How to Live with Roommates…and COVID-19

Living with roommates in college has benefits of social connection and shared costs. But everyone you encounter – roommates included – will have a varying risk tolerance for behaviors related to COVID-19. Some may have a condition that puts them at serious risk of illness or be close to someone who does. When out and about, you can help protect you and your community by wearing your mask, waiting at a distance, and washing your hands often.

When home with roommates, things get a bit more complicated. There are ways to stay healthy and share your living space. Remember these suggested guidelines help everyone exist more safely around one another.

Before you move in

Have a conversation with your roommates. Discuss house rules.

  • Who is allowed in the residence?
  • What will social distancing look like outside of the home for each roommate (indoor/outdoor, with masks/without masks, distanced/close, strangers/people you’ve spoken with about risk)? How will you transport yourselves around campus and town? What do household members have as unavoidable risks such as workspaces and classrooms?
  • How frequently will you clean and disinfect your space?
  • What will your house guidelines be? See below for example guidelines to get you started.

Suggested house guidelines

  • Limit visitors and guests inside your residence.
  • Wash your hands often. Consider agreeing to wash your hands each time you enter your residence, after blowing your nose/coughing/sneezing, after using the restroom, before eating or preparing food, after cleaning.
  • Don’t host or attend parties or large gatherings. (Remember – it won’t be like this forever!)
  • Clean and disinfect regularly, especially those often touched surfaces and objects such as tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, faucet and cabinet handles, devices, remote controls.

Setting up your space

KITCHEN

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before eating and after cleaning.
  • Use separate serving dishes – so instead of sticking everyone’s hands into a bag of chips, pour a portion into a bowl.
  • Use a dishwasher if possible to sanitize dishes.

COMMON AREAS

Arrange furniture to facilitate social distancing. Create reminders about bringing a mask when you or your roommates leave home.

SHARED BEDROOMS

Move beds in shared bedrooms so heads of sleepers are as far from each other as possible. Avoid bunk beds if possible.

SHARED BATHROOMS

Bring a caddy for your personal items so these items don’t touch the bathroom countertop. Bring your tote back to your personal space rather than leaving it in a shared bathroom.

Bring your own towels and make sure each person has separate hand/face towels.

LAUNDRY

Do your own laundry. If you (generously) help a roommate with their laundry, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Remember, masks should be washed after each use and can be washed with your regular laundry. Use the warmest setting appropriate for the fabric in your load and regular detergent. Dry masks in a dryer on the highest heat or air dry in the sunshine.

SHARED SPACES

Some complexes include shared spaces such as laundry facilities, stairwells, elevators, pools, workout spaces, game rooms, etc. Maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and everyone that you do not live with. In areas that are small – like stairwells and elevators – consider going one at a time.

OUTDOOR SPACES

These are the best spots for hanging out with friends at a distance. Invest in a lawn chair. Wear a hat or bring a shade umbrella.

When Conflict Arises

Home should feel like a safe space, but there may still be times when a roommate’s behavior make you feel at risk.

Remember to start with agreements about behavior before problems arise. When conflict happens, the first step is still a conversation. Stay calm and..

  • Express specific observations about a situation or concern, not your judgments or evaluations. Ex. “I saw that you were hanging out with friends without masks and were closer than 6 feet from each other. We agreed that we wouldn’t do that during the pandemic.”
  • Disclosing your feelings about the situation or concern, i.e., genuine statements about your emotions and sensations, not your beliefs about what you think others have done to you. Ex. “I felt scared and exposed when I saw you.”
  • Identifying what you need or value. Ex. “I really value shared agreements about behavior – especially during a pandemic.”
  • Requesting specific actions that would start to meet your needs or support your values, not demanding character changes or making ultimatums. Ex. “Would you be willing to revisit our agreements together and update them as needed?”

If your conversation does not go well, you can consult with your RA (if living in a residence hall) or other supportive students or adults for guidance and support.

Ultimately you cannot control others’ behavior. If your roommate is not behaving in a way that you deem safe, take steps to help yourself by limiting contact as much as possible, avoiding shared spaces, wearing a mask and asking your roommate to wear a mask in shared spaces.

When someone in your home gets sick

Students should contact Campus Health if they experience symptoms of COVID-19 that cannot be attributed to other causes such as allergies. Campus Health can be reached through the healthyheels.unc.edu Patient Portal or by calling 919-966-2281.

People with symptoms should…

  • Stay home. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Only leave home to get necessary medical care. Before going to Campus Health or any medical facility, please call the facility first for instructions.
  • Separate themselves from others in the residence by staying alone in their specified bedroom, even to eat.
  • Use a separate bathroom.
  • Not prepare or serve food to others.
  • Not handle pets or other animals.
  • Not allow visitors.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others.

Clean and disinfect your residence. Monitor everyone for symptoms. Once a roommate has a confirmed positive test result, all members of the household should quarantine as close contacts.

If your roommate is told to quarantine

If your roommate was a close contact of a person known to have COVID-19 or if they have recently traveled internationally, they may be asked to quarantine. That does not mean that everyone in the residence must also, but it does mean those sharing living spaces with the person in quarantine should stay at least 6 feet apart, wear a mask and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

If it is not possible for the person who is sick or under quarantine to safely stay away from others in your residence, Campus Health or the Dean of Students can help.

UNC support for those in Quarantine and Isolation

Being cut off from the world is hard, let alone with the rigor of Quarantine and Isolation protocols and the stress/fear of sickness. We can help if this happens to you, your roommate, or a friend outside your home. Campus Health is available to assist with UNC student health care needs by calling 919-966-2281. Students asked to quarantine or isolate for COVID-19 should connect with Campus Health if they are on or off campus. Campus Health will regularly communicate with students and can help coordinate testing, contact tracing, and on-campus services coordination (food, housing, classes) as needed. For emergency health needs – call 911.

Being an attentive student while ill with COVID-19, or when someone you live with is ill with COVID-19, is virtually impossible. We understand! Please take the time you need to care for yourself and your housemates. Contact instructors sharing that you are experiencing a personal COVID-related matter and may need accomodation with current assignment or rescheduling an exam.

If you or your roommate still needs support after contacting your instructors and Campus Health, please email covidcareforstudents@unc.edu to let us know.  Use “Personal COVID Matter” in the subject line and include full name and PID, as well as any relevant course details. We will partner with students to resolve situations and can connect students with an advisor in their respective college or school, assist with housing concerns, and support students in the ways they need.

How to help a friend who is under quarantine or isolation orders

If you know or are living with someone struggling with COVID-related illness or quarantine, you can show kindness to them by:

  • Calling, texting or video chatting with them to let them know you are there to support them. Seeing or hearing from a friend can show them kindness while still practicing physical distancing.
  • Drop off food or drinks at their door. Ask if they need any items the next time you go to the store. Offer to run to the pharmacy for them. Drop off or digitally send items you know they enjoy (magazines, comic books, craft supplies, music, etc).
  • Offer to do their yard work, take out their trash, or bring in their mail.
  • Offer to help with their pets.
  • Keep them informed with reliable news.
  • Ask about finances to see if they need support.
  • Help them create or maintain daily routine.
  • Get creative and come up with ideas among mutual friends. Consider sending snail mail, playing online games together, watch a Netflix series together, or listen to the same audiobooks.
  • Take care of yourself and your own mental health too.

While it is inevitable that many people will experience negative impacts of coronavirus, there are steps you can take to support a loved one who has been impacted. In its most basic sense, listen with compassion, be present, and take cues about what you can do to best offer your support and care.

Biking Safely around UNC

Gaby Behailu, a Healthy Heels communication intern, shows off Tar Heel Bikes in SASB Plaza.
Gaby Behailu, a Healthy Heels communication intern, shows off Tar Heel Bikes in SASB Plaza.

Bike riding is a fun and healthy way to travel during the pandemic. With capacity restrictions on busses and more students using off-campus housing, bike riding will help you move around the community. Safer bike commuting is possible!

Practice.

If you haven’t biked in a while, start in your driveway, on a greenway or a calm side street. Practice skills – signaling (riding one handed), checking over your shoulder, stopping quickly and standing up to pedal.

Check your bike.

Clean the chain, put air in the tires, make sure the breaks are working properly – or take it for a tune up at a local bike shop. Find a more experienced bike rider and join them on a trip around town. Let them lead the way so you can focus on comfort.

Plan ahead.

Seek local maps of bike lanes or paths. Plan a route with as much time in bike lanes or traffic calmed roads.

Stay aware.

Stay aware of other cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles around you. Yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, shoulder check before turning, and mind the turn signals of cars in front of you as you approach intersections. Remember, vehicles have blind spots.

Use alerts.

When you pass on the left, use a bell or “passing on the left” to alert other cyclists and pedestrians that you are about to pass them. Bike in a predictable manner and use signals to let folks know what you’re going to do. A bent left elbow, fingers raised skywards, means turning right, while pointing your arm straight out to the left indicates a lefthand turn. Pointing your fingers down with a bent left elbow signals that you plan to stop.

Follow the rules of the road.

Bike in the direction of traffic and obey traffic lights. Avoid biking on sidewalks unless you are moving at the speed of pedestrians (as in biking up a big hill or biking very slowly).

Make yourself visible.

Use bike lights and reflectors. Consider wearing bright colors.

Wear a helmet.

The riding conditions of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham mean you will often be near traffic as you come to and from campus and other errands. Protect your brain!

Use your resources.

Local organizations can help make your biking easier.

A message from UNC CAPS

Counseling and Psychological Services (“CAPS”) at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill condemns the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other deaths that have occurred in this unjust and inequitable system, and the forces of racism and white supremacy continuing to rise in this country. We see the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black people, the racialized violence against their communities, and the increasingly militarized response to peaceful protest. We join our colleagues in UNC Diversity & Inclusion in expressing our grief, sorrow and compassion to all those who have and continue to be impacted by the race-based tragedies occurring across our nation.

These tragedies reflect a longstanding and entrenched history of structural and systemic injustice that we reject and dedicate ourselves to addressing. While these tragedies can be traumatizing for all of us, we recognize that they may be especially injurious to members of our Black community. As mental health providers, we acknowledge the very real harm racism causes to the emotional and physical health of black people. We see the higher rates of trauma, depression, anxiety and suicide caused by racism. As clinicians in a college counseling center, we witness the additional burdens carried by black students and the many barriers they must overcome.

Experiencing or witnessing trauma often results in a range of feelings and emotions, such as shock, fear, sadness, anger, helplessness or guilt. CAPS is committed to affirming and providing care for all of our students who have been directly or vicariously impacted by trauma caused by racism, bigotry, prejudice and indifference.

We know now that it is not enough to make statements of support. It is becoming clear that there is no true mental health when there is inequity and hatred.

For the sake of our survival as culture and as a species, each of us needs to find a way to cooperate for a sustainable future. For those of us in the majority, each of us need to muster the courage to imagine ourselves as Black people in this country. We need to ask ourselves how we would react and feel if we were continually under threat from the local community, state, and country that we call home. How we would it feel if we have, throughout the history of our nation, been told through words and deeds that we are less than, inferior, and hated by the place that we are supposed to call home? How we would feel to continually have to explain ourselves in a nation that says it values freedom but has codified and legalized slavery and oppression of Black people for most of its history, and that continues to ask us to explain why we are hurt, why we are furious, why we are terrified? How would it feel?

CAPS is dedicated to building a clinical staff that reflects the needs of underrepresented individuals in our community. We are making progress in this area but recognize that it is not enough and dedicate ourselves to creating an inclusive place to feel safe. CAPS recognizes the additional financial burden for students during this pandemic, and therefore waives the CAPS summer access charge for those who are specifically accessing CAPS due to racial and/or COVID-related stresses. We are here to support our UNC students and campus community and to work to make our country and world more compassionate, thoughtful, and inclusive. We encourage you to contact our office if you (or someone you know) would like support with coping and healing.

CAPS support is available 24/7. Call 919-966-3658 to connect with us.

With love and solidarity.

Media Literacy & Wellbeing

How have you been feeling? Pretty overwhelmed and inundated with information, images, news, and thoughts lately, huh? That is natural given the rare nature of our living context right now—a worldwide pandemic! COVID-19 has us tethered to our devices and screens due to social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and basically avoiding physical contact with others which is resulting in us consuming more media than ever.

If there is a screen…we are on it! This is necessary to find information about the things we value and are important to us, like our families, friends, faith, community, politics, and pleasure. But what does this increase in media consumption and screen time mean for our mental health and wellbeing?  In order to prevent harm and protect wellbeing, we encourage you to become an expert in media literacy!

What is media literacy and why is it important?

The Media Literacy Project says media literacy “is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media… [and] takes into account history, culture, privilege, and power.”

Media can be anything that conveys or communicates messages, ideas, or data—including the television, radio, printed materials, social media, even your family and friends.  This means people with media literacy skills learn to:

  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Understand how media messages shape our culture and society
  • Recognize what the media maker wants us to believe or do
  • Name the techniques of persuasion used
  • Recognize bias, spin, misinformation, and lies
  • Discover the parts of the story that are not being told
  • Evaluate media messages based on our own experiences, skills, beliefs, and values
  • Create and distribute our own media messages
  • Advocate for a changed media systems

Overall, these skills are important to help protect your mental wellbeing from unsolicited messages that may be harmful to you and harmful to others.  This does not mean you can no longer enjoy the consumption of media for entertainment (who doesn’t love a little ‘bad TV’ here and there?). It simply means you are less likely to incur and potentially perpetuate negative impacts of media, thus appreciating it more.

How do I do media literacy?

Not so fast—this is not a one-step process! Media Literacy is an on-going process that takes time to achieve because media is ever-changing and we are, too.  Every day (since we have been born), our brain has been learning hundreds of different messages, which will take time to unlearn.  To be media literate is to have an ongoing informed inquiry and critical thinking skills.  Center for Media Literacy work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, called the Empowerment Spiral model, which outlines how to break complex topics or concepts into four short-term learning steps that stimulate different aspects of the brain and enhance our ability to evolve new knowledge from experience. These steps are:

  • Awareness: What observations and personal connections for potential insight can be taken from the media? This includes any “ah-ha” moments that could prompt more questions or ways of thinking and exploration; it can include qualitative and quantitative information or the need to find out more.
  • Analysis: Thinking about “how” an issue came to be, which goes deeper than just trying to identify some exact meaning/definition, like in an ad, song or an episode of a sitcom. Try avoiding “why” and ask more “what/how” questions to increase the critical process of inquiry, exploration and discovery.
  • Reflection: This step looks deeper to ask “So what does this mean for me or others?”  Depending on who you are, this is where biases and lived experiences come up. Things like philosophical or religious traditions, ethical values, social justice, or political implications may come up here. This is where values for individual and collective decision-making become apparent.
  • Action: This step is the opportunity to formulate constructive action ideas, usually ones that result in some kind of change. This change can include behaviors, attitudes, motivation, point-of-view, etc.  In this context, action can be anything as a result of thinking through this process, including not doing anything at all.

“The power of media literacy lies in figuring out how the construction of any media product influences and contributes to the meaning we make of it.” –medialit.org

Generally speaking, the model helps the brain deconstruct any form of media, helping to decipher what is bringing on feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, or stress. Commonsensemedia.org offers more questions to ask yourself to increase your media literacy skills:

  • What am I actually looking at/hearing?
  • How is it making me feel? Why?
  • How does this message make other people feel? Why?
  • Who created this media? What influence do they have?
  • What techniques are being used to make this message credible or believable? Were there any details left out, and why?
  • Why did they make this media or what messages are they trying to send? Who did they make it for?
  • How is this helping me or hurting me?
  • Who is benefiting from this media?
  • What attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors is this condoning?
  • Who has power/influence in this picture?

Start engaging in media literacy and let us know how it goes! It is exciting to see folx ask critical questions about messages that no longer support positive wellbeing outcomes for all and challenging them, which speaks to the power of media literacy!  Just as there are negative messages in media, there are also very positive ones, so do not be afraid to create and curate your own!

 

 

Sound On for SAAM

We’ve made the Soundtrack to Your Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Make It Consensual.

This Sexual Assault Awareness month at UNC is a bit different from years past. Let’s face it– everything feels a little different this April. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is music’s ability to accompany us through life’s joys, difficulties, and, yes, moments of intimacy.

It only takes a quick scan through the radio or a new music playlist to discover that most songs about love or attraction don’t do a stellar job of modeling consent, to say the least. So we have made a playlist of some of our favorite consensual songs for you to enjoy this Sexual Assault Awareness month, wherever you are! These songs are creating a culture of consent– and so are we.

Consensual Mixtape

Have a favorite song that models consent in some way? Share it with us! Maybe your favorite song isn’t very consensual, now that you think about it? Don’t worry– we have a chance for you to make it a consent anthem!

Consent Lyric Competition ***SAAM Moment

Lyic Rewrite post.png

We can’t wait to see and hear what you create!

Send us your lyrical rewrite to letstalkaboutit@unc.edu.  Your entry will count for 1 stamp on your SAAM Loyalty Card. Collect 5 stamps by attending virtual SAAM events for your chance to win an Amazon Fire Stick. 

How are you listening to your playlist? ***SAAM Moment

Consent as a Pizza

Consent as a Pizza

In order to talk about consent, we first have to talk about sex. The way we talk about sex is what sets the tone for not only how it affects our relationships, but also how it affects are communities and society as a whole. Shifting away from baseball, Al Vernacchio challenges us to analyze the way we refer to sex with a healthier mindset.

We aren’t looking for a challenge, we are looking for an experience.”

Check out his quick TedTalk, and learn why Pizza is the new “it” metaphor.  https://www.ted.com/talks/al_vernacchio_sex_needs_a_new_metaphor_here_s_one/transcript?language=en

The Recipe for Consent

Consent as a pizza

Easy, at-home recipes to try:                                                                https://tasty.co/recipe/personal-pan-pizza                                                    https://tasty.co/recipe/pizza-from-scratch-in-20-minutes-or-less

DIY Pizza Challenge ***SAAM Moment

Take this moment to video chat your friends, and have a socially-distant, pizza night. Send us photos of your best creations, or a snip of your own recipe for consent to letstalkaboutit@unc.edu. Your entry will count for 1 stamp on your SAAM Loyalty Card. Collect 5 stamps by attending virtual SAAM events for your chance to win an Amazon Fire Stick. 

 

 

5 week positivity challenge

It’s easy to let negative thoughts and feelings creep in during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why we’re kicking off a 5-week positivity challenge!

Positive thinking, or an optimistic attitude, is the practice of focusing on the good in any given situation. That doesn’t mean you ignore reality or make light of problems. Positive thinking can have a big positive impact on your mental health. So, we invite you to take part of this challenge! Monday-Friday we will post one activity we invite you to engage in. Feel free to share it and invite others to join in with #HealthyHeelsPositivity

  • Day 1: Take a deep breath and smile
  • Day 2: Make a list of qualities you appreciate about yourself
  • Day 3: Make a list of qualities you appreciate about somebody else and share it with them/compliment someone
  • Day 4: Get some fresh air and notice your surroundings
  • Day 5: Video hang-out with friends
  • Day 6: List 5 things you are extremely grateful for in your life
  • Day 7: Say hi to a stranger (at least smile)
  • Day 8: Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you
  • Day 9: Positive TED Talk  https://www.ted.com/talks/meaghan_ramsey_why_thinking_you_re_ugly_is_bad_for_you/transcript
  • Day 10: Create a playlist of songs that will inspire
  • Day 11: Learn something new
  • Day 12: Call a friend/family member with whom you’ve not spoken in a while
  • Day 13: Open your windows and listen to the sounds of nature
  • Day 14: Try to be positive for a whole day
  • Day 15: Celebrate a recent “win” (nothing is too small to celebrate)
  • Day 16: Create an uplifting playlist to get you in a good mindset before taking a final
  • Day 17: Come up with a positive statement you can tell yourself over and over again when you’re in a negative situation or thinking negatively
  • Day 18: Revisit/write a list of qualities you appreciate about yourself
  • Day 19: Take a few deep breaths, stand up tall, and smile
  • Day 20: Treat yourself! You made it through a challenging week!
  •  Day 21: Start your day with a positive affirmation 
  • Day 22: Identify 1-2 good things today, no matter how small 
  • Day 23: Focus on the lessons you gained from “failures” 
  • Day 24: Transform negative self-talk to positive self-talk
    • I’m so bad at this becomes…once I get more practice, I’ll be way better at this. 
    •  I shouldn’t have tried becomes…that didn’t work out as planned. I will try again and maybe next time
  • Day 25: Set a plan for how you want to continue cultivating positivity 

 

Naturally Queer: Nature’s role in queer mental heath from hiking to Animal Crossing

Kyle Alexander, MSW, LCSW, (pronouns he/him/his) a queer Licensed Clinical Social Worker at UNC CAPS, offers his perspective on mental health in the LGBTQIA+ community during COVID-19.

Quarantine as a queer college student often means moving back home.

Home where we may have been kicked-out, abandoned, or made to feel un-welcome for being who we are. Being “othered” by society means we’ve had to find home within ourselves. We’ve found home within our chosen family. Home inside art, inside music, home within everything that is gay, that is light, that is alive. It wasn’t our choice to have to do the difficult work of looking-inward at a young age, but we are grateful for the wisdom and sharpened intuitions.

During COVID the ground feels uneven. Our routines stolen from us overnight. Time is starting to feel weird and being around family means parts of ourselves are going back inside the safety of the closet.

We’ve survived crises like this before. HIV/AIDS took countless of our community (and continues to disproportionally impact the Black and African American community ). We reject and fight against all racism and xenophobia and validate the increased pain people from China may be feeling right now due to discrimination.

We’ve lost so many beautiful artists, doctors, teachers, friends to a virus. We know the importance of community.

We know to protect one another we must first protect ourselves. And the first step of this is caring for our metal health.

Queerantine

Historically we know that due to the systemic and oppressive nature of homophobia and transphobia on one’s mental health. Therefore, at CAPS we want to validate that many queer and trans students (who may not find themselves quarantined in non-affirming home environment due to COVID-19), may currently be experiencing increased distress.

While no tip or skill presented on a blog post could hope to eradicate the impacts of systemic oppression on one’s mental health, this writer hopes to offer some small suggestions to queer readers who may be looking for ways to focus on their mental health during quarantine. This article will focus on advocating for safety and security inside the home and offer a challenge to explore the therapeutic aspects of nature during these stressful times.

The writer would like to acknowledge and validate that many other historically oppressed and minoritized communities are also suffering disproportionate rates of stress during the current pandemic and that one’s queerness does not exist in a silo. That one’s mental health during COVID is constantly influenced by one’s intersectional experiences around their racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, ability status, age etc.… Please look out for future content on the Healthy Heels blog that highlights other aspects of intersectionality, but for the purpose of focus and brevity this article chooses to center LGBTQIA+ identities.

In-Home Safety and “Alone Time”

Before speaking about going outside, it is important to highlight and mention the impact of finding a secure environment within your home. An important part of emotion regulation and focusing on one’s mental health is having a place in your home where you can be alone, relax, and feel safe and secure.

It is important to advocate in your household for personal space and “alone time.”

If you are not able to find solitude within your home (i.e. lots of siblings or family around), I want to challenge you to advocate with your housemates for this boundary and space.

Person curls up in a chair by a plant

For example, picking one chair in your house that you find comforting and asking your housemates, “when I am sitting in this chair, I need to not be disturbed for 30 mins.” Noise cancelling headphones can also be helpful during this alone time.

It is an immense privilege to live in a space that has enough room for privacy and to be able to afford noise cancelling headphones for that matter.  This writer wants to validate that it would be normal for folks who do not have access to privacy right now that fluctuations in mood and increased emotional dysregulation are totally normal and understandable side-effects of quarantine.

Nature Therapy

If you do not feel safe and secure indoors as queer person, it is important that you try to find a place in nature that you can regularly visit to feel secure and an increased sense of peace and groundedness. Perhaps prior to quarantine this would be hanging out with friends, relaxing a new coffee shop, or going out to dinner. During COVID these ways of finding community are difficult, therefore in North Carolina I challenge you to embrace all of the outdoor recreation and trails the Triangle has to offer.

Research suggest that regular engagement with nature positively impacts mood and overall mental health. With the advent of COVID, structure begins to disappear from many of our routines and our sense of time begins to blur and falter. Weekly engagement in nature helps anchor and ground ourselves to the present moment, facilitating a sense of regained mindful connection to time and space. This increased mindfulness (coupled with that added benefits of vital nutrients from the sun that improve mood) makes getting outside right now an easy choice if you want to spend some time focusing on your mental health.

Where do I go?

When this article was written NC Government continues to keep state parks open (and recommending that on the trails folks follow the CDC guidelines of remaining 6ft. apart from others when outside). Please continue to reference the updated CDC guidelines around outdoor activities when reading this article, as recommendations are evolving rapidly.

Those of us whom are privileged to live in the Triangle are able to access numerous hiking trails in the area.

Wherever you are, the best way to find a trail that works for you is to ask friends for recommendation or go online for lists of best hikes in the area. The All Trails application is a great free tool to download to search and filter the top-rated hikes based on your location.

If you can’t get to the trails, consider a sitting in a nice sunny patch of grass in your yard or garage. Even a 10-minute stroll around your neighborhood can boost your mood.

You don’t have to be an expert hiker but getting outside in a way that is safe and accessible to you feels important during this time of quarantine.

PlantsBringing Nature Inside

If you can’t get outside, indoor plants are great for your mental health too. Surrounding yourself and tending to indoor plants can not only improve the air quality in your home but help to stabilize your mood. With increased time indoors, maybe it’s time to transplant one of your houseplants into a bigger pot or give some extra TLC to a plant that needs some watering that you’ve been neglecting.

 

Nature Therapy is #Trending on Instagram

If you have an Instagram, then you’ve seen Animal Crossing posts or content about Stardew Valley…. newer trending video games reminiscent of games like Harvest MoonStardew ValleyThese video games situate the player 

Stardew Valley 2

in a virtual online community with their friends where they focus on being outside in nature and primarily working together to focus on farming, tending to animals, and building relationships. Player will encounter openly queer characters in these games and the ability to date and build non-heteronormative relationships.

It is no coincidence that during quarantine video games that allow us to escape into a virtual relationship with nature (while also connecting with friends) are trending. While ideally, we would like to spend some time each day outdoors for our mental health, distracting through the mindful use of video games is also an effective way to stabilize mood during quarantine.

Final Thoughts

Nature and the outdoors have always been there and will continue to be there way after this virus is done. While we struggle to focus on our mental health due to being stuck indoors, we must look outdoors. Nature can help our mental health at a time we need it most.

If you try these strategies and find you’re still struggling, CAPS 24/7 is available for UNC students at 919-966-3658. CAPS is also offering 2 digital support groups: a support group for UNC undergraduate seniors during COVID and a support group for any UNC student during COVID.

Additional Resources:

  • National Crisis Text Line: Text “TALK” to 741741 – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK(8255)
  • If you are in crisis you can also call or text the LGBTQIA+ organization the Trevor Project
  • Subscribe to the UNC LGBT Center List Serv. to stay up to date with evens in Chapel Hill and the Triangle: 

Note on guidelines for social distancing: At time of publication the CDC still recommends social distancing (i.e. staying at least 6ft away from each other while exercising/hiking etc.. Please continue to review CDC guidelines for updated recommendations around COVID-19.

Queer-antine: 4 Ways to Find Queer Community During Social Distancing

Hi UNC students,

We hope this message finds you safe and healthy; we’ve been thinking of you during this uncertain time and wanted to pass along resources for the queer community.

QUEER EXCHANGE: GREATER TRIANGLE AREA 

The queer exchange in the greater triangle area is a space for queer community to connect the dots between what’s needed and what’s offered between the queers you know and who they know.

Queer Exchange

DURHAM MUTUAL AID  

Mutual Aid space for Durham, NC is a space for sharing resources, guidance, and organizing for mutual aid in Durham, NC during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Durham Mutual Aid

@QUEERANTINECommunity on Instagram 

Connect to a queerantine community and daily updates of activities across social media.

Queerantine

QUEER ART on Instagram

QueerpocalypseSolutions is collaborative art-life projects for queer people by queer people.

Queerantine online
prvtdncr & bodega vendetta, Lucy, 2012,mixed media on canvas, 36 x 48 inches

 

 

CAPS remains open at this time for virtual and in-person visits M – F 8am – 5pm and the CAPS 24/7 service is available at 919-966-3658.

If you are experiencing concerns related to safety of yourself or others, please call 919-966-3658, 911, or go to your nearest emergency room. Additionally, you can contact the follow crisis hotlines: National Crisis Text Line: Text “TALK” to 741741; National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

 

Control in the time of “Chaos”

Not one of us chose to be in the middle of a global crisis, right? Yet, we are all experiencing a major shift in our daily routines and overall lifestyle. This is difficult, but maybe especially difficult for those who live with specific mental illnesses. This perceived loss of control can lead to increased anxiety levels, intrusive thoughts, and depressive symptoms due to a  more sedentary lifestyle. As humans, we like “to know” things. This certainty provides us an illusion of having control over our environment. Maybe we’re realizing we really enjoyed the normalcy of our lives, and the “chaos” of the unknown doesn’t feel too pleasant right now.

How can we lean into our discomfort?

Name it!

What are you feeling? A Feelings Wheel may help you to name your emotions. It is also helpful to identify the physical sensations and thoughts that accompany these emotions. Although, we cannot control our emotions, but we can manage them. We have a lot more power of our emotions when we put them out in front, rather than hiding them behind a mask or how we prefer to be seen.

Sit with it!

Don’t judge emotions that arise. Know that emotions are not good or bad. They are simply energy in motion; get it, emotion. Let them flow. They will come and they will go. Although some emotions may feel unpleasant, we can find comfort knowing that this too will pass. If “fear” has decided to come visit today. You are still in charge. “Fear” can come along for the ride, but “fear” does not get to drive.

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Emotions come and go. Let them flow in and back out again.

Shift it!

We do not have to react to the emotion. Once we acknowledge the feeling (name it), identify it as nonthreatening (sit with it), then we can begin to decide how we would like to respond rather than reacting (shift it).

Here is a list of ways you may shift unpleasant emotions:

  • Reframe thoughts that preceded the emotion.
  • Choose to engage in an activity that calms you:
    • Deep breathing
    • Grounding
    • Meditation
    • Listening to music
    • Journaling
    • Connecting with a supportive person
  • Create an appropriate boundary if the emotion was a result of someone else’s behavior
  • Try a healthy coping mechanism that you identify before the unpleasant emotion arising:
    • Take a break
    • Have a healthy snack
    • Engage in mindful movement, etc.

If you try these strategies and find you’re still struggling, CAPS 24/7 is available for UNC students at 919-966-3658. CAPS is also offering 2 digital support groups: a support group for UNC undergraduate seniors during COVID and a support group for any UNC student during COVID.