Three simple words with a whole lot of power to make your wellness days – and time at UNC – more beneficial for you.
Pause. Take a moment. This could mean as small as stopping in the midst of something evoking strong feelings or as big as initiating a meditation practice. It could mean just taking a few deep breaths.
Pausing for a moment – or several – to separate ourselves a bit from what’s happening allows for us to regain sight of what’s important.
Reflect. This is the MOST IMPORTANT step to any growth or learning. You can read all the books, watch all the films, listen to all the podcasts, but without taking time to consider what you’ve learned afterwards, most lessons will be lost.
Reflect means to think deeply and carefully. Give yourself time to consider what you need and how you add value to your community. What motivates you? What brings you joy? How can you make space in your life for what’s important? What can you do to better meet your needs? How can you make space to have a positive impact on your community?
Act. Based on your reflection, take the first step to get what you need. Reach out to ask for help if you need it!
The news may feel troubling, traumatic, angering, frustrating, or scary. We all have instances where we find it both difficult to engage with current events and also find it difficult to ignore them.
It is important to be aware of what’s happening. It’s also vital to take care of yourself and your mental health.
Notice when there’s a conflict between what the news offers you and what is best for your individual mental wellbeing. Instead of ruminating on what is happening, you can focus on what is within your control.
Think about how the news makes you feel when you consume it.
Find content that is fact-based, reputable or uses primary sources rather than viewing memes or personal opinions on social media.
If you notice increased stress, limit your news intake for a bit.
If you’re feeling paralyzed or anxious, act. Do something constructive for a cause you believe in to help you feel better.
Engage in meaningful activities.
Find an activity you enjoy and do it, rather than fixating on news or social media coverage,
Get involved in issues that are meaningful to you.
Stay socially connected and lean on your friends when you’re feeling stressed.
Stay active – moving your body helps release stressful energy.
If you have a therapist, talk to them about your feelings to help you manage.
Be mindful of your surroundings when sharing opinions.
Avoid assumptions about other people and how they think.
Anticipating differences in opinions can help prepare you for difficult conversations.
Even with like-minded people, remember that someone might be trying to limit news exposure.
Be open to learning about other points of view. There are always reasons why people feel the way they do about certain issues or people. Consider using this cycle for conversations:
Ask open ended, genuinely curious, nonjudgmental questions.
Listen to what people you disagree with say. Deepen your understanding with follow-up inquiries.
Reflect back their perspective by summarizing their answers and noting underlying emotions.
Agree before disagreeing by naming ways in which you agree with their point of view.
Share your perspective by telling a story about a personal experience. People tend to best process stories, rather than logic.
Stay close to people with whom you disagree if you can safely do so.Some worry that differences in how we digest the same events will further divide our communities. Counteract this in your life by maintaining close relationships – even with those who don’t see eye to eye with you. Test out how it feels to stay friendly with acquaintances who support opposing viewpoints.
Plan an enjoyable event. Life will go on after this news cycle, so planning an event can help reinforce that notion.
Mental Health Support Options for UNC Students
It can be hard to know which support options might work best for your needs. There are a range of resources offered to UNC students to support you through difficult times.
“I want to talk to professional support.”
MENTAL HEALTH: Counseling and Psychological Services offers mental health support 24/7 at 919-966-3658. You can also initiate therapy, medication management or find a referral for a therapist or psychiatrist in the community by calling M-F between 9-12 or 1-4.
WELLNESS: Wellbeing Coaching offers individual appointments with Student Wellness coaches to support holistic wellness issues including mood, substance use and stress.
“I want to connect with other students to find support and talk.”
Peer 2 Peer program offers online one-to-one sessions with peer responders. Students can sign up to meet with a person with similar lived experience or relevant training. The option to remain anonymous is also available.
Written and compiled by CAPS staff members Kyle Alexander, LCSW and Kadeisha Bonsu, LCSWA
It’s hard to believe that we’ve been coping with the mental strain of Covid-19 for 10+ months now. Many of us have spent a good amount of that time stuck inside, missing family and friends, so it’s totally normal if you feel more down or isolated than usual this winter. You are not alone.
We at UNC CAPS want to be here for you and wanted to share some ideas for self-care ideas during these last few weeks before the semester begins. CAPS staff is here for you so please don’t hesitate to call us to speak with a therapist anytime 24/7 for support (919) 966-3658.
Many of us don’t identify as artists, but all of us have creative abilities. Let out your inner child. Dance around, color, draw, paint, make up a song, host a zoom talent show…it doesn’t need to be perfect; you just need to have fun.
Take a moment to disengage from the world with your favorite music, some candles, and a hot bath. Baths can help relieve muscle tension and stress. If you’re having trouble sleeping, some studies indicate that going from a hot bath to a cold bedroom can help your body fall asleep faster.
Play Video Games
Distanced from your friends who may be living far away from you right now? Plug in your favorite multi-player video game and instantly connect. Distraction is helpful in moderation and can be a heathy way to escape for a moment. There are a ton of fun video games out there both on your mobile phone and console to explore. If it’s too cold to go outside into nature, check-out some of these nature inspired games that are fun to play with friends and bring nature indoors.
With more time inside, put down the phone, turn off the electronics and pick up that book you’ve been wanting to read. Escape into that science fiction series, or start that book that’s been on your shelf forever.
Books feeling too long to commit to right now? How about exploring shorter poems that are speaking to you right now.
Don’t know what book to choose? the book you’re looking for?, check-out GoodReads.com for book recommendations. For those in the Chapel Hill area already, you can request books from UNC libraries, or through inter-library loan.
Choose a Theme
Pick a theme for each day or each week depending on the length of your staycation. Include things that address various areas of wellness i.e., emotional, financial, spiritual, physical, etc. Themes you might consider are Zoom-Free Wednesday, Financially-Fit Friday, Self-Care Saturday… doesn’t matter the day, just have fun and get creative!
Listen to Podcasts
Feeling isolated or lonely while socially distancing? We all are. You are not alone. Community and human interaction are important for the psyche, and when coronavirus makes that hard, tune into your favorite podcast to immerse yourself in a digital community.
Next time you are folding laundry or on a walk, play your favorite podcast and instantly you can feel like you are not alone. There are thousands of different types of podcasts (comedy, history, news, etc.), pick which one is right for you and click play.
A great Podcast option to check out is Feeling Seen, hosted by Dr. Erinn Scott, Psy.D. and Dr. Anthony Teasdale, Ph.D., staff psychologists at CAPS. These colleagues and friends come together to discuss and demystify mental health, therapy, and help seeking, and have some fun in the process. This podcast speaks directly to UNC and its students, giving listeners a more personal side of CAPS and its staff. There’ll be insights, laughs, and mistakes, but always with the intention of reducing stigma and helping people “feel seen.” Find it on all the places you listen: Spotify | YouTube | Anchor | Google Podcasts | Apple Podcasts
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.
Winter break is a great time to explore parts of Chapel Hill you haven’t yet. Try walking across the street from campus and check-out the free North Carolina Botanical Garden.
Camping is a great activity to escape into nature and be socially distanced with friends. North Carolina has a ton of nature and camp sites for you to explore this season.
We know it’s cold out there, but regular exercise can act like an anti-depressant in itself. This Winter continue to challenge yourself to keep moving and get outside as much as possible. Biking is a great way to get some cardio in, but also explore. Check out these bike rental resources on-campus:
Move.unc.edu offers reduced price U-Locks and free bike registration.
Outdoor dining under a heat lamp, takeout, or curbside pickup could be a nice treat for you and your friends. Maybe it’s time to pick a new type of food or restaurant you’ve been wanting to explore on Franklin! Or it’s about time you checked out all the cool stuff Carrboro has to offer if you haven’t had the time to explore Carrboro during the school year.
Check-out this resource for most updated list of food option in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. In the mood for chicken or vegan wings? Heavenly Buffaloes is open on Franklin and has (outdoor dining, takeout and delivery). We haven’t been paid for this recommendation – it’s just that good.
Set Virtual Boundaries
Give yourself permission to say no to Zoom/video meetings, hangouts, etc. that are not necessary or can be rescheduled. It’s okay to honor yourself, recognize your zoom fatigue, and take some space from it. Be okay with saying no and cancelling/rescheduling anything that gets in the way of your well-being.
Transitioning back to the semester can be rough on mental health – take some time for you over the next few weeks!
As we all do our best to navigate a global pandemic, we must find kindness and compassion for ourselves. This will also assist us in extending these same virtues to others during this time. The uncertainty and stress is difficult for everyone, but especially challenging for some due to their specific identities.
Consider these questions when beginning a self-compassion practice:
How am I feeling right now?
What does my self-talk sound like?
Is this self-talk something that I would say to support a small child or friend?
Try these phrases to exercise self-compassion:
I am doing the best that I can right now, and that is enough.
This is a difficult time. It is natural to feel stressed. I am here for you.
I am safe and supported.
Remember that self-compassion is about radical self-acceptance. It does not mean that pain and suffering does not occur, it means that we care and support ourselves through these tough experiences. Like all things self-compassion takes practice including checking-in with yourself regularly and reframing as needed. Soon you will be ready to spread kindness and compassion everywhere.
Time to practice! Enhance your self-compassion skills by trying one of these:
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
People like certainty. We want to know what is happening and when it’s happening. We are hard wired to notice things that feel threatening to us. When situations feel uncertain or we generally feel unsafe, it is normal to feel stressed. That reaction is there to protect us, and there are strategies you can use to help yourself.
Right now, many of us are worried about COVID-19, “Coronavirus.”
A large part of anxiety comes from a sense of what we think we should be able to control, but cannot. We may feel helpless about what will happen. We may not know what we should do to prevent the spread of Coronavirus or prevent further anxiety. The uncertainty might also connect to similar feelings about other aspects of our lives, or remind us of past times when we felt unsafe or we faced an unknown future.
In times like these, our mental health can suffer, which could show up as periods of:
Anxiety, worry, panic
Difficulty concentrating and sleeping
Hypervigilance to your health and body
Coronavirus is a health issue that is being taken seriously at UNC Chapel Hill and around the world. It makes sense to be anxious but don’t let your worry about the virus control your life. We can choose our response to situations. There are effective ways to manage fear and anxiety; many of them are essential to a healthy life and adopting them can improve overall emotional and physical well-being.
Separate what is in your control from what is not. Focus on the things you can do:
Wash your hands. Remind others to wash theirs.
Eat a variety of nutrient dense foods.
Move your body every day.
Although you will want to keep informed, take a break from the news to focus on the things that are positive in your life and things you have control over.
Do what helps you feel a sense of safety. This will be different for everyone, and it’s important not to compare yourself to others. It’s ok if you’ve decided what makes you feel safe is to limit attendance of large social events, but make sure you separate when you are isolating based on potential for sickness versus isolating because of depression. Stay mindful of your assumptions about others – someone who has a cough or fever does not necessarily have coronavirus. Self-awareness is important in not stigmatizing others in our community.
Get outside, ideally in nature – even if you are trying to avoid crowds. I took a walk in my neighborhood with my roommate. We saw a bit of sun, enjoyed fresh air, moved our bodies and spent quality time together. Exercise in nature helps both your physical and mental health.
Challenge yourself to stay in the present. Perhaps your worry is compounding—you are not only thinking about what is currently happening, but also projecting into the future. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences in your immediate moment and name them. Engaging in mindfulness activities is one way to help stay grounded when things feel beyond your control.
Stay connected and reach out if you need more support. Talk to trusted friends about what you are feeling. Maintain your social networks using technology. If you are feeling particularly anxious or if you are struggling with your mental health, it’s ok to reach out to a mental health professional for support. You don’t have to be alone with your worry and it can be comforting to share what you are experiencing with those trained to help.
We are in this together, and help is always available. If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can reach out to CAPS 24/7 at 919-966-3658.
You’ve been dealing with stress lately. It’s the end of the semester. Final exams, papers, grading, holidays, relationships – all of these are complicated and cause stress. Emotions are more than just a momentary feeling – they are a biological process with a beginning, middle and end.
A complete stress cycle – that is from beginning, to middle, to end – would look something like this:
Your body senses danger, Let’s pretend you’re walking in the woods and come across an angry lion. It’s coming right for you.
Your body responds to help you survive. Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate go up. Your immune system, reproductive system and digestive systems get suppressed to focus on survival. Let’s imagine you run and find a safe place where you close the door on this scary lion. The lion scratches a few times and then wanders away.
You survive. You feel grateful to be alive. Your systems come back online and your heart/breathing slow back to normal.
In order for your body to feel safe after stress, you have to complete the stress response cycle.
Today’s stressors usually aren’t lions. They are papers, exams, traffic, relationships, systems of oppression. Some of these we can’t run away from and aren’t going away anytime soon, making it difficult to complete the full stress response cycle. If you get stuck in the stress response cycle, where your body never realizes that you’ve survived the stressor and are safe, you may begin start seeing the negative impacts of stress.
The behaviors that manage stress in our body and complete the stress response cycle are not the same as those that deal with the solutions to the stressors.
Which is good news because we don’t need to wait for stressors to be over in order to feel better.
And it’s bad news because even if you manage a stressor (like completing your last exam of the semester – woohoo!), you haven’t necessarily dealt with the stress itself.
Deal with the stress.
Separate the stress from the stressor.
Take a break from whatever is causing you stress and focus on the stress, that is, the physical and emotional feelings that exist in your body.
Turn towards the stress with kindness and compassion.
Imagine the scene with Moana and Te Ka, the lava monster (spoiler alert!). Walk towards your stress – in this metaphor, stress is the lava monster and you are Moana – calmly, gently, possibly singing “This is not who you are. You know who you are.” Use the video if a visual helps.
Complete the stress cycle with any of the following evidence-based, self-care strategies:
Physical activity. Moving your body is the most efficient way to communicate to your body that you have moved out of an unsafe place to a safe place. You could take a walk off campus after you finish an exam to help your body realize it’s safe now. You could experience an evening restorative yoga classes at Campus Rec to help you body relax at the end of the day. You could go for a bike ride in the countryside. Remember that the goal of physical activity as self-care is to help your body recognize that you’ve moved to a safe place. We realize that for some people physical activity can be a source of stress. If you’re the only person of color in your pilates class, going to that class can be stressful. If you’re gender fluid, going to a gym and daring to use a locker room can actually be dangerous. If you go outside and walk you might get harassed or cat-called. So “exercise reduces stress” doesn’t quite cover how complicated it is. Thankfully – there are 3 other strategies you can use!
Imagination. If you’ve ever had a racing heart or sweaty palms before a competition or interview, you know that your body doesn’t to BE in a real-life stressor in order to THINK that it needs to initiate a stress response cycle. Your imagination creates the stress. Your imagination can also complete a stress response cycle. Visualize yourself as a B.A. monster crushing the place where you feel most stressed. Watch a movie or read a book that takes you through a hero’s journey and feel the complete cycle with the character. Use the power of your mind to feel that the danger has passed.
Creative self-expression. Take your feelings and put them into art. Make a physical object or story representing how you feel. Stream-of-consciousness writing can help get the feelings you’re having on paper which helps move through them. Going dancing with friends uses 3 of the 4 self-care strategies listed here. Find ways to express yourself that work for you and help your body feel safe and connected.
Connection. Humans are built for connection and even positive superficial interactions help. Complimenting your server on their jewelry is all that it takes! These interactions clue your brain into knowing that it’s safe again. If you want to go deeper, try a 20 second hug with someone you really like and trust. When you can hold your body against someone else’s body for that long, eventually your chemistry switches. Your body remembers that you have someone who likes and trusts you enough to hold onto you for 20 whole seconds. And, we realize that people can cause stress. Other ways to connect include connecting with nature or the divine. Some people feel safe and held in nature. Some people experience their spirituality as a relationship with the divine and loving paternal, maternal or familial relationship where they can come home and feel safe. Find connection that makes you feel safe and held in whatever way works for you.
You deserve to feel safe and connected. Take the time to complete your stress cycle.
Adapted from https://youtu.be/BOaCn9nptN8, the research from Emily and Amelia Nagoski by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator.
Africa image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay
Studying image by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Moana image screenshot from Disney
Jumprope, piano painting, cube painting and quad hangout images by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Honor and listen to your body. Let your body be your guide for when you’re hungry (pro tip: eat then!) and when you’re full (pro tip: stop then!). All foods fit – so challenge the food police that join you at holiday meals. Restricting food ultimately means overindulging in foods – so give yourself unconditional permission to eat with attunement to your body.
Savor the good. Whether it’s good food, a good conversation, a good run, a good night’s sleep – take time to savor the things that nourish you this holiday season.
Move your body – ideally with people you adore. Find ways to keep active during the cooler times. Play some touch football. Run in a Jingle Bell Jog.
Stay hydrated with water. Drinking enough water keeps your body healthy and hydrated. Carrying a reuseable bottle with you can help!
Wash your hands. It’s still flu season y’all, and the holidays usually means crowds of people. Keep yourself and your loved ones healthier by washing your hands often.
Connect. Relationships are complicated and very worth navigating complexity to reach connection. Remember what activities make you feel connected with the people you love and do a little extra of those.
Give back. Brighten someone else’s day with a bit of holiday cheer in whatever way works for you.
Resilience is often misunderstood. A lot of people think of football players when they think of resilience – able to take a hit, pick themselves up off the turf, and go for another play. Well-meaning students trying to celebrate resilience might support each other staying up until 3am trying to finish a paper.
A resilient person is a well-rested one. When an exhausted student goes to class, he lacks cognitive resources to do well academically, he has lower self-control, and he’s often moody AF (not sure we can use that abbreviation here, but we’re going to because moodiness from not sleeping is for real).
Overwork and exhaustion are the opposite of resilience.
Resilience is the adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or stress. It means rebounding from difficult experiences.
A resilient person tries really hard, then stops to rest, then tries again.
The more time a person spends in their performance zone, they more time they need in the recovery zone. So the more imbalanced we become due to overworking, the more value there is in activities that allow us to return to a state of balance. In other words, the value of a recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of work required of us.
Most people assume that if you stop doing a task, like working on your Bio Chem homework, that your brain will naturally recover. When you start again the next morning, you’ll have your energy back. But we are confident that most of us reading this has had times where we lie in bed for hours, unable to fall asleep because our brain is thinking about all the things we need to do. If we lie in bed for eight hours, we certainly have have rested, but we can still feel exhausted the next day. Rest and recovery are not the same thing. Stopping does not equal recovering.
What is recovery?
Internal recovery is the short periods of relaxation that take place throughout our day – via short scheduled or unscheduled breaks, shifting our attention, or changing to other tasks when the mental or physical resources required for task completion are depleted.
External recovery refers to actions that take place outside of scheduled work – so evenings, weekends, holidays, vacations. If after your day you lie around and get riled up by news you read on your phone or stress about the paper you have due on Monday, your brain hasn’t received a break from high mental arousal. Our brains need rest as much as our bodies.
In other words – it’s taking time to do things that are fun and enjoyable. It’s doing different things like going outside and moving your body. It’s letting your brain take a rest by unplugging and getting good sleep.
If you really want to build resilience, you can start by strategically stopping to rest.
Ideas to help:
Have tech free time. Apps like Offtime or Unplugged to create tech free zones by strategically scheduling automatic airplane modes.
Set a timer to take a cognitive break every 90 minutes when you’re studying to recharge your batteries.
Don’t do work over lunch. Instead spend time outside or with your friends — not talking about school.