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Students at many colleges and universities in the United States and many private and public schools in the state are preparing to transition to online learning to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Many businesses and organizations are also switching to a telecommuting policy. These changes and closures impact the structure and routines of our daily lives. Change is hard. Sudden change is even harder. It can impact the emotional and psychological well being of students, faculty, and employees. All of us.

If you’re feeling stressed by recent events, then congratulations – you’re human and your brain is working! The brain’s stress response is normal and natural especially when facing situations like this when the WHO and others are using the word “pandemic.” If you are struggling with difficulties such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD or have been coping better and are now noticing an increase in problems, this could be explained by the increase in environmental stress. It is important to remember that context is king. If the environmental stress kicks up to a certain level, no matter how well you’re doing personally, it’s going to kick up your stress, which could have downstream effects.

To help you cope through this stressful period, consider the following tips for staying well:

  • Apply basic hygiene and precautions. The best recommendations from leading health organizations like the CDC include: washing your hands for 20 seconds especially after blowing your nose, sneezing, coughing, or going to the bathroom, keep unwashed hands away from your face, nose, and mouth, and minimize unnecessary touch, especially with strangers. Stay at home when you’re sick. If you’re school or organization is offering telecommuting, try that. But remember the CDC is asking us to stay away from large crowds and social events to “flatten the curve” not telling us to avoid our friends, neighbors, and loved ones.
  • Take care of your body. Try to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, keeping sleep and wake times regular to maintain circadian rhythms, drinking plenty of water and eating healthy, and engaging in regular physical activity. Working out doesn’t have to take forever. For example, pushups – the old exercise standby – are a great quick activity and measure of physical health. I often do a set of pushups between work or client sessions to recharge. Some clients do these or walk or run stairs for a reset. HIT and Tabata are also quick exercise options. It only takes a few minutes to stay fit.
  • Stick to your day-to-day routines as much as possible. If you’re participating in online learning or telecommuting temporarily or coming home from college, try to stick to your normal routines. If you’re in therapy, most therapists will try to work with you to offer teletherapy to continue that important routine.
  • Stay connected to friends and family. It is important to stay connected to those you love and who love you through social media, email, texting, and video calls. Social connection is critical for our emotional wellbeing. We are hardwired to be connected to others.
  • Be mindful of your media uptake. When it comes to information, more can just become, well, more. When you are wanting to find out information, make sure you’re getting it only from a reliable source. Consider the frequency and intensity of your update of information. Given the amount of information out there right now, it only takes a little to stay up to date. Also, ask yourself why you’re seeking out this information. What personal value or goal does it serve? If it doesn’t, it could be more helpful to engage in another activity.
  • Use skills to “unhook” from your mind and recalibrate emotionally. We’re all prone to overwhelm right now. Remember that your brain is a giant “don’t get killed machine” that is hardwired for survival. Right now there is actually some survival talk going on. That’s going to activate your sympathetic nervous system or fight, flight, freeze system. For your brain, survival can mean pandemics or urgent emails from your boss. Your limbic system doesn’t discriminate on what activates it much except that the more intensely the threat is perceived the bigger the reaction. When it’s activated, your thoughts and prefrontal cortex can get locked in the trunk. Physical grounding (e.g., dropping anchor, naming 5 things you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell), diaphragmatic breathing techniques (Hey – if you don’t think this stuff works, check out this sniper who reduces his breathing from 18 breaths per minute to 6 in 130 degree temps), simple mindfulness exercises, and, as always, quick physical exercise as described above can trigger the calming rest and digest system (parasympathetic nervous system) to turn down the noise.
  • Seek out help if you need it. If you feel like you need more support right now than using these skills, many psychologists and therapists in the area are offering teletherapy services to help clients connect more easily while being mindful of restrictions. You can actually work with most therapists who are licensed in your state wherever you are as long as they are using HIPAA-compliant methods of communication. You can also text the Crisis Text Line by texting “BRAVE” to 741-741 or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. If you’re experiencing a true emergency, you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Please remember that your feeling stressed in response to this situation is normal and makes sense. It is truly ok not to be ok especially when it seems like things are not ok. We are all in this together. May you and yours be safe and healthy. Be well.

Information about COVID-19 is being updated frequently, so here are some additional resources to find updated information as needed. Some of these resources have informed the information above:


SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline

Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990 (English and español)

SMS: Text TalkWithUs to 66746

SMS (español): “Hablanos” al 66746

TTY: 1-800-846-8517

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio


Options For Deaf + Hard of Hearing


Veterans Crisis Line


Text 838255

Momentum’s resources are for informational purposes only and are not intended to assess, diagnose, or treat any medical and/or mental health disease or condition. Our resources do not imply nor establish any type of therapist-client relationship. The information should not be considered a substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health or medical provider who could best evaluate and advise based on a careful evaluation.