instead, nurture yourself and try to be more present in the moment, something Dr. Greenberg says can be as simple as putting on some hand cream or lighting a candle. You could also do some meditation, read a book, or start a new art project—whatever works best for you.
Websites, blogs, and other online spaces
There are many different resources online that can help you center yourself and negotiate your emotions. Here are a few websites Dr. Greenberg recommends:
- Act Mindfully. Created by Dr. Russ Harris, an internationally-acclaimed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy trainer, this blog features resources for anxiety and depression, as well as a free eBook specifically on using ACT to respond effectively to COVID-19.
- Greater Good Magazine. Hosted by The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, this magazine features numerous articles that can help you support your emotional well-being.
- Psychology Today. This magazine has articles on every possible topic regarding mental health you could imagine, including on how to cope with COVID-19.
You could also visit Virusanxiety.com, which was created specifically to deal with COVID-19 anxiety and features everything from meditations to ways to cope with the rise in xenophobia.
In recent years, mental health apps have grown in popularity, with hundreds now listed on the Apple Store or Google Play. According to Jordan Brown, a mental health advocate and social worker, "the key is to find something that is the right fit for you." That may mean trying out a few different options. To help you get started, here are some recommendations:
- Headspace. This app provides meditations, sleep, and movement exercises to help you find some space and kindness for yourself and those around you.
- Sanvello. This meditation app features daily mood tracking, coping tools, and an online community, and is offering free access to their premium plan during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Wysa. This app features a chatbot as well as specific toolkits for "pandemic anxiety" and "isolation wellness."
- Youper. Featuring a mental health chatbot, this free app uses artificial intelligence to monitor and improve your emotional health.
While the resources above can be of great help, they do not take the place of a licensed therapist. Luckily, there have been numerous changes in regulations to make it easier for people to access mental health care online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced it would waive penalties for potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations during the pandemic, lowering the barriers to teletherapy. In addition, the Drug Enforcement Administration temporarily lifted the requirement that health care providers conduct an intitial exam in person before being allowed to e-prescribe a controlled substance.
Insurance companies are also getting in on the action, from easing co-pays to waiving early refill limits on prescription medications, and many states are applying for Medicaid waivers that would increase flexibility and payment for telehealth. Check with your provider to see what provisions may help you get access to the medical care you need.
If you are in a crisis or if you simply prefer to speak to a real person, free helplines are a great resource. Many are staffed 24/7, 365 days a year, so you can receive assistance from trained staff whenever you need it. Here are some nationally recognized helplines that can assist you in getting the help you need:
- Crisis Text Line. Text 741741 to be connected with a a trained Crisis Counselor. Available 24/7.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255 to receive free and confidential support and prevention and crisis resources. Available 24/7.
- National Domestic Violence Helpline. Call 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522 for support. Available 24/7.
- SAMHSA National Helpline. Call 1-800-662-4357 for confidential support for individuals facing substance abuse disorders. Available 24/7.
- National Eating Disorders Association Helpline. Call 1-800-931-2237 for support, resources and treatment options for yourself or a loved one. Check the website for hours.
- LGBT National Hotline. Call 1-888-843-4564 to discuss any issues or concerns related to being LGBTQ+. Check the website for hours.
No matter how you may be feeling, understand that all of your emotions are valid. "Take the time you need to care for yourself. Anxiety can weaken your immune system," Brown explains. "Rest. Gather your strength. There's nothing weak about doing that."
In addition to checking on your own mental health, make an effort to keep an eye on the people around you. If someone seems very withdrawn and is isolating themselves more than necessary, or you see signs of substance abuse, make an effort to check in with them and ask how they are doing. Staying connected to the people around you is critical during this time of crisis. Just showing people that you love them and that you're thinking of them can make a huge difference, Dr. Greenberg emphasized.
While dealing with all the changes COVID-19 has brought is stressful, know that it will not last forever. Hopefully these resources can help you get through the tough times until life gets back to normal.