Coping with Covid-19: How College Students Manage Mental Health

By Lauren Bartolotta

Image: Sharp 

College students are facing new academic, financial, and mental health challenges as the Covid-19 crisis continues to disrupt ordinary life. According to a recent survey conducted by the mental health advocacy nonprofit Active Minds, 80% of college students reported that the sudden changes associated with Covid-19 significantly and negatively impacted their mental health. Mental health experts worry that the coronavirus outbreak will severely harm the already vulnerable college-age population. Through aggregated credible research, we offer students grounded tips on how to survive, and even thrive, in quarantine. 

How has Covid-19 impacted students’ daily lives? 

Students are experiencing a wide range of emotions as they attempt to navigate a new “normal.” Remote learning has upended students’ lifestyles and routines, placing increased stress on students to find the motivation to complete challenging coursework in new, and often unideal, learning environments. 

Students cite the looming uncertainty about the future as a leading cause of their Covid-19 related stress. “I don’t have a plan anymore,” graduating senior Heather Huston admits. Like Heather, many students are feeling a sense of hopelessness as post-graduation travel plans and job prospects seem permanently out of reach. We promise you, they are not! 

Students are also grieving their lost experiences and missed milestones with friends. Graduating seniors in particular are mourning their forgone “lasts” of their college experience. “I had no idea that my bike ride to campus on March 10th would be my last,” said Karina Hoge, senior at UCSB. “It’s hard not to dwell on everything you wish you had done or were planning to do.” 

One of the greatest adjustment challenges college students face is dealing with feelings of loneliness and isolation after suddenly being removed from an intensely social college setting. Karina notes how “tough the transition from spending everyday surrounded by a support system to spending most of [her] days alone.” 

Removal from a social environment can cause students to feel disconnected from their friends, organizations and extracurricular activities. While it is important to maintain physical distance to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and keep our communities safe, it is still possible to stay social and involved. 

What coping strategies can students use at home to improve their mental health? 

1. Establish a routine. 

Mental health research indicates that routine and structure can help promote mental health and psychological resilience. “Coming up with a new daily routine has helped me create a sense of normalcy and ease my anxiety over what I cannot control,” says UCSB student Hanna Erdtmann. “Everyday I wake up at 8am and go for a walk after making a healthy breakfast.” 

Routines don’t have to be complex to be effective. To create a routine, set an alarm to consistently start your day at the same time. Consider setting a goal for coursework completion at the time you typically feel most productive. Try to cross off at least one form of social and physical activity from your daily checklist. 

2. Connect with others. 

Students can maintain a physical distance while staying social. Research shows that social activity is important for your mental health. Support each other by frequently texting, calling, video conferencing and gaming with friends, family and colleagues. Virtual activities such as trivia nights, group Netflix screenings, fitness classes, Tik Tok face-offs, social media challenges, book clubs, painting sessions and dance parties are fun ways to stay connected. 

3. Maintain good health. 

Studies link regular exercise to lower rates of anxiety and depression. There are a multitude of physical activities that can be conducted without gym access, including walking, jogging, dancing, yoga, and at-home workouts. YouTube and Instagram are great resources for free follow-along exercise programs. 

A good night’s sleep has also been linked with positive student mental health. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and aim for between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you have trouble falling asleep, limit screen time before bed and avoid caffeine in the afternoon. 

Stress and anxiety are known to prompt a change in eating habits which can affect mental health. Try to eat three nutritious meals per day at regular intervals. “Cooking has been my favorite distraction,” student Hannah Peck says. “I finally have time to try out all those Tasty recipes I have saved.” 

4. Find a hobby. 

Public health studies suggest that picking up a hobby is an effective way to manage stress and improve mental well-being. Hobbies can bring joy, but also a sense of purpose. Finding meaning in times of crisis helps people cope with the ambiguous and uncontrollable. 

Consider creating a hobby bucket-list to try out new activities and learn new skills. Popular hobbies include learning how to play an instrument, engaging in arts and crafts, completing 

puzzles, creating videos and playlists, baking, scrapbooking, gardening, learning a new language, and reading. 

5. Take advantage of online resources and services. 

Covid-19 has suspended many in-person services but there is still a wide variety of helpful online resources available for students. Over half (55%) of the 2,086 college students surveyed in the Active Minds study reported that “they would not know where to go if they or someone they knew needed professional mental health services right away.” Most college campuses are still offering counseling and psychological services virtually with licensed psychologists and stress peer advisors available to provide personal and confidential support. 

Other organizations are also offering students online counseling services. For example, the nonprofit Keep.meSAFE offers students 24/7 access to licensed counselors either on the phone or via E-chat. Active Minds also helps students manage mental health, providing access to an open chat channel where students can discuss different coping mechanisms with others. 

Many college campuses are offering the same career advising services through Zoom. Students can schedule appointments to discuss job search, interview, and network strategies as well as receive resume and cover letter feedback. Students can also reach out to discuss interests and identify potential career path matches. 

How can students move forward? 

Students experiencing mental health challenges should know that they are not alone, their feelings are justified and there are a variety of coping strategies and online resources available to help support them. 

The Covid-19 crisis is temporary. Instead of worrying about the future, practice self-care, and focus on what you can do now. Students are resilient and will come out of this with a greater knowledge of how to protect themselves and their communities.

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