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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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.


Worry Postponement for Uncertain Times

It’s certainly a time of uncertainty, which makes it normal for you to be worried. If you feel that worry is taking over your life, it might be worth trying to find ways to limit the time you spend worrying.

Psychologists say there are two types of worry:

  1. Real problem worries: Actual problems affecting you right now that you can act on now. Examples: “I can’t afford my phone bill.” “My hands are dirty from weeding. I need to wash them.
  2. Hypothetical worries: Things that do not currently exist but might happen in the future. Examples: “What if everyone I know dies?” “Maybe all this worry will make me a terrible person.

man in pink jacket waiting for his next class
Worry, by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

People who are bothered by worry often experience it as uncontrollable and time consuming. They also often see worry’s value. So instead of trying to get rid of worry, you can try to postpone your worries.

Set time in your day to do nothing but worry and limit that time. Try this for at least one week:

  • Prepare. Decide when and for how long your worry time will be. Set it aside each day.
    • Consider the time of day you think will be the best to attend to your worries and when you’re most likely to be undisturbed.
    • If you’re unsure, 15 – 30 minutes per day at 7 pm is often a good starting point.
  • Worry postponement. During the day, decide which worries are problems you can act on now or whether they are hypothetical and should be postponed.
    • If it’s not a worry you can do something about right now – redirect your attention through mindfulness.
    • Focus on your senses.
    • Focus attention externally.
    • Say to yourself “I’m not going to engage in this worry now. I will engage in this worry later.”
  • Worry time. Use your dedicated time for worrying. Try to use all your worry time, even if you do not feel you have much to worry about or even if worries don’t seem pressing at this time.
    • You might write down the hypothetical worries you’ve had during the day. How concerning are they to you now? Are any of them worries that can lead you to practical actions?
    • Reflect on these worries – do they give you the same emotional kick when you think on them now as they did when they first arose? Can any of the worries be converted into a practical problem to which you can seek a solution?

Remember to respond to yourself and your worries with the compassion you’d offer a loved one or close friend.


For more strategies for dealing with worry during these difficult times, visit https://www.psychologytools.com/assets/covid-19/guide_to_living_with_worry_and_anxiety_amidst_global_uncertainty_en-us.pdf

If you are looking for ways to connect and feel supported through this experience, CAPS is offering two COVID-19 online support groups through ZOOM (if you are interested, click here if you are an undergraduate senior, and here if you are any other UNC student – must be residing in state.) If you notice your mental health symptoms worsening, or you feel you or a friend are in crisis, you can call CAPS at 919-966-3658 or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Healthy Digital Boundaries in the Age of COVID-19

During this time of shelter in place orders and physical isolation, social media and virtual interaction have been a lifeline connecting us to loved ones, colleagues, classmates, and information about the broader world.  It seems like everything has gone online, from college courses to yoga classes to movie night or games with friends. Gone are the days of being told to “unplug,” and face to face interactions with our communities are out of the question for most of us.

woman sitting on white couch using laptop computer
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Some people might naturally be able to make the best of this new environment, but for others constant digital connection can worsen anxiety and create feelings of isolation or depression. Here are some ways to maintain your mental health while staying virtually connected:

Notice Your Mood, and Respect What You Need

The first step to setting good digital boundaries is to be aware of and honest about your needs and emotions. Check in with how you feel after looking at social media, reading the news, or messaging with a friend.  If you notice that you’re feeling pressured to connect with others constantly, that looking at social media makes you feel worse about yourself or your situation, or that your mood worsens after reading the news, it might be time to re-evaluate your digital boundaries.

Be Mindful of What You Share

We’re all in this together, and lots of people are being really vulnerable online right now. That can be wonderful; it humanizes us, allows us to reach out for support, and maintains our connections with each other. But it might not feel right for everyone, or in all circumstances. Chances are that you already know how to be smart about posting on social media, but it feels like all the rules are changing now. It might be a good time to sit down and think about parts of your life you don’t want to share, or how to show different parts of your experience to close friends versus all of your followers. [This goes for online classes as well: think “would I say/show/write this if I were in a lecture hall?”]

Beware of Online Fear of Missing Out

Does it look like everyone is still living their best life in quarantine? Do you feel like you aren’t getting invited to the (virtual) parties everyone else is attending? Remember, people are still only showing one version of themselves online, and it may not reflect their full reality. If you notice you feel worse about yourself after scrolling through social media, try reaching out to close friends or family for deeper connection – maybe a video call or some time talking on the phone about how you’re doing.

Watch out for the flip side of this as well – feeling pressured to show your best self online, all the time. You might notice that when you engage in self care you’re thinking about how it will look to others, or about posting it later. Sharing the things that are helping us cope can be great, but sometimes it’s nice to enjoy nature, exercise or create something without sharing, and noticing if there is any difference in the feeling it creates.

Limit Exposure to the News

One way many of us try to manage our anxiety is to seek out information about whatever is making us anxious, feeling that the knowledge will make us safer, or help us prepare for the worst. Given the endless news coverage of the current pandemic, coupled with how much time we’re spending on our phones and devices right now, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of reading the news constantly. But remember: more information doesn’t make you safer. So long as you are following the guidelines issued by public health organizations such as the CDC and your local government, you are doing your part to keep yourself and your community safe. Reading all of the new details may only worsen anxiety and increase a feeling of helplessness.

In order to combat these negative effects, you can practice mindful news consumption. For instance, choosing only to look at the news for half an hour in the morning or evening to catch up, making sure you have someone to process your feelings with afterward, and choosing one or two high quality news sources instead of clicking anything you see posted are all ways to preserve your mental wellbeing while staying informed.

Seek Healthy Connections

Meaningful connection during this time will look different for everyone. Some people might keep checking in with their small circle of friends, while others will embrace large group virtual hangouts, engage with their community support networks online, or share videos of their shelter-in-place routine. If you are looking for ways to connect and feel supported through this experience, CAPS is offering two COVID-19 online support groups through ZOOM (if you are interested, click here if you are an undergraduate senior, and here if you are any other UNC student – must be residing in state.) If you notice your mental health symptoms worsening, or you feel you or a friend are in crisis, you can call CAPS at 919-966-3658 or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

This blog was written by Christine Crowther, a CAPS staff who works primarily with the UNC Medical School.