Students: Staying well during COVID-19

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are experiencing increased amounts of stress and anxiety. Being concerned and empathetic about this outbreak is normal.

However, you may experience feelings of discomfort, impacting concentration, productivity, and even disrupting sleep patterns. This is because of the large disruption to our usual ways of living as well as the rapid change and fears associated with the virus and its global impact. It is normal to feel this way in the face of a threat as this is our body and mind’s natural response to fear, particularly when what is occurring is causing uncertainty and impacting multiple aspects of our lives.

While it is good and necessary to be informed of important information in order to take action surrounding our health, the amount of time and attention we spend focusing on the topic combined with the changes to our daily habits and living circumstances can increase the amount of stress and anxiousness we may be feeling. Read further in the sections below to help identify your current coping techniques and new ones you can learn in order to help manage your wellbeing during these times and find your internal resilience.

What might your stress response look like?

This content is a courtesy of uWindsor's Wellbeing Portal.

The body and mind’s natural response to a crisis such as COVID-19 is often to experience fear and anxiety. It is important and helpful to accept that some anxiety is normal as these emotions can also help to motivate us to take action in order to protect ourselves and others. The feelings you are having may be new to you and can become an overwhelming experience, or perhaps you have felt them before and they have recently returned or increased. Identifying your own response can assist in choosing coping techniques and resources to help reduce these feelings and also help to manage your mental health. Common things you may be feeling and experiencing during this time are:

Physical symptoms of stress may include:
  • Muscle tension
  • Elevated heart rates
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Nervousness or shaking

Emotional or psychological symptoms of stress may include:
  • Anxiety or constant worrying
  • Easily agitated or frustrated
  • Sadness or depression
  • Anger or irritability
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Racing thoughts 
  • Hypersensitivity

Behavioural symptoms of stress may include:
  • Inadequate sleep or restlessness
  • Distraction or the inability to focus
  • Poor judgement
  • Neglect of responsibilities or procrastination
Top tips for coping & wellbeing

Consider what has helped you to manage life's stressors or feelings of anxiety in the past, as many of those strategies can be relied on now. These coping techniques can include keeping up routines, healthy activities and seeking support by connecting (at a distance). It is easy to forget about, or even stop doing the usual things that can support ourselves when there is a large disruption to life, and at times we may even turn to activities that can make our feelings worse, such as the overuse of alcohol or stopping communication with others entirely. 

Below are tips to try for coping and maintaining our wellbeing around COVID-19:
Take a break and unplug from checking updates

Set times to check for updates once or twice a day from creditable sources. Consistently staying tuned in to updates and reading misinformation can increase our stress and fear. When speaking with others, try to discuss other topics rather than focusing on COVID-19 information. Perhaps try limiting checking updates on social media as well to allow time to unplug.

Creditable Information Sources:

Practice relaxation techniques to help with stress

Try anything that you find soothing to do. Formal relaxation activities such as meditation and mindfulness exercises help to reduce our feelings of stress and assist in reducing racing thoughts. A simple breathing exercise can go a long way, as deep breaths help to signal the body’s response to relax. Therapy Assistance Online has a library of mindfulness videos and modules to help manage your mood and thoughts.

Manage uncertainty and sense of control

By dealing with problems in a structured way we can reduce our feelings of uncertainly and lack of control. Focus on the things you can control such as your space, routine, and your plan of how you can reduce the spread of the virus via your own actions. Make a list of what is within your control and try to let go of those things that are not. Ensure your living space is setup to feel comfortable and meets the new needs you have with the changes to your lifestyle, this will help to put your mind at ease.

Maintain purpose in the face of change

We all feel better with purpose. Focus on the things you’re still working towards such as finishing up the semester or completing a work project. Gain a sense of accomplishment by completing a small or large task like clearing out the junk drawer or tackling a larger to-do you’ve been meaning to get to. Allow the current changes to be the catalyst to achieving something that feels good to you.

Eat, sleep, stay active and keep a routine

Maintaining a routine is vital for feeling well along with eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep, and staying active. Attending to each of these basic needs will not only help your mind but will also help to keep your body healthy. Maintain a sense of balance by following your old routine or establishing a new one. Set alarms or notifications to remind you to do certain things throughout the day. Get creative with your cooking by trying new dishes or preparing a favourite meal. Try to keep normal sleep patterns and explore different approaches if you are having difficulties sleeping (see for example this informative article on sleep difficulties). Experiment with ways to fit in daily movement and exercise with what you have available at home.

Be kind to yourself and others

It’s okay not to feel okay. Accepting this is a difficult time as well as being kind to ourselves and how we are reacting is important for maintaining positivity. It is easy to feel negative about ourselves, the situation or how others are reacting. Everyone’s responses will be different, and the way we respond is how we are individually coping. Try not to be judgemental of the way you or others cope. It’s a hard time, but we’re all in this together.

Establish self-care practices

Use the time you have to take up practices of self-care, whether you have some already or you have been meaning to implement them. Now is a great time to discover what taking care of you truly looks like. Focusing on the present moment, journaling, making positive affirmations, learning to love yourself and getting comfortable with who you are - it’s whatever prioritizing yourself means to you.

Isolation and being innovative

Isolation can take its toll when we feel trapped or bored. Finding ways to become innovative in your efforts to keep busy and allowing the space to feel new or different is important in order to help cope. Try rearranging the furniture or adjusting lighting, adding a scent with a candle or diffuser, taking a journey by reading a novel, watching an adventure film or taking a virtual tour of a museum online. Perhaps develop a new hobby or get wickedly good at an old one. If you are not sick or in self-quarantine go for a walk in the fresh air (maintaining 2 metres distance from others). Try to get inventive, and perhaps even imagine you took a trip to a lovely cabin.

Socializing while social distancing

Social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t be social. It’s important to stay connected as human beings we need social interaction to stay well. Right now we are lucky enough to live in a time where technology can bring us together even when we are physically apart. Create online get-togethers via group video calls. Try the Netflix Party Chrome extension to watch movies in sync with friends while reading or listening to their live commentary. Workout with a buddy by texting to check in to keep each other motivated and accountable. Play online games with family and friends.

Find support

Reaching out to talk to others to share your experiences can help a great deal in times like these as talking through shared experiences can help validate our emotions. Remember to pay attention to how you are feeling during and after your conversations to see what effect these discussions have on you. Sometimes a different perspective can help. If you are looking for someone to talk to remember you always have resources available (in many languages), whether you are a student or an employee. If you’re ever feeling hopeless or overwhelmed you can also call the 24/7 Crisis Services Canada line at 1-833-456-4566 or contact the 24/7 Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 686868 from anywhere in Canada.

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