Taking care of your mental health during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak
Daily exposure to news about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) may result in a range of responses, particularly for students who have been personally affected by the virus, whether individually or through their loved ones. Reactions can be emotional, somatic, and/or behavioral, and can impact mental and physical health. We have gathered several handouts and possible resources on this page, in hope that this will help you take care of your mental health during this outbreak.
This information is intended to support community members who have been individually affected or who have loved ones whose daily lives and well-being have been affected by COVID-19. Please know that we have been following the news as it evolves and we are here to support you.
Managing Fears and Concerns About COVID-19
Common acute stress reactions
- shock, things feeling surreal
- fear or anxiety about the future or death
- hopelessness or feeling lost about the future; feeling a lack of purpose in study or work
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- feeling emotionally detached, numb, or crying for what seems like no reason
- rumination, preoccupation with information about the outbreak
- difficulty getting to sleep, poor sleep quality, bad dreams, or problems staying awake during the day
- headache, stomachache, or pain without medical causes
- significantly decreased or increased appetite
- relying on alcohol or substances to cope with stress
- increased irritability, feeling angry
- shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, experiencing panic attack(s)
- feeling isolated or lonely, particularly due to social distancing practices
When facing stress, everyone’s reaction is different. You may have other experiences or symptoms aside from those noted above.
Reactions specific to this COVID-19 outbreak
- Worry about contamination, preoccupation with any signs/symptoms of illness, excessively taking your own temperature, and frequent urges to have yourself examined at health centers. The worries may impact your daily living, social relationships, or study.
- Experiencing symptoms such as itchy throat or nasal congestion and being concerned about having contracted coronavirus, even though no fever is present and there is little possibility of having contracted the virus in reality.
- Feeling alone or misunderstood.
- Feeling angry at or lacking trust in systems or others.
- Feeling lonely or isolated due to social distancing practices.
- Excessive attention to or obsession with related news, information, articles, or statements. The focus can result in compulsively reading about information about the outbreak, difficulty sleeping, and/or problems with concentrating on other topics.
- Quickly jumping to conclusions based on new information, resulting in panic in self or others.
- Grieving over loss, or feeling sad and/or a sense of unfairness around someone’s death.
- “Survivor guilt” due to having no symptoms and little-to-no likelihood of having contracted the virus. For example, you might feel ashamed, guilty, or that you have abandoned your loved ones because you are not directly involved, because you are currently healthy, because others around you have fallen ill, or because there are limited ways you can help.
- Excessive worry about loved ones who are currently affected by the virus. The worries significantly impact your daily life, social life, or study.
- Feeling angry, disappointed, or a lack of control because your loved ones do not follow suggested precautions or believe in false information.
If your loved ones have come into close contact with a diagnosed patient or have been diagnosed with coronavirus themselves, are in quarantine, or if they are medical providers, you might have different reactions in addition to those identified above. If you want to read more about different situations, please visit our counseling website for more information.
Please know that it is normal and valid (even protective, in some cases) to have the above mentioned thoughts and feelings. It is important to first acknowledge and accept the emergence of the emotions. But if the excessive worry or stress responses interfere with study and daily living, you may want to develop some new coping skills.
Though you might feel somewhat powerless or limited in what you can do from such a distance, there are ways you can offer support and take control of emotions. Below is a list of suggested activities that might help you during this difficult time.
- Seek support: If you’re on campus, call the Counseling Service Monday–Friday 8:30 am-4:30 pm for a same day phone appointment for anything you may need or if you are in distress. After hours and on weekends, you can call our 24/7 care line at 413-538-2037 to receive support. If you’re off-campus, call the Counseling Service for same day consultative phone appointments to assist with questions about medication, accessing services in their area of residence, course withdrawals/extensions, medical leave or other administrative questions. You can contact our office via phone (413-538-2037) or email (every effort will be made to respond within 1-2 business days).
- Maintain a healthy routine: Stress can disrupt our daily routine, in turn causing more stress. It is important to maintain your regular schedule for sleep, eating, studying, calling or video calling loved ones, and working etc. If this is difficult to achieve by yourself, reach out to a friend online or on the phone - you can encourage each other in self-care. View this relaxation video or this relaxation exercise for sleep.
- Exercise: Physical activity can boost your immune system, help you feel good about yourself, increase your energy levels, alleviate stress, and help with sleep.
- Meditate: Find some time every day to do a bit of meditation. It helps you feel grounded and present.
- Be informed: Uncertainty or misinformation can increase worry and cause panic. You can stay informed through official, fact-checked channels (e.g. Mount Holyoke Health Center website or World Health Organization website).
- Pay attention to some positive news: Despite this difficult time, there is often some positive information in daily news. Decide whether the degree of your worry is consistent with reliable information (e.g.: incidence rate, death rate, current advancement of medicine etc.)
- But limit the information: Sometimes, too much information leads to overload and more stress. So please try to limit your exposure (such as <1 hour/day), and make sure your information sources are reliable. Avoid reading information on the topic before going to bed - this can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Think positively: Recall how you and your loved ones survived past hardships and crises. Remind yourself that things are temporary and the current situation will pass. Please remember that no matter what happens in the future, you and your loved ones are striving to live day-by-day in the present. Change your perspective - consider the current time as an opportunity to show more care to yourself and your loved ones.
- Share your thoughts/feelings with others (in moderation): Talking about your thoughts and feelings can help alleviate stress. Others might share similar feelings and help you feel less alone.
- Check in with your loved ones (in moderation): If you are worried about your loved ones, please reach out to them when you feel comfortable and lend a listening ear. Loved ones are often concerned about us and we may think they are trying to protect us by not being fully truthful; try not to jump to conclusions about their health and well-being, and please understand that we cannot always control others’ behaviors or change their beliefs.
- Learn to say “no”: Although sharing can be helpful, sometimes it is also important to say “no” when you are not comfortable with sharing or engaging in conversations on the topic. Just make sure you set your boundaries respectfully or leave conversations in an appropriate way.
- Engage in conversations and activities unrelated to the outbreak and allow yourself to have some fun: There is still life outside of the current crisis. Reading news and engaging in activities unrelated to the current outbreak is okay - it doesn’t mean that you don’t care or aren’t concerned.
- Do some relaxation: Make sure to plan some relaxation or activities you enjoy into your daily schedule, such as deep breathing, spending time with friends, coloring, listening to music, taking a shower, taking a walk, etc.
- Let it out: Sometimes expressing your emotions can be helpful - try journaling or keeping a voice diary, or let yourself be upset for a while.
Potential for Bias and Discrimination
During this time you may experience bias, discrimination, or misunderstandings about people who live in China and/or people of Chinese descent. If any of the following happens, please consider the options available:
- If you read false information or insulting/condescending articles from the media and you are feeling angry, helpless, or wronged due to your Chinese culture and/or people of Chinese descent being slandered:
- Please know that your reactions are valid and potentially helpful. If your current state allows, you can provide feedback and advocate through appropriate channels, such as writing emails to the media, reporting the article etc. You can also share your thoughts with people you trust in order to advocate together or to seek support.
- If you experience discrimination against yourself or someone else due to your racial, national, or provincial identity:
- Make a record of the incident by writing or keeping a voice memo of the details. Consider reporting the incident or seeking support from professionals. If the incident happened on campus, you can contact the Dean of Students Office and fill out a Bias Incident Report; you can also contact the Ombudsperson or the Counseling Service to seek support. You can share your experience with people you trust or on appropriate platforms; it might validate your feelings and thoughts.
- If a friend, adviser, or someone you know says something insensitive or discriminatory:
- It is valid to feel angry, confused, sad, and disappointed, especially when someone you know is the source of bias. After you take care of your own emotional health, you could consider reporting the incident and/or having a conversation with the person about the experience. If you would like to do that, writing down what you want to say before calling or engaging in a video chat might be helpful.
- It is also okay to not respond.
- If you do not have the time, energy, or mental resources to take further action, it is okay – you have endured a lot already. It is common to not want to think about the incident or to take action. If you have made a record of the incident, you can keep it out of sight and continue with your daily activities. If and when you want to return to the subject and have the energy to do so, you can retrieve the record and seek appropriate actions. You can also choose to keep some distance from the media, making a record of troubling articles or reports, then blocking them so that you do not have to see them again. If and when you have enough energy to return to the subject, you can confront it then.
Resources and Helpful Tips
- Counseling Service (also a 24/7 hotline): 413-538-2037
- College Health Services: 413-538-2242
- Dean of Students/Division of Student Life Office: 413-538-2550
- Ombudsperson: 413-538-2413
- Residential Life: 413-538-2088
- Office of Academic Deans: 413-538-3610
- Alcohol and Drug Awareness Program: 413-538-2616
- Center for Disease Control
- World Health Organization
If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact Counseling Services at 413-538-2037.
Mental Health During COVID 19
Tips on making it through
The transition to remote learning can be an adjustment. Here are some tips for taking care of yourself and managing stress when your daily routine is disrupted.
Creating a schedule helps to maintain a daily routine and engage in healthy coping skills. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time. Eat at regular times. Do your schoolwork at the same time every da. Set up a daily check-in with your best friend. Create an evening routine. Structure helps.
It can be tempting to watch Netflix all day, but that can lead to low mood and boredom. Find what's meaningful to you and try to spend some time on your values. Exploring your spiritual practices, giving back to your community, or supporting your family and friends are some examples.
Nourish Your Body
Move as you are able to. Choose activities that are right for you, your body, and the space/tools you have access to during this time. Eat nutritious foods when you can, prioritize sleep, and be mindful of drugs and alcohol consumption.
Feeling lonely can be one of the hardest parts of remote learning. Connect to people however you can. Remember, everyone else is going through something similar. Check in on your friends. Watch a movie or play a game together remotely. Let people know how you're doing.
It's normal to feel anxious. Meditation, deep breathing and relaxation can be helpful. Remind yourself that this is temporary. Check the facts when you are catastrophizing. Take needed breaks from social media and the news. Try out apps like headspace and calm.com.
During high stress times, we can forget to take care of our basic needs. Getting regular sleep, bathing, eating well and staying hydrated help us to manage difficult emotions and give us energy to adapt.
Creating tasks and checking off these tasks as they are completed can provide a sense of accomplishment towards the larger goal. This is a great time to clean your room, read that great American novel or try out a new recipe. Crafting, making and creating give each day purpose. Give yourself one goal each day.
Need more help? Call Us
Mount Holyoke College Counseling Service
Or visit our website: www.mtholyoke.edu/counseling
Relaxation/meditation exercises that you might find helpful during this time.
- Body Scan: a meditation that helps you be more present and aware of your body
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: a guided relaxation that asks you to tense up certain muscles and then let go, which creates a relaxing sensation. There's no right or wrong way doing it. This can be helpful to do before going to bed or when feeling stressed.
- Breathing exercise: to help you slow down and feel calmer.
Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely or boring. Here are some activities to help you to remain mentally and physically active while practicing social distancing:
- Get outside and go for a walk. Be present while walking and look for signs of Spring. Take note of what you see - does it change day to day? Are flowers in bloom? When you get home, look up their names and learn more about them.
- Learn a new skill. Try baking, knitting, gardening, learning another language, bird-watching, etc. You may find this is useful even after the outbreak passes.
- Exercise (in moderation). Get the heart pumping and the endorphins flowing. Exercise can make us feel more energetic, more focused, stronger (physically and mentally), and it can improve our mood.
- Meditate or practice yoga. Be mindful of your body and your environment. There is no better time to invite peace and calmness into your life than this moment.
- Reach out and stay connected. Write a letter to a loved one. Call a friend. Plan for regular video chats with someone you know. Join or start an online group based around one of your interests.
- Connect to your faith. Research and listen to online-streamed religious, spiritual, and faith-based services. Be reminded of your sense of hope and your beliefs.
- Engage your mind. Listen to a Ted Talk and other online talks covering topics you have been wanting to learn more about.
- Take a nap. Indulge in the beauty of a “power nap” and go to sleep for 20-30 minutes. Allow yourself to rest when you are worn out. However, try to limit the amount of time sleeping to 30 minutes or less to decrease the chance for interrupting your nighttime sleeping routine.
- Read a book. Allow yourself to engage in non-academic reading. Read a fantasy or humor book and let yourself escape into another world for a while.
- Visit a museum. Plenty of museums, zoos and aquariums have opened their webpages up to online tours and virtual visits. Take advantage of this free entertainment. Use your favorite search engine to find a tour or a virtual visit.
- Watch a movie or tv show. Now is a good time to catch up on that tv show, blockbuster or indy film you have been wanting to watch.
- Listen to music. Download new songs to add to your playlist and then have a private dance party. Sing along to the music. Let yourself experience the music fully - mind, body, and spirit.
- Stretch your mental muscles. Do a jigsaw puzzle, a crossword puzzle, play an online board game, or engage in some other mentally stimulating activity.
- Take an online class. Research some free online courses such as: 10 University Art Classes You Can Take For Free.
This, of course, is not an exhaustive list. There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself and to remain connected to yourself and to others during this time. Try out a couple of these suggestions or try them all. It is up to you to choose what works best for you.