WELLNESS AND COMMUNITY
How do I stay motivated to do my coursework/research/thesis?
- If you are having trouble staying motivated, you are not alone. Just because you are “working from home” does not mean you have extra time to accomplish more than usual. In fact, many people are probably functioning less now. Take care of your stress (see below), and try and use your schoolwork as a distraction from the constant news briefs. Working in small doses will help (just 20 min at a time) and setting up Zoom or Facetime calls with classmates will allow you to stay focused together, and get some real social interaction at the same time.
My research is stalled. I’m concerned about not making progress.
- Students (and faculty) across the nation are all facing similar challenges. You’ve likely worked very hard to create or contribute to a research project and having to pause this work is undoubtedly challenging. Work with your PIs, research advisor, program coordinator and grant officers to create a plan. Professional organizations in your field are also a resource that may prove useful.
What kind of positive distraction should I consider?
- Exercise is key. It changes the way our brains processes information, and it keep us from getting depressed. Psychologists use exercise as a form of “behavioral activation” to ameliorate depressive symptoms. Take a walk, bike ride or run, just don’t touch anything, and stay six feet away from any passersby.
- If you prefer to exercise indoors, YouTube has dozens of channels with workout videos that require little to no equipment. This could be a good opportunity to set and work towards a new fitness goal, like running a 5K or doing 50 pushups in a row.
- Of course reading and TV are fun, too. But much more important will be actual social interaction (not social media) by Facetiming friends and having virtual parties online with folks talking, smiling, sharing good stories, and increasing positive mood. Don’t spend all of your conversations talking just about stress.
- Start a new project. Bake something. Make a craft. Do Sudoku or try a crossword. A new skill will occupy your mind and give you a sense of accomplishment during a time of uncertainty and ambiguity.
- Explore from your couch. Many world-renowned museums are offering virtual tours of their exhibits for free.
- As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” Read uplifting stories about individuals rallying together to support their communities. Consider small ways you can help others from a distance. Acts of kindness can improve mood, increase sense of efficacy, and of course, help others.
How can I feel more connected while away from everyone?
- Social media is not the answer. There’s too much stress communicated online now, and the opportunity for truly positive interactions is too remote. We need social interactions that raise our mood and energy, and that probably means you need eye contact, to hear someone’s voice and to talk about a range of topics. You may use text as a default, but this is the time to talk on the phone (or Facetime) instead.
- Lots of people are in (virtual) meetings all day, but you may not be. So it’s harder for you. Compensate by connecting with people in study groups or a virtual lab meetings.
- Schedule virtual social events. Try the Netflix Party extension to watch a movie or show with friends or family. Schedule a time for everyone to video chat together and talk about things you would have discussed before the pandemic.
I’m stressed, how can I handle it?
- Feeling stressed is normal. How to handle it depends on how much it is interfering with your daily life.
- If you are feeling anxious, confused, tense, uncertain, worried about the future, and unable to focus as much as usual, this is normal.
- There are two quick exercises you can do to manage stress. They may seem similar, but they work in different ways. For each one, you have to do it for a few days in a row for it to take full effect, because like any other skill, it requires practice. One is called progressive muscle relaxation; there are many sites that have free downloads to guide you through it. A second approach uses mindfulness techniques. The Veteran’s Administration designed a free app that includes progressive relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation activities called “Virtual Hope Box”.
- Try to get enough sleep and eat well. If you have preexisting challenges with sleeping, brief meditations can help.
- In addition to feeling stressed, many students are feeling sad or are experiencing a sense of loss. This is also normal. You may be grieving the loss of senior year as you expected it, a change in study abroad programming, sports team or other club. A family event may be canceled or postponed. Give yourself permission to experience sadness or grief. It’s okay. Honor your feelings, be kind to yourself, and then mix in some distraction activities during your day; it’s possible to be sad and still laugh (see above). Many are experiencing grief in the time of COVID-19, and there are ways to deal with it.
- t can be hard to feel a loss of control over our lives. Noticing our feelings, focusing on what is in our control, and adding things to our day that are meaningful on a personal level can help us feel better overall. Russ Harris’ F.A.C.E. COVID video offers great tips for approaching the challenges of this time.
- Another excellent video about coping with both short-term and long-term distress during COVID-19 is by Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NYC. “This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”
- If your anxiety, loneliness, or depression is making it hard for you to eat, sleep, enjoy anything, or even get out of bed, this is more concerning, but can be addressed. Mental health professionals now can conduct tele-health therapy during the CV-19 crisis, so you can get great treatment over the phone. Call CAPS to get info, or you can look for other therapists locally.
- If you are seriously considering hurting yourself or ending your life, call 911 immediately to get help. If you prefer, you can call the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255), or the textline for help as well (Text HOME to 741741).
I’m worried about my health or the health of my relatives.
- There is a lot of information being shared across all media platforms about COVID-19. Rely on trusted sources when looking up answers to questions you have about this virus. Social media can sometimes steer us in the wrong direction when it comes to getting accurate information. Instead of reposted links from questionable sources, focus on websites such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
- Staying informed is important, but sometimes too much news media can be overwhelming. If you’re finding yourself becoming increasingly anxious, scared, or sad, try reading the headlines once or twice a day only. It’s very likely that this will provide you with enough information to continue to make healthy choices and might free up some time in your day to connect with others.
- If you have a medical condition that increases your concern about COVID-19, be sure to stay in touch with your healthcare provider team, asking any questions you have. They care about your health and want to support you through this time. Focus on what is in your control and continue to make healthy choices.
- Many of us are worried about our older relatives or relatives with other medical conditions. This is another situation where a lack of control can feel overwhelming and scary. Remember that we worry about others because we care about them. Channel that care into connection; Facetime, talk about happy memories, or if you live together, do small things around the house that make their day a little brighter or easier.
I’m a parent. How can I talk to my children about COVID-19?
- Share information with your children about what is going on while reminding them that you are doing everything recommended to keep them safe. Remaining calm will help your children feel calm and secure. Consider the age and developmental stage of your child. There are many good articles that provide guidance about discussing COVID-19 with children.
- Encourage opportunities for your children to Facetime with relatives, friends, and even teachers (if possible) to maintain continued connection.
- You are not a teacher (or at least most of you are not) and no one expects you to become one overnight. Work with your child’s school to learn about expectations for online work or activities that may be completed at home. Allow this to be a time of enrichment activities, and if your children are having a hard day, let them take a break. As graduate students, you keenly understand the stress of coursework in this uncertain time, and allow your children to similarly take breaks as needed.
- A schedule can help children stay on track, particularly when it comes to wake and sleep times. Consistent expectations are helpful for children, and it’s probably a good idea to maintain the typical behavioral plans (rules and reinforcements) you’ve always used in your home. Of course, you may need to be flexible as new information and new recommendations emerge over time.
- Take some time for yourself, whether it be taking a longer shower than usual or reading something for pleasure and not for school after your children go to bed.