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.

 

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. 

 

 

Ideas for Social Connection during Physical Distancing

It’s tough to feel connected when being physically distanced from people you adore. Like Leia and Luke, you can stay connected even from afar. Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation or disconnection. Here are some suggestions to foster, maintain, or even enhance social intimacy in these difficult times:

  • Use physical closeness to connect with people who are nearby.  Speak to your neighbors from over a fence or across balconies. Talk to people you meet outside…at a distance.
  • Get some fresh air and invite the people you live with to join you.
  • Reach out and let people know you’re thinking about them and that you care – especially if there is someone you know who may be particularly vulnerable to social isolation. Frequency is more important than duration. Don’t worry about being boring. Social connection is valuable even when there isn’t much to say.
  • Send voice memos to loved ones. You may feel a greater sense of connection than writing a text provides.
  • Create group text threads. A lot of conversation, humor and information can flow there. You can ignore it when you want, or jump in when you can – and when you do, there will probably be someone to respond to you. It’s comforting to know that you’re in a group and can always get someone’s attention.
  • Leave a note under a loved one’s door or on their doorstep.
  • Be generous to others. Giving to and helping others not only helps the recipient, it enhances your wellbeing too. Is there a way to help others around you, no matter how small the gesture?
  • Volunteer online. This is a great way to do good for others right from your home.
  • Teach your skills. If you’ve been wanting to show the world your special talents, now’s your chance. Use your phone to create short teaching videos and post these online.
  • Read a book to a child, grandparent or someone who is ill over the phone or via video chat.
  • Offer to help people who don’t usually use technology. Show parents, grandparents, other generations how to use the technology you take for granted and find easy to navigate. Remember, be patient!
  • Start a contact list of folks who need extra support in your community. Consider starting a social media group to share information and resources.
  • Set up a gratitude tree – every member posts a message or sends a text to other members to share something they are grateful for.
  • Set daily challenges with a buddy or group. These could include a healthy habit, a mindful practice, a creative pursuit. Be sure to encourage and check in daily to stay motivated.
  • Schedule dates and times to watch the same TV shows/movies with someone and message each other your thoughts along the way. It’ll be like sitting on the couch together!
  • Host a virtual get-together. Meet your friends for coffee or lunch online via group video chat. Celebrate birthdays, holidays or milestones.
  • Go on a virtual “double date” by video.
  • Do an online workout. There are thousands online! Do the fitness work together but in separate locations with your exercise buddy.
  • Have a dance party from separate locations.
  • Find educational materials to absorb. Take a virtual walk on the Great Wall of China, visit a museum, monument or natural wonder online.
  • Create study groups. Zoom with friends while studying. Everyone  can be on mute to not distract each other. You can still see each other and unmute if you have something to say. It’ll be like working together in the library surrounded by friends and fellow students. Being together in silence is still powerful connection.
  • Send funny photos or videos. Be positive and take time to laugh.
  • Send flashback messages to family and friends to say “look what we were doing 5 years ago today!” You could take out an old box of photos or go through your phone or social media. Reminisce together.
  • Rekindle a friendship with someone whom you haven’t been in touch with in a while.
  • Move your book group online – or join or start one. It’s a great time to read and talk about books.

Strangely, you may notice feeling socially connected even when physically distanced. Life has slowed down, offering a chance to connect deeper or in a more sustained way with people.

What strategies have helped you stay connected even while physically distant?

 

This video and list was compiled by Anthony Teasdale, PhD, a CAPS provider. Dr. Teasdale received a Master of Arts (M.A.) and a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Counseling Psychology from The University of Maryland at College Park.  His professional interests include identity development, self-compassion, diversity and multicultural issues, supervision and training, career development, and working with college student populations.  Outside CAPS, Dr. Teasdale enjoys watching sports, movies (especially Star Wars), playing tennis (badly), and travel.

Anxiety Support during COVID-19

Relentless news updates have a way of inspiring near-constant dread. As distressing news continually shows up on our devices, it is common to feel more than a little nervous about the state of the world.

When a large-scale news event happens, people want to discuss it more widely and frequently. This constant conversation can create an avalanche of negative thoughts.

Why we catastrophize

Catastrophizing, or a pattern of thinking that jumps to the worst-case scenario, is an evolutionary response to a threat. The ability to consider how bad things could get and plan ahead has helped humans survive. However, it’s an ineffective way of trying to regain control. Jumping to worst-case scenarios breeds poor decision-making and can lead to a “who cares” attitude, which can contribute to hopelessness and despair.  Sometimes catastrophic thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies (e.g. fear of a toilet paper shortage caused one). Even when a problem isn’t based in reality, we think we need to fix it.

What we can do to help ourselves:

Accept uncertainty and trust people

We live in relatively safe times, despite recent tumultuousness. Because of our general feeling of security, we are less used to dealing with uncertainty. Accepting the unknown requires relinquishing control and trusting that most of the people in charge are working to solve the problems beyond our capacity. We use this strategy when we use public transit and airplanes, for example. We can also use it during the pandemic.

Stick to the facts

Anxiety makes us feel powerless. Powerlessness becomes fear that we won’t be able to handle the consequences of a terrible event. However, we tend to exaggerate the severity of the threat and underestimate our ability to cope. We almost always cope better than we think we will!

Instead of feeling powerless, evaluate what you know to be true in this moment — and don’t exaggerate — to help ground you. Think: I have people I love, I can still eat food that nourishes me, the sun still rises and sets.

Consider your responsibilities (to yourself, your loved ones, your community, your academics) and get started on the reality-based problems that you can solve today.

Avoid all-or-nothing thinking

rocks-1246668_1920

Remember that this situation is nuanced. When news and facts are constantly changing, it can be easy to jump to conclusions and fill in unknowns. Avoid processing current events with black-and-white thinking. Events being canceled, for example, doesn’t mean we will never see our community again — it means our leaders care about our safety and are taking precautions. Give your anxiety a name – for example, “Dook.” If Dook says the world is going to end, Dook probably doesn’t know what they are talking about. A little rivalry humor can’t hurt, right?

Take care of yourself

Research has shown anxiety impacts our decision-making skills, and in times like these, you want to make the most informed decisions for yourself and those you love. Practice self-care to diminish stress and anxiety: physical movement, deep sleep and social interactions — even if it’s just a phone call or video chat — have all been shown to help.  You may also want to step back from social media or have some technology-free times in your day.

Get involved

Helping helps decrease despair and stress, while also giving a sense of purpose. Donate to or volunteer with an organization making positive contributions, whether locally, nationally or internationally. Anything you do to be proactive will help ward off powerlessness.

Perhaps most importantly, give yourself some grace.

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You are doing the best you can in a situation that you did not want. We are all figuring out how to cope in this pandemic – you are not alone! Use strategies that have worked for you during difficult times in the past. Reach out to people you adore. Extend yourself some loving kindness. Remember, you have survived every hard thing the world has thrown your direction.

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.

 

This article is based on Coping Tips provided in New York Times Smarter Living and adapted for UNC students.

Living at Home as a College Student during Coronavirus

As UNC students shift to living at their permanent addresses due to COVID-19, stress is likely high. You’re bringing home all the challenges you faced on campus – keeping up with your academics, staying social, thinking about summer plans – but with the addition of a global pandemic, navigating most interactions online, and living with your family.

Reach out for support.

Engage online with fellow UNC students, professors, and support services. UNC offers the Writing and Learning Centers, Career Center, Dean of Students, CAPS, Advising and more. All of these entities are offering distance support by phone or online – and bonus – you’ve already paid for their services in tuition and fees. Take advantage of them!

Create a balanced rhythm for your days.

With classes beginning this week, consider making a calendar of yourself – either on your device or on paper. Use colors to visually represent different categories, making it less likely to forget important things you need to do and more likely to maintain accountability, perspective and balance. Include fun things in your calendar – video chats with friends, time outside, movement, creativity. If you like specificity – be specific! Schedule things to the hour or half hour. Include the elements of your day that are important to you.

If you like a more relaxed way of being – focus on the rhythm of your day. For example: I start with a grounding activity like yoga, meditation or a run. Then I eat some food and shower, spend a few hours doing work. After lunch, I go outside for a few hours – hike, bike, read a good book in a hammock. I work on school projects again before dinner and then help cook. After dinner is time for me – making art, video chats, watching shows. Just ensure your rhythm makes time for the things that are important to you.

Be mindful of others.

Your family may need time to adjust to you being home again, and of course you’ll need time to adjust to not being on campus. When you live in tight quarters, it’s critical to pause and reflect on how you feel and how others might be feeling. Stay open-minded and compassionate.

It can be easy to revert back to the old parent-child roles and a time when someone else always cooked and did your laundry. But as an adult, help out around the house. Offer to cook a few times a week, do the dishes, help with house cleaning and yard work. Ask about household finances. Having a conversation about these topics can help clarify for everyone how to navigate living together again.

 

Coronavirus is changing what college life looks like for now. Reach out for support, create a balanced rhythm, and think about others. These are challenging and unique times for everyone. You are not alone!

Social Distancing FAQs for College Students

Social distancing is the idea of actively avoiding crowds to slow the spread of illness. Specifically, the CDC asks us to cancel any activity of more than 50 people and only hold a gathering of smaller size if you can ensure hand hygiene practices and that people keep at least 6 feet away from others. They want us to do this for at least the next 8 weeks.

The CDC is asking you – yup, you (and me too!) – to stay away from folks. We realize that is easier said than done, and still likely leaves some questions.

Please don’t. If you ignore the guidance on social distancing, you will essentially put yourself and everyone else at much higher risk.

You still have a risk from Coronavirus, even as a young person.

Plus the community needs your help in slowing the virus. People who show only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all can pass the virus to many, many others before they even realize they are sick. So you could infect your older or high-risk loved ones or community members with chronic illness, as well as contribute to the number of overall people infected, causing the pandemic to grow rapidly and overwhelm the healthcare system.

We know social distancing is tough, especially for college students who are used to gathering in groups. But even cutting down the number of gatherings, and the number of people in any group, will help.

Yes.

It’s O.K. to go outdoors for fresh air and exercise — to walk your dog, go for a hike or ride your bicycle, for example. The goal is not to remain indoors, but to avoid being close to people.

You may need to leave the house – for medicines or other essential resources.

There are things you can do to keep yourself and others safe during and after these excursions.

When you do leave home:

  • Wipe down any surfaces you come into contact with
  • Disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer and avoid touching your face.
  • Frequently wash your hands — especially whenever you come in from outside, before you eat or before you’re in contact with the very old or very young.

Yes. Stock up to minimize the number of trips, and pick a time when the store is least likely to be crowded.

When you do go, remember that any surface inside the store may be contaminated. Use a disinfecting wipe to clean the handle of the grocery cart, for example.

Wearing gloves is not as effective as washing your hands.

Put your phone somewhere in accessible so that you don’t absent-mindedly reach for it while shopping to avoid getting more germs on your phone.

Put hand sanitizer in your vehicle and sanitize when you leave the store.

When you get home, wash your hands right away. Re-wash after putting away your items.

Those at high risk may want to avoid the store if they can help it, especially if they live in densely populated areas. Ask for someone at lower risk to help you by picking up groceries when they go to the store.

Some places have closed down restaurants and bars for the next few weeks, but if you’re not in one of those places, there are not rules about this yet.

In general, avoid going out to restaurants.

If you’re going to go – choose somewhere that has a lot of space and staff you trust who likely practice good hygiene.

Better yet, opt for takeout.

If you’re concerned for the restaurant’s financial future, purchase a gift certificate that you can redeem later.

That depends on how healthy they are.

People who are sick or returning from recent travel should not visit. If you have vulnerable people in your home, limit visitors.

But if everyone in your home is young and healthy, then some careful interaction in small groups is probably OK. The smaller the gathering of healthy people, the lower the risk will be.

Keep checking in with loved ones by phone or plan activities to do with them on video.

We do encourage you to keep active during this time. Bike rides, hikes, walks, outdoor workouts on your own or with only the people who live in the same home as you are all encouraged.

Playing sports or yard games adds risk. You can minimize that risk by:

  • Ensuring that everyone who plans to play is young and healthy
  • There will be less than 10 people
  • Avoid high fives and huddles
  • Wipe down any shared objects (balls, discs, bats) during breaks
  • Have hand sanitizer nearby for everyone’s use
  • Wash your hands immediately afterwards

I’m worried about isolation. What can I do to make this easier?

Staying in touch with family and friends is more important than ever – just use technology instead of face-to-face interactions. Even imagining a warm embrace from a loved one can calm the body’s fight-or-flight response.

For more tips, see Managing Mental Health During Coronavirus. You can also call CAPS 24/7 at 919-966-3658 for mental health support.

We don’t know and it depends on how well we collectively succeed at social distancing now. Again, current CDC guidelines ask us to do this for 8 weeks.

Social distancing will help “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 outbreak, thus keeping the number of cases at a level that health care providers can manage and ensuring better care for any infected people. By complying with social distancing guidelines, college students — as well as the rest of the population — can do their part in slowing the spread of the pandemic.

For more details:

UNC’s guidelines to COVID-19 

CDC guidance