Since the coronavirus pandemic first started sweeping the nation at the beginning of 2020, people of all ages have been dealing with varying levels of stress, worry, and even fear associated with the disease. Today, many are experiencing anxiety associated with trying to navigate an uncertain future, the loss of financial stability, avoiding risk of infection for themselves or loved ones, and more. For students, these worries often occur alongside other typical student concerns such as academic advancement, financial aid, friendships and relationships, and non-COVID-19-related personal health issues.
Anxiety can present itself in many ways. You may feel nervous or feel panicked. It may be difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Some people find it difficult to sit still or may have trouble concentrating. Even physical symptoms like increased heart rate, rapid breathing without exercise, and sweating or trembling may be signs that you are experiencing anxiety on some level. If ignored or left untreated, anxiety can become more intense and make it difficult to complete everyday tasks. Fortunately, anxiety is typically very manageable—either through self-care tactics, medications, or a combination of both.
Everyone Responds Differently to Anxiety
People at high risk for complications or those with underlying medical conditions may feel more worry or stress related to maintaining their health.
Those with existing anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions may experience increased or elevated symptoms.
Anyone who feels isolated due to being part of a racial, ethnic, or other minority group may have heightened symptoms of anxiety.
People with challenges accessing essential services like health care, housing, and food stability can have additional trouble managing anxiety.
Students with limited or no family support may find it difficult to deal with anxiety on their own.
Students who are facing significant changes in instructional models, scholarships, and other campus life issues may feel added pressure from anxiety.
Healthy Ways to Cope with Anxiety and Stress Can Help
Take care of yourself by eating well-balanced, nutritious meals; exercising regularly; and getting plenty of sleep.
Avoid drinking alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or vaping as ways to manage stress.
Make time to pursue relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, walking, reading, or other things you enjoy.
Talk to friends, family, health care providers, and others you trust. Let them know what you are feeling or what you are struggling with. You do not have to face anxiety alone.
Connect with social groups or faith-based organizations online, through social media, digital meetups, and other events—even when social distancing is in place.
Educate yourself on the truth about COVID-19, its symptoms, risk factors, and more. Rumors and hearsay often make worries worse through exaggerated and/or incorrect information. This article helps explain risks from a student perspective. You can also review the resources available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Set limits for yourself for how often you check for updates, watch the news, or research coronavirus, pandemic conditions, and COVID-19. Being constantly connected can heighten feelings of being overwhelmed. Try setting a scheduled time of day and a time limit like 30 minutes to 1 hour to help avoid obsessive behaviors.
Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t—such as washing hands frequently with soap and water, using hand sanitizer, wearing masks in public places, avoiding crowded gatherings, and maintaining social distance whenever possible.
If Self-Care Isn’t Enough, Seek Out Professional Help
Your health care provider can recommend lifestyle modifications or medications that can help alleviate various symptoms of anxiety.
Speaking with a counselor, psychologist, or other mental health professional can help you build skills to manage both short-term and long-term anxiety.
Your college or university may have help lines and other resources available you can call if you find anxiety is becoming too much to manage alone.
If you are thinking of harming yourself or have thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or you can chat online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.
If you are prescribed medication for anxiety, be sure to follow all directions on dosages and timing. Try not to skip doses even if you are feeling better—unless your medication is to be taken only “as needed.”
You need not wait until your symptoms are extreme or unmanageable to seek out help. Often, being proactive about seeking help can make anxiety easier to manage.
The current pandemic may be temporary, but stressful situations will always be a part of our everyday lives. Whether it’s learning to manage anxiety in response to COVID-19 or becoming more resilient to other stressful challenges—your mental health is important. Taking ownership of your feelings, including anxiety, is a positive way to prepare yourself for uncertainty and make adjustments and choices to maintain well-being.
Until the time comes when a vaccine has been approved and is widely available, COVID-19 will continue to impact daily life in a variety of ways. Reduced class sizes, more digital lectures and assignments, fewer social gatherings, and closures or limited access to certain facilities and destinations will all be common for students on campuses large and small. At the same time, the social dynamic is an important part of the college experience and social relationships are key to positive mental health and well-being. So, how can you effectively stay connected to friends, loved ones, and fellow students with campus life evolving so quickly and frequently? A little extra effort and creativity can do a lot of good.
Go Beyond the Text
We’re all used to communicating via a quick text when we have a free moment, but that’s usually because we’ll end up seeing the recipient eventually for a more in-depth in-person conversation. With social distancing in place, and with some students choosing not to return to campus in person, it may be considerably longer before that face-to-face catch-up can happen.
Make a point of calling friends and others for a voice conversation or video chat at least every 7 to 10 days. It’s a good way to hear or see if someone sounds stressed or in need of support, which may not be clear over text alone.
Look for ways to “gather” as a group. Many people are familiar with Zoom conferencing now, but Google Hangouts (as an app or extension to the Chrome browser) offers similar functionality as does Facetime for iOS devices.
Don’t underestimate the value of a written note or card. Both minted.com and americangreetings.com have customizable greeting card options that they will mail on your behalf with a wide selection of occasions and messages. Most are under $5 and there are subscription plans and free options to choose from as well.
Plan Something Fun
If you find yourself missing the interaction that comes with going to a party or hanging out at the fraternity house, sorority house, or student union, try recreating the experience digitally.
Houseparty is more than just a group video chat—it also includes access to games everyone can play together—even while distanced. Heads Up, Quick Draw, and Chips and Guac are some of the most popular choices, and you can organize team trivia or pub quiz nights, too.
Sharing funny videos can feel just like you’re watching it together with Facebook Watch, Watch2Gether, SyncTube and other apps and tools.
Challenge friends to a digital scavenger hunt by seeing who has not-so-common items somewhere in their room, apartment, or home. Clever ideas include clues like “something with wheels” or “something that floats” and then friends share pictures via text or chat with their item. You can even up the stakes by agreeing to fund a coffee gift card or food delivery for the winner.
Care for Others
Although keeping a pet isn’t possible in residence halls and other on-campus housing, the act of taking care of someone or something else is a healthy way to overcome feelings of isolation.
Orchids and other houseplants can be calming to look at and to care for and can also encourage feelings of being outdoors when weather starts to turn cold or snowy.
Engage in some virtual volunteering related to a topic that interests you. Reading to seniors, helping children with homework, or even tutoring a fellow student are all activities that can be done online and help remind you that you are an important part of a larger community. If you’re not sure how to get started, you can see if your school has a volunteer hub through student government, or you can visit org to browse dozens of interests and causes that you can support from anywhere.
Check in with friends and others when you’re running errands like going to the grocery store or the bookstore. Offering to pick up and drop off something for someone else is not only helpful but also an easy way to strengthen relationships through a thoughtful gesture. If you’re worried about costs—see if stores have pre-pay options that allow others to pay for items before you pick them up, or agree to use Venmo, Zelle, or other money transfer apps to keep things fair.
Care for Yourself
In these difficult times, we’re all learning we need to be better friends to ourselves. Take some time each day to treat yourself to an activity that brings you together with others, but without sharing the same physical space.
Take a digital hobby class. Whether it’s yoga, meditation, watercolor painting, beatboxing, knitting, martial-arts fitness, coding, cooking, or some other interest, there are hundreds of online resources that allow you to join in on classes either on a schedule or on demand. Many are free, and some will even deliver supplies to paying members or subscribers for a small fee.
Get outside. Anyone that spends all their time within the same four walls is bound to feel bored, fatigued, and frustrated. Taking a simple stroll through nature or to admire architecture on campus can be like pressing a reset button. Just be sure to follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines as required by your campus.
Keep a written or digital journal of your thoughts. It may be a daily diary, or you might include photos, sketches, poetry, or other forms of expression. Looking back at your thoughts from previous days is a positive reminder that situations are rarely permanent and things are always changing – so it’s okay to think of brighter days ahead.
As college and university campuses across the country consider the upcoming fall semester and response to COVID-19, many students are dealing with uncertainty regarding how to best manage their own risks associated with the virus. Understanding how the virus spreads, who needs to take special precautions, and what to do if you suspect you or someone else may be infected can go a long way towards helping reduce risks for everyone in your campus community—including you.
What is COVID-19 anyway?
COVID-19 is the name for an illness associated with a specific strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Many different kinds of coronavirus exist in the world, and the majority cause minor respiratory illnesses (such as the “common cold”). However, this specific virus has not previously been recognized in humans (it is a “novel” virus) and is now known to cause serious health problems and deaths.
There currently is no cure or proven treatment for infections of COVID-19. Medical care is focused around managing symptoms in the hope an infected person’s immune system can defeat the virus on its own.
At first, COVID-19 may seem like a common cold or flu. Fever or chills, coughing, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, congestion, shortness of breath, sudden loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea are all common symptoms of COVID-19.
People with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or major obesity and those who engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or vaping tend to have a greater risk of becoming severely ill.
It is important to recognize that some people infected with COVID-19 may show only mild symptoms or may not show any symptoms at all (asymptomatic).
Testing is the only way to be 100% certain whether an illness is COVID-19 or some other infection.
How does COVID-19 spread?
All viruses spread differently. Some, like HIV, are blood-borne—which means the virus is passed through direct contact with infected bodily fluids. Other viruses are airborne—which means they can travel through the air. The virus that causes COVID-19 is an airborne virus that is primarily spread through respiratory droplets.
Droplets are particles that are often invisible to the naked eye. Human beings produce droplets when they cough, sneeze, talk, and even while breathing.
When someone is infected with COVID-19, the virus becomes present in the droplets they produce. When someone else comes in contact with these droplets, they also come in contact with the COVID-19 virus.
Anyone who is infected can transmit infected droplets—even if they are only mildly symptomatic or they have no symptoms at all.
Contact with droplets can occur by inhaling droplets already in the air; through airborne droplets that land in the mouth, nose, or eyes; or by touching droplets on a surface and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes.
How can I keep from getting sick?
Since there is currently no vaccine or cure for COVID-19, the best way to avoid infection is to limit or eliminate sources of droplet contact.
Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and other persons can limit the amount of droplets you are in contact with. The same is true for others who wish to limit their exposure to droplets you produce.
Wearing a mask that covers both your nose and mouth helps reduce the number of droplets in the air and how far they travel. When more people wear masks, there are fewer infective droplets present in the air. As a result, wearing a mask can help to protect both you and others.
Avoiding crowded places and gatherings reduces exposure to droplets.
Staying home if you may have been exposed or self-isolating when you feel sick prevents exposing other people to infective droplets you transmit.
Washing hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds breaks down COVID-19 and makes it less infective. Hand sanitizer with at least a 60% ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or 70% isopropanol works well too.
There are currently two types of tests for COVID-19—one for active infections where the virus is present in the body, and one for antibodies which shows someone has been infected but is no longer carrying the virus.
Tests for infection require a nasopharyngeal swab. This means a technician will place a 6-inch cotton swab up both sides of your nose and move it around for a few seconds. (It is uncomfortable but should not be painful). Results of these tests (called nucleic acid tests) are typically available anywhere between 24 hours and a few days depending on how many tests are being processed in your area. There are also rapid tests (called antigen tests) available at some health facilities, but they can sometimes be less accurate.
Antibody tests require a small amount of blood to be tested, and results can be available as quickly as 45 minutes to an hour later. Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose active infection, and at present experts do not know what level of antibody makes a person immune from future infection. But an antibody test can tell you if you have had COVID-19, even if you had no symptoms or only mild symptoms.
Is it safe to be at school?
Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to managing their risk concerning COVID-19. You should check with your individual school to learn which precautions are already in place to ensure the safety of students and staff, as well as any responsibilities you may have in returning to campus. You are likely to see many changes from what you are used to if you’ve been enrolled and on campus in the past. Or, if you are new to college, it may be different from what you expected. Rest assured that campus officials and campus health teams are making decisions with everyone’s best interests in mind. But it is an uncertain time, and it is OK to be anxious or unsure. So don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Returning to college and university campuses during the COVID-19 era is a matter that extends well beyond classrooms and lecture halls. Shared spaces—especially those that students call home—are also important aspects of helping ensure everyone’s health and safety. Whether you live in a residence hall, apartment, fraternity or sorority housing, or a shared rental home, there are a number of smart tactics you and your roommates can use to limit your risk of infection.
Adopt the habit of washing hands or using hand sanitizer every time anyone enters your dwelling.
Designate and separate personal items.
Get your own water bottle, cup, and dinnerware and clean these items with soap and hot water. Disposable items can also be an option, but if you choose that approach, try to find utensils and utensils and dinnerware that are biodegradable and compostable.
Keep toothbrushes and other hygiene items in their own bag or container as opposed to left out on countertops or medicine cabinets.
Select your own “private” shelf in refrigerators and/or pantries.
Have your own supply of masks or face coverings. See this article on proper wear and care of face masks.
Create your own “private space” to whatever extent possible.
Consider a folding-panel room divider for small spaces.
Keep the door to your room closed and off-limits to visitors.
If you do not have a private bathroom, keep bathroom and hygiene items in your room or in a sealed/closed container when not in use.
Maintain physical (“social”) distancing as much as reasonable
Watch television while remaining 6 feet apart.
If you use a shared bathroom, take turns in the bathroom or leave sufficient space between yourself and roommates/hall mates.
If your residence hall or fraternity/sorority has created bathroom “appointment times” or “designated groups” for bathroom groups, follow the rules!
Avoid gathering and crowding of shared spaces like laundry rooms and hall kitchen facilities.
At times when physical distancing is impossible to maintain, wear a mask, even if you are indoors.
Since you cannot wear a mask while eating/drinking, create dining spaces with 6 feet of physical distancing. Whenever possible, think about eating outdoors!
Set up shared cleaning responsibilities.
Clean high-touch and shared areas like doorknobs, light switches, faucets, refrigerator handles, kitchen cabinets, microwaves, and TV remotes.
Regularly wipe down all surfaces with disinfectant cleaners or a bleach solution (one cap full per quart of water). Aim for at least once every 24 hours—this is a good responsibility to switch off so everyone gets a break in between turns.
Clean the bathroom daily—including sink, toilet, shower/bathtub.
Keep disinfectant wipes or sprays near entry ways or in shared vehicles.
Agree to adhere to any reporting procedures in place by the university for individuals who are sick or exhibiting symptoms – OR – make an agreement that each roommate will have themselves tested as soon as possible if they feel ill or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Talk about your concerns with your roommate(s) and make sure you have emergency contact information for their families or loved ones in case you need to contact them.
Maintain open communications with your resident advisor (RA), house manager or “parent”, apartment management, or landlord.
Share food, beverages, cups, or dinnerware.
Leave food/drink messes for roommates to clean up.
Enter your roommate’s room/bathroom/vehicle or other space without their permission – especially if you are not feeling well.
Invite guests into your room or apartment. Meet up in an outdoor environment instead.
Try to hide illness from your roommate, RA, or other students.
Assume you’re too young/healthy to get infected. COVID-19 infects people of all ages.
Smoke or vape in shared spaces—these behaviors are associated with more serious illness, even for those who are exposed second hand.
Make excuses about not following university protocol, including mask use and physical distancing.
Leave jackets, shoes, and clothing that has been outside lying on couches, countertops, chairs or other shared spaces. Consider getting or using a coat-rack or hooks for keeping these items by the front door, rather than dragging them through the house.
Engage in high-risk activities like concerts, going to the gym, or attending church services without speaking to roommates first to establish “ground rules” for managing risk.
Host parties in your room or apartment. Find suitable social activities to participate in outside your home.
Keep things bottled up. If you have concerns, make sure you express them to your roommates, or, if necessary, to RAs, apartment managers, or other housing authorities who may be able to help.
While living at home, including during COVID-19 restrictions, you likely spent a lot of time in close contact with family members—even those that worked outside the home. It may seem like the risks at college are the same. But the truth is that even under the best scenarios, with plenty of social distancing in place, college students encounter anywhere between dozens to hundreds of people per day just during daily activities. That means everyone must agree to put in a little extra effort to minimize everyone’s risk. It may mean being more selective about roommates or making a change in housing choices. It also may be inconvenient at times, but if everyone tries to do their part, it can minimize risk for your entire “household.”