March 11th 2021 marks the anniversary of when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Since then, nearly everyone’s lives and routines have been upended. Students must continue to adapt and embrace difficult changes during this ongoing difficult time.
It’s still imperative for you to take care of yourself, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Both stress and coping look different for everyone; there is no one size-fits-all approach. I’ve complied this list of strategies for taking care of yourself, and I hope you will find a few that work for you.
1. Stay connected. Social distancing does not require social isolation. Staying involved and connected to others builds resiliency and has positive effects on mental health. The National Association of Mental Illness has a range of suggestions available, from individuals in isolation, to those able and willing to connect in person while remaining socially distant. The SHWB team has also curated a list of virtual and local-to-Baltimore things to do to have fun while remaining COVID-safe.
2. Do something that makes a meaningful and personal impact. Giving back not only improves the lives of others, but also improves individual feelings of purpose, connectedness, and self-worth. Giving back does not just mean opening your wallet, but can be a variety of things: offer time (for instance at a crisis or support line), donate blood, clean out your home and donate unused food or clothing, or volunteer a skill (tutoring, computer literacy, gaming, translation, etc.). The Center for Social Concern is a great place to start for Hopkins undergraduates; East Baltimore students can reach out to SOURCE for similar community engagement opportunities. Hopkins Engage is a university-wide resource for volunteering.
3. Build perspective. Right now is hard, but consider the strengths and skills, such as adaptation, creativity, or flexibility, that you have built during this time. Reflect on how the changes of COVID have maybe added value to your life. Maybe you have more time, less pressure, or a shorter commute. Building perspective is not about ignoring the bad. It is about considering the whole picture.
4. Embrace gratitude for the here-and-now. Things are tough, but shifting a focus from what is wrong to what is going well can have a significant impact. Expressing gratitude as a part of your daily routine can improve mood, decrease stress and other mental health distress, and improve outlook. Not sure where to start? There are a wealth of resources available online to explore, but gratitude can be as simple as expressing thanks in your daily interactions, or something more time intensive, like journaling. (The Calm app, which is available for free to all Hopkins affiliates, has a journaling tool.) Have fun exploring an option that suits you!
5. Seek professional emotional support if you need it. Students can access many Hopkins resources either in person or remotely, including:
6. Remain safe by practicing social distancing and following recommendations from the CDC. Focusing and acting on what you can control in a time of uncertainty is beneficial to your mental health. Using face coverings is one of the most helpful things you can do to protect yourself and your community, along with avoiding large gatherings and remaining six feet from anyone who is not a member of your immediate household.
7. Maintain a healthy and balanced diet, if possible. A well-balanced diet of nutritious foods can support a strong immune system, helping with the burden of stress on the body during a time of crisis. If you are experiencing food insecurity, either near campus or elsewhere, contact the following Hopkins resources for help:
8. Keep up physical activity at home. Exercise is a wonderful way to stay healthy, boost your mood, and take a break from daily stress. If you’re in Baltimore, the O’Connor Rec Center (Homewood) is currently open, and the Cooley Center (East Baltimore) is slated to reopen on March 22. Both gyms offer free virtual classes for all students across all divisions, and the Center for Health Education and Well-Being created two mindful yoga exercises, available on YouTube. The 15-minute session is good for beginners and a quick reset; the 40-minute vinyasa flow is more of a workout.
9. Create (or maintain) a manageable routine. Having a routine can help you cope with change and uncertainty, maintain positive habits, and reduce stress. If online or hybrid classes are changing your study habits, the Office of Student Disability Services, which serves all nine academic divisions, can recommend strategies and tools to help.
10. Take breaks from work and from screens. Breaks keep us from getting bored and unfocused. They also help us retain knowledge and reevaluate our goals as needed. For more on the science of breaks, you can read this Buffer article, which includes some strategies like the Pomodoro method.
11. Try something new. Drumming up enthusiasm for a new pursuit during social distancing can be tough. However, trying something new can keep you mentally stimulated and reduce boredom, fatigue, and restlessness. Read for fun, from a genre that’s not your usual go-to. Listen to some new artists. Plan a future event to look forward to. (We’ll link to the “Things to Do for Fun During COVID” list again; it will be updated monthly.)
12. Take time to decompress and de-stress. Each person will likely experience this life disruption differently, and it’s perfectly understandable to feel any number of ways. Remind yourself this is a time of adjustment. The Calm app, which is available for free to all Hopkins affiliates, is a great tool to reduce stress. The SilverCloud platform, which is available for free to all full-time Hopkins students over the age of 18, teaches skills and strategies based in cognitive behavioral therapy that are also helpful in reducing stress..
Note: the tools and resources listed below are not sponsored by Johns Hopkins University. If you try any apps or services mentioned here, make sure you ask about any related costs before purchase if necessary.