This summer, as the fall semester of my freshman year at the University of Arizona, loomed, I had to make the difficult decision whether to stay home or head to campus and live the traditional freshman experience I imagined. Based on a wide variety of factors, I chose to stay home and attend school remotely for my first semester of college. While I think that was the best decision for me personally, it also comes with its own challenges.
The school year is in full effect, and I’m becoming more and more aware of the unique mental health challenges that COVID-19 has created in my life and for students across the country. When the pandemic first started, I knew I needed to avoid social isolation to help my mental health. My friends and I snapped into a routine of constant virtual check-ins, movie watch parties, playing games, and even starting a book club (although the success of the book club is yet to be determined).
But as the school year continues and I’m studying remotely from home, feelings of isolation and anxiety are once again creeping in as I hear about move-in, see pictures of decorated dorm rooms, and everyone becoming preoccupied with their school-year responsibilities. Being in Zoom classes also makes it so much harder for me to meet new people – one of the most exciting parts of college! But, as much as I desperately miss in-person interaction, I also recognize that physical separation is best for my health.
I’m sure many are experiencing the same emotions as I have, especially as the world continues to see an uptick in student concerns regarding mental health through quarantine. A recent Active Minds survey found that 89% of college students are experiencing stress or anxiety as a result of COVID-19. Students, just like me, need mental health resources now more than ever to help them cope during this time.
Below are five things I have tried (or plan to try) that you can attempt to help upkeep your mental health this semester. See which ones speak to you and give them a shot!
Explore Teletherapy Options
Sometimes, it can be nice to have consistency in your life, and attending regular teletherapy is a great way to introduce a routine while having an impartial person with which you can discuss your mental health. Most schools are offering teletherapy to students through their counseling and health services center. Find out what services your school offers and decide what will work best for you! I have yet to make use of these services, but I plan to this semester. Remember, therapy can be a powerful and proactive measure. You do not need to wait to be in a bad place to seek help.
Find Safe Ways to Socialize
Social media can help us stay connected, but I quickly learned that it is not a substitute for personal interaction. Maybe get on a video call and play games with a friend. In my friend group, our favorite is Jackbox Games, a collection of fun “Kahoot-style” games that can easily be played over any video call! Whatever you do, ensure that all involved parties are comfortable with your arrangement and be okay with setting boundaries for your safety! Throughout this time, I’ve also found that exploring the outdoors while keeping a safe distance and donning masks has been crucial for maintaining my mental health!
Find something that helps you take your mind off the stress of school and other current events. That could be reading a good book, listening to your favorite music, spending time with your family, caring for your houseplants, taking care of your body, or my personal favorite – cooking and enjoying a favorite meal. There is something for everyone!
Change Up the View
Try working in different places. You could go outside or move locations in your space. I personally love going outside when I can. Sometimes, the fresh air and sunlight are just what I need to boost my mood, even if it is sweltering! Find a place you can do your school work that won’t interfere with your personal downtime.
Discover Your Mission
Find an activity or passion to work on outside of school. This can help you build self-confidence, feel productive, and provide a social outlet. Active Minds has been a great way for me to do that during quarantine, but explore your interest to find what speaks to you!
Whatever you try, know that no matter what, you are not alone. Students around the world are facing similar challenges and we WILL come out of this stronger. Learn to recognize the signs of someone who may be struggling with their mental health. If you or someone you know is in crisis, text BRAVE to 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.