Managing Stress in this ‘New World’
Trinity psychologist offers advice to students on maintaining mental health
Thursday, April 23, 2020
Four post-it notes on a brick wall read "We are in this together"

Dearest Trinity students, it feels like just yesterday that we were all on campus together. You were stressed about midterms and excited for spring break. The weather was warming and flowers were blooming. Things changed so suddenly, and now that the dust has settled you are no doubt adjusting to a new normal and thinking, “What just happened?”

It’s ok to take some time to process what happened… and what is happening. It’s ok to hold space for the shock, fear, and grief that goes along with living through this pandemic. But getting stuck in that space can come with lasting consequences. As weird as it is, life must go on. 

By now you are experienced Zoomers, getting the hang of distance learning. But perhaps stress management in an ever-evolving situation is harder to master. Thus, I’ll share some tips for managing stress and maintaining your mental health in this new world.   

Create a daily routine

It’s quite tempting to sleep in and wear sweatpants all day. Why even shower? Who will care? The short answer is: Your mind will care. Our brains thrive in structured and predictable environments. It’s important to give yourself some flexibility (which, by the way, was also the case before COVID-19), but doing things like waking up at the same time every day, taking a shower, getting dressed in actual clothes, and scheduling time for things like exercise, schoolwork, and virtual socializing can help you feel a sense of control.

Speaking of control...

Many things feel out of your control right now. It was not your choice to leave school, to engage in distance learning, to socially distance. You may also be worried about your health and the health of your loved ones. It may feel like there is little you can do about any of this. In many ways, that is true, and accepting that can be powerful in and of itself. But it’s also important to practice control over the things you can change. You can control your own space, your appearance, how you spend your time, and how you react to all that is happening around you. Remind yourself of that control often. 

Minimize exposure to the media

One way to stay more in-control of anxiety is to avoid too much pandemic-related media (and social media). This can be difficult because, well, it’s a pandemic—it feels like we are living in a movie, and how can you turn away? But too much absorption of the most harrowing details about COVID-19 and its effects can leave you with a skewed sense of fear and (un)safety. While it’s important to keep informed of the situation, finding a balance of how often and how deeply you dive into this information will be most important for your ongoing mental health.  

Stay connected

I’m sure you’ve all heard this a lot these days. It’s important to take the time to reach out to your friends in whatever not-in-person way feels comfortable to you. But staying connected isn’t just about initiating a conversation, it’s about the quality of that conversation. You may be tempted to talk about what is happening and leave it at that, but it’s important to also talk about how you feel. Many times we assume our feelings about a situation are implied, but actually talking through those feelings will help you feel closer to your friends and may help shed some of the heaviness that this pandemic has placed on us all. 

Acknowledge the silver linings

What are some of the ways that this terrible situation has led to positive things? You may use your car less. You may have more time to work on a project. You may notice people helping each other more. These observations don’t negate all the bad stuff, but taking time out of each day to have gratitude for the things that are going well may help you to feel better.

If you get stuck

You are not going to be able to stick to a schedule every day. Some days are sweatpants days. Some days we read too much news and we feel overwhelmed and helpless and we spend our day a little lost. That’s ok. Let yourself have those days, and trust that the next day is another chance. But if you find that the next day isn’t different, nor is the next, nor the next, you might need some help getting unstuck. You may choose to reach out to your family or friends, but if even that doesn’t feel possible, please know that you have options available to you. Visit the Counseling Services COVID-19 website for more information about how to access Trinity’s mental health services from home.   

Lori Kinkler, Ph.D.
Psychologist
Trinity University Counseling Services

This article is part of a series aimed to help students, faculty, and staff manage distance learning, working, and living during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information and resources for Counseling Services, visit gotu.us/covid19.

Lori Kinkler, Ph.D., is a psychologist for Trinity University Counseling Services.

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