Taking Care of Your Mental Health During COVID-19

Dana Guterman
Updated: May 7, 2020


Being a college student is an exciting experience—but it can also be stressful, even during the best of times. Now, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, students are packing up their dorm rooms, attending online classes, and adjusting to a new normal. Given that depression and anxiety were already on the rise among young adults, and one in five students deals with a mental health condition, it’s a lot to take in. You’re not alone if you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed.

Now more than ever, you need to focus on your mental health and self-care. That means being kind to yourself, taking care of yourself physically, and recognizing when to ask for help.

Tips to cope during COVID-19

Here are some tips to take care of yourself physically and mentally.

  • Stay connected. You can’t hug your friends or meet up at the library, but you can schedule Zoom coffee dates, watch a movie on Netflix Party together, or even do a virtual baking session. You’ll feel less alone if you stay in touch with your community, and luckily, we have the technology to do so.
  • Know that your feelings are normal. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling sad, anxious, and/or stressed. Even if you love your family, have your own space, and don’t have financial obligations, this is a loss. Accept that this is a hard time for everyone.
  • The news is really stressful right now, so do yourself a favor and disconnect. You don’t need to know what’s going on every second, especially since things are changing so quickly. Limit your social media usage and turn off the radio or TV. Aim to check the news from a reliable source just once or twice a day.
  • Structure your days. One day can easily melt into the next during this period of self-isolation. Without a gym, why get up at 7:00 am? If no one sees you outside of your parents, why change out of pajamas? But it’s important that you stick to your regular schedule as much as possible. Get up and go to sleep at the same time each day, change your clothes, attend your online classes as if you were in the classroom, and eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Get moving. Jump up and down, do a little dance, or hop on the treadmill. Even better? Get outside and take a stroll or a jog. Getting outside and exercising can really boost your mood, and as long as you maintain proper distancing, it’s low-risk. You can even invite a friend—just walk six feet apart and wear masks.
  • Get enough sleep. The amount of sleep we get greatly affects our mood. Set yourself up for success by getting 7–9 hours of sleep each night. Also, try to avoid looking at screens right before bed; it can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Give back. During times like this, helping others can help all of us. If you can, offer to pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor. If you don’t feel safe doing that, order delivery from a local restaurant and leave a big tip. If you can’t afford that, write a letter to a friend to brighten their day. You can always make someone’s day better, and it might boost your mood, too.
  • Mix up your activities. Once you’re done with classes for the day, fill your time with activities that bring you joy. Try reading a book, playing an instrument, doing some crafts, baking, watching a new TV series, playing a videogame, or doing your nails. If that sounds like too much, do some meditation, take a warm bath, or just listen to music.
  • Don’t ask too much of yourself. Not everyone has the energy to learn a new language or take up bread-making during this time. And that’s totally okay. Sometimes, you might not even have the energy to finish an assignment. Be good to yourself. Recognize that this is hard and you are doing your best.
  • Remember: This, too, shall pass. This is really hard, and sometimes, you might feel hopeless. Remind yourself that we’ve been through this before: pandemics, war, recessions, and depressions. It’s okay to grieve, but don’t give up. We’ve always bounced back, and we’ll do it again.


Resources for when you need help

Sometimes, no matter how much you try, you don’t feel better. Signs that you might be struggling with your mental health include changes in your appetite or sleep patterns, feeling numb, having difficulty focusing, and losing interest in things you used to enjoy. If these symptoms last for longer than a few days, don’t wait for things to get worse. Reach out for help.

  • Talk to your family. If you’re staying with your family during this time and have a positive relationship with them, let them know about your feelings. Your family knows you well, and just talking to people you trust about your feelings can be helpful.
  • Phone a friend. In addition to (or instead of) family members, talk to a friend. Many of your friends are likely dealing with similar emotions, so they’ll be able to empathize. You can text, call, video chat, email, or mail a card. Knowing that you’re not alone in this can be comforting.
  • Use your school’s resources. Many universities have moved their counseling and psychological services online and are making those services widely available through telehealth meetings. Go to your school’s psychological services website to learn more. Most sites include resources for urgent needs, group meetings, and less formal options.
  • Find a therapist. Even if you’ve never considered therapy before, you might be considering it now. Don’t be intimidated; it’s really not that complicated. The good news is that most health plans are now covering telehealth services (but still check that everything is covered by insurance). You can find a therapist on your insurance provider’s website or through Psychology Today. You might have to speak to a few people to find the right therapist for you!
  • Contact the Crisis Text Line. If you need immediate support, it provides free, confidential services to anyone experiencing a crisis, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Students can text HELLO to 741-741 to be connected to a Crisis Counselor.
  • Call The Lifeline. This is another option if you’re experiencing a crisis, such as considering suicide or having severe emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-8255 to get connected.