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.