Mental Health Wellness Tips for Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Sarah Woodruff

I recently came across a post “Mental Health Wellness Tips for Quarantine” by Dr. Eileen Feliciano, a Psychologist in New York. She has put together an extensive list of tips to help us all cope with the isolation and fear that we all may be feeling regarding the pandemic. She says, “I can’t control a lot of what is going on right now, but I can contribute this.” That is true for all of us, we cannot control a lot of what is going on in the world right now, but we all have things that we can contribute and accomplish, no matter how small. I’ve adapted her tips for MTU students, check them out below: 

1. Stick to a routine

Go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time, write a schedule that is varied and includes time for classes, homework as well as self-care.

2. Dress for the social life you want, not the social life you have

Get showered and dressed in comfortable clothes, wash your face, brush your teeth. Take the time to do a bath or a facial.  Put on some bright colors.  It is amazing how our dress can impact our mood.

3. Get out at least once a day, for at least 30 minutes

If you are concerned of contact, try first thing in the morning, or later in the evening, and try less travelled streets and avenues.  If you are high risk or living with those who are high risk, open the windows and blast the fan.  It is amazing how much fresh air can do for spirits.

4. Find some time to move, again daily for at least 30 minutes

If you do not feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes, and if all else fails, turn on the music and have a dance party!

5. Reach out to others, you guessed it, at least once daily for 30 minutes

Try to do FaceTime, Skype, phone calls, texting—connect with other people to seek and provide support.  

6. Stay hydrated and eat well

This one may seem obvious, but stress and eating often do not mix well, and we find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, and avoiding food.  Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!

7. Develop a self-care toolkit

This can look different for everyone.  A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component (seven senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure).  An idea for each: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, a hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil, a small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket.  A journal, an inspirational book, or a mandala coloring book is wonderful, bubbles to blow or blowing watercolor on paper through a straw are visually appealing as well as work on controlled breath.  Mint gum, Listerine strips, ginger ale, frozen Starburst, ice packs, and cold are also good for anxiety regulation. 

8. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth

A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone.  Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best.  It is important to move with grace through blowups, to not show up to every argument you are invited to, and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements.  Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.

9. Everyone find their own retreat space

Space is at a premium.  It is important that people think through their own separate space for work and for relaxation.  Identify a place where you can go to retreat when stressed.  You can make this place cozy by using blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, or beanbags.  It is good to know that even when we are on top of each other, we have our own special place to go to be alone.

10. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance

We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress.  This does not make a formula for excellence.  Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self-acceptance”: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback.  You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation. 

11. Limit social media and COVID conversations

One can find tons of information on COVID-19 to consume, and it changes minute to minute. The information is often sensationalized, negatively skewed, and alarmist.  Find a few trusted sources that you can check in with consistently, limit it to a few times a day, and set a time limit for yourself on how much you consume (again 30 minutes tops, 2-3 times daily).  

12. Notice the good in the world, the helpers

There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic.  There are also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways.  It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information. 

13. Help others

Find ways, big and small, to give back to others.  Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others—helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control. 

14. Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it

In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, control your little corner of the world.  Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture.  It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.

15. Find a long-term project to dive into

Now is the time to learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15 hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Harry Potter series, binge watch an 8-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing.  Find something that will keep you busy, distracted, and engaged to take breaks from what is going on in the outside world.

16. Engage in repetitive movements and left-right movements

Research has shown that repetitive movement (knitting, coloring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping etc) especially left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping) can be effective at self-soothing and maintaining self-regulation in moments of distress.

17. Find an expressive art and go for it

Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and it is a direct portal for release of feeling.  Find something that is creative (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing) and give it your all.  See how relieved you can feel.  It is a very effective way of helping kids to emote and communicate as well!

18. Find lightness and humor in each day

There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason.  Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie—we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.

19. Reach out for help – your team is there for you

If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, they are available to you, even at a distance.  Keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can.  If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help for the first time.  There are mental health people on the ready to help you through this crisis.  There is help and support out there, any time of the day—although we are physically distant, we can always connect virtually.

20. “Chunk” your quarantine, take it moment by moment

We have no road map for this.  We don’t know what this will look like in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month from now.  Often, when I work with patients who have anxiety around overwhelming issues, I suggest that they engage in a strategy called “chunking”—focusing on whatever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable.  Whether that be 5 minutes, a day, or a week at a time—find what feels doable for you, and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry.  Take each chunk one at a time, and move through stress in pieces.

21. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary

It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end.  It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us.  Please take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult, and will go on for an undetermined amount of time, it is a season of life and it will pass.  We will return to feeling free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead.

22. Find the lesson

This whole crisis can seem sad, senseless, and at times, avoidable.  When psychologists work with trauma, a key feature to helping someone work through said trauma is to help them find their agency, the potential positive outcomes they can affect, the meaning and construction that can come out of destruction.  What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis?  What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?

Article credit: Eileen Feliciano, NYS Psychologist. Original article can be found here:

Stress Less

By: Eric Arundel

Hello everyone! I hope you’re doing well and trying to find the joy in your daily life of physical isolation. I am intentionally calling it physical isolation instead of social isolation because I believe we still need to try our best to be social and connected with those around us. This is why I wanted to try and connect with our campus even when we aren’t seeing each other face to face daily.

Typically I share this talk on stress and coping once a semester during Husky Hour. It’s intended to be a starting place for how stress works and how to manage it. Normally this talk is pretty interactive because I think it’s beneficial to have people talk to each other and share what works for them. In the place of that I’ve tried to leave spots for you to pause the video and really think about the answer to the question I’m posing. Ultimately change only happens when we are intentional.

With that said, here’s the link to the video:

I hope it helps you deal with the stressors of your day!

Mental Health Check-in

Like it or not, we’re starting to settle into our new routines. Gone are the hypotheticals of what ‘quarantine’ / working from home will be like – we’re living that reality now. My new reality = a tow rope for our backyard ski/snowboard hill and 2 newly constructed ‘MTB manual machines’ in my living room (because, why wouldn’t you practice learning how to manual during the COVID crisis?). No, my idea of ‘stocking up’ did not include buying the necessary supplies for a tow rope, and I certainly don’t prefer to decorate my living room with mountain bikes, but yes, it certainly does keep things exciting around here. Needless to say, I am not even remotely in control of my environment anymore. I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling this way. But, that doesn’t make me helpless.

It’s time to focus on self-care. For me, that means a new download on Audible and daily stroller walks with the baby. Working in mental health, and really just higher ed in general, we talk about self-care a lot. Adults are generally just kinda okay at it, but teens and emerging adults might really struggle. Good self-care requires a great understanding of self, the ability to reflect and analyze emotional responses, and some planning. 

Have you checked in on your students yet? Our students may really be struggling with their new confines.  Rough home life, younger siblings, spotty internet, cramped spaces, shared bedrooms, etc. can all be major obstacles to overcome. 

  1. Empower your students. Stuck ≠ helpless. Encourage them to make positive changes in their lives. 
  2. Remember to humanize yourself. Share some of your changes, sprinkle in some humor, love, and wisdom from the hurdles you’re overcoming with your new routines. 
  3. Share resources – did you know that Wellness is posting daily tips on Instagram, FB, and Twitter? Do you have favorite podcasts, books, or shows that help you maintain sanity? 
  4. Start a self-care forum or challenge with your class. Have everyone share ideas on what they’ve done for self care. 
  5. Spend a minute or two on daily gratitude. Give students a minute to breathe, and reflect on what they’re thankful for or what gave them a moment of happiness. Take time to do this during a Zoom lecture, or via a discussion board on Canvas. 

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing from others on campus with more tips about the work-life balance and ideas on ways to support your students’ mental health. Stay tuned!

10 Tips for Faculty on Helping with Students’ Mental Health & Well-being

Captain’s Log, Stardate 3192020, it’s been 48 days hours of working at home. My visions of baking bread, getting all the laundry done and crushing online work have been abandoned. An alien race composed of toddlers, teenagers, and a baby have taken over. As I’m writing this, my 3-year-old interrupts “DO YOU TRUST ME?” I glance up and nod, not knowing what I’m agreeing to, as he continues to ride his Strider bike faster and faster through the kitchen, living room and dining room; the baby continues to splash the water out of the dog bowl. It’s only a matter of time before something breaks. 

I plaster a smile on and muscle through my assignment… sharing tips on how to ensure student wellbeing during this time. We must forge on. 

I’m dealing with a little more than normal. I bet you are too. It’s daunting to switch from in-person to online teaching even when you have plenty of time for planning, an IT support person sitting next to you teaching you how to use Zoom and other online tools, and weeks or months to plan out how to translate your material into an online format. Doing this in just a few days is nothing short of amazing. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to check in on your self-care and make sure others are doing okay too. It’s a huge responsibility to play such an important role in your students’ lives right now – they need you to set the precedent for ensuring self-care, mental health, and establishing a routine for success at home. 

As much as I’d like a home office with no distractions, I won’t have that luxury for the next few weeks, and I know many of our students are also stuck at home with younger siblings, well-meaning but sometimes annoying parents, faulty internet connections and a lack of experience in establishing a routine in an unstructured environment. 

(Captain’s log update: the 3-year old and spouse are now having a living room dance party “Alexa, volume 8, play Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” … at least I’m smiling and humming now.)

In all seriousness, we’d like to offer you some tips on how to connect with your students, check in on their wellbeing, and help set them up for a successful finish to their semester. 

  1. Be real. Humanize yourself. We may be a STEM school, but we’re not robots. Show them you’re a real person experiencing a vast range of emotions about adjusting to this new lifestyle. A minute or two sharing your work-from-home experience, perhaps with a little humor sprinkled in, can go a long way. 
  2. Check in. Recent NIA-supported research has shown that long-term social isolation and loneliness have an impact on cognitive abilities and other health issues. Send individual emails opening a line of conversation, and conduct extra office hours via Zoom.
  3. Encourage students to spend time reflecting on their needs for a few minutes each day. Offer extra credit or praise for students who post or share a to-do list or schedule. Share examples of how your own routine has changed since the shift to online. 
  4. Use hopeful and optimistic language. Instead of commiserating over how much it sucks to revamp your class mid-semester, frame the change in words like “we have the opportunity to learn together/try online learning/undergo new challenges.” Use forward-thinking language like, “In the fall, when we’re back on campus…” or “In your job/internship/co-op, these adaptive skills will be valuable.”
  5. Create ways for students to connect with each other. Remember, they may have left behind their roommates, friends, study spaces, church groups and student orgs. That’s a lot to give up all at once. Encourage students in your class to connect using Slack or WhatsApp. It can be nerve-wracking to ask someone for their phone number, help students make the jump by leading the way for these kinds of connections.  
  6. Don’t forget that students learn in many different ways. Ask for regular student feedback on how well they’re learning and what resources they need. Don’t forget, we have a vast range of learners, from those who have excelled at online learning in the past, to students with a learning disability who might struggle reading a webpage that’s not user-friendly. Check in with the CTL to get ideas on how to make your content accessible to students of all learning abilities. #UniversalDesign
  7. Tell students mental health is key. Connect students with resources to help support them. Counseling Services is now offering telecounseling for in-state students, and case management (help finding a new provider) for out-of-state students. Wellness is offering daily tips and suggestions on how to maintain a balanced life through the rest of this semester (@mtu_wellness). Report a Concern to the Dean of Students Office if you notice students struggling academically or emotionally. 
  8. Don’t ignore why we’re all in this boat. Take a few moments to acknowledge the mental health landscape we’re in; there’s a lot of fear and anxiety about COVID-19. Remind your students to check to connect to reliable resources.
  9. Continue to challenge and support your students. Let’s face it, even the most motivated students are likely to struggle with online learning. Keep lessons simple, refer back to lessons that you shared together in class earlier this semester. 
  10. Most importantly, ASK THEM what they need. Now’s the time to open those lines of communication. Students are often afraid to ask, or don’t even realize that they should ask for help in times of need. After years of establishing independence as a teenager, they need help with the transition to adulthood and building a support network. When you can, offer choices to your students: flexible deadlines, multiple options for demonstrating mastery of material (test, slideshow, video, etc.). 

As much as this has become a wrinkle in our plans for this semester, inevitably, we’ll remember how we persevered through a difficult time, systems will become more efficient and new technologies and ways of life will be invented. Let’s be the people who pull together and support each other, remembering our core values of #tenacity and #community, during this unprecedented time. 

Instructor Check-List

_ Email students to connect “I’m here for you”

_ Set up ways for students to connect with each other using Canvas, WhatsApp, Slack or other

_ Ask students what they need for success (do this now and again in 2 weeks)

_ Share resources for help (Counseling Services, Wellness social media, Learning Centers, Dean of Students)

_ Be human. Share stories about your transition to online. 

_ Use positive language (avoid lamenting about the current situation) 

_ Point out student/class successes – i.e. all assignments turned in on time, successful first Zoom lecture, etc.

_ Give students flexibility and choice when you’re able – due dates, type of assignment, etc.

_ Acknowledge increased stress and anxiety (and redirect students to helpful resources)

_ Assume students won’t always have access to reliable internet for streaming video, provide text options and   slide notes whenever possible