Colleges and universities across the world had to make changes and take numerous safety precautions to keep students and their families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many students, depending on where they attend school, their college experience post-2020 has looked a little different.
Many students had to leave their campus communities, friends, and familiar class routines, and many struggled with loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression, often coupled with fears of contracting the virus, concern for immunocompromised loved ones, economic instability, and job loss.
As the world returns to something like normal, many students are still affected by the disruption of the last couple years. There are many effective ways to promote mental wellbeing in the midst of COVID-induced stress. These strategies are beneficial for coping with the normal stress of college. Our team at Mindboost has a list of suggestions for helping your students navigate these challenging times.
- Stay active – Encourage students to make time for movement, even if it’s only a daily walk. Staying active is one of the most important things we can do to improve wellbeing, support the immune system, and decrease our chances of becoming severely ill. In addition, exercise promotes mental wellbeing through helping the body cope with stress by releasing mood-enhancing hormones such as endorphins and serotonin, improving sleep, and by releasing skeletal muscle tension.
- Promote regularly self check-ins – Teach your students to take time the time to conduct honest and thoughtful self-reflection. Help them learn to ask questions such as: How are you really doing? What habits do you think you might be forming that are contributing to stress and anxiety? Do you feel that your life has purpose and that you are growing as a person at a healthy rate? Mindboost can help with this. Our AI-powered chatbot Mindy provides daily check-ins for students enrolled in Mindboost tailored to each individual’s state of mind. Answering these prompts and thinking through Mindy’s daily customized questions can be very helpful in building a pattern of self-reflection.
- Take time for mental rest – It’s good for students to schedule rest periods during the day, and to make time for new hobbies or creative pursuits as a mental break from schoolwork. When staring at a screen all day, eye strain is also a concern. Students can protect eyes by following the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Exposure to blue lights, the kind emanating from computer and phone screens, can disrupt the body’s natural rhythm and sleep patterns. Blue light blocking glasses can help protect students’ sleep schedules and avoid this disruption.
- Behavioral activation – Behavioral Activation (BA) is a strategy borrowed from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that works by helping an individual identify specific goals and working towards meeting those goals. The goal is to increase contact with positive and rewarding activities. Students can try using Behavioral Activation in their school life by identifying areas that are important to the student, then designing specific activities that include measurable progress. Use a reasonable time period, such as one week.
- Limit social media and news intake – It’s no secret: the news cycle during the pandemic has been troubling and stressful. While staying informed is important, so is being present in our own unique circumstances. Students can start building mindfulness habits now by taking note of how they feel after listening to the news, and trying to balance this consumption with being proactive toward things they can actually control, such as healthy habits, attitude, personal responsibilities, relationships, etc. Students might consider setting limits on how many news or media sources they consume, and become attentive to when body and stress levels are saying it’s time to log off social media and pick up a good book or call a friend.
- Organize schoolwork with timelines – It’s normal for college students to feel overwhelmed in their first years at school. Whether classes are in person or online, the mental weight of remembering schedules and projects can feel tiring and stressful. Getting organized helps so students don’t need to rely on memory or willpower alone. Students often feel better when they organize projects and semester or quarter deadlines by setting measurable goals they can progressively work toward. Big term paper due at the end of the semester? A timeline for when the outline, introduction, body, conclusion, and formatting should be completed makes a looming burden much more doable. Students can put it in their planner and allow check it off their mental to-do list until it’s time.
- Human connection is restorative – Isolation tends to make emotional and mental challenges so much worse. Students should learn from a young age to value and foster relationships. It’s a worthy and important goal to connect regularly with friends and family. Ideas for students may include taking time away from homework to cook dinner with family, planning a virtual movie night with friends, or calling an elderly relative who may be feeling even more isolated. Reaching out to others when we are stressed or struggling is not only societally important during troubled times, it’s one of the best things we can do for our own mental health and happiness.
- Implement structure – Structure helps students thrive. By starting their day at the same time every morning; maintaining adequate nutrition and hydration, including a diet high in protein, healthy fats, vegetables, and fruits; and planning an exercise routine that includes time outdoors in the fresh air every day; students can learn the connection between physical and mental wellness. Every student is different; each should identify their own preferred method of scheduling, whether rigidly structured, flexibly structured, or unstructured.
- Prioritize a good night’s sleep – It’s well-accepted that lack of sleep can worsen feelings of depression and anxiety and dullen our ability to learn and retain new information. It’s so important for students’ mental and physical health that they get enough rest. Even in an unconventional college experience, students need to be sharp and mentally prepared to learn and get the most out of their classes. Encourage students to aim for 7-9 hours every night. Limiting screen time in the evening and avoiding caffeine after noon can help avoid any disruptions in sleep patterns.
- Help others – There is a Chinese proverb that says, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” Using our own experiences to help another person is one of the most satisfying things we can accomplish. Students need opportunities to serve and encourage generosity as a vital aspect of a well-rounded and healthy life. It’s important that they learn to relate to others by sharing their struggles and effective strategies. Encourage students to take initiative to “be the friend” who reaches out and checks on others, and asks how friends, family members, and acquaintances are doing. Simple actions such as calling an elderly friend or relative or sending a bouquet, card, or care package bring joy and cause a ripple effect.
We know that helping your students and providing the support they need is a top priority always. Mindboost is an AI-powered app designed to provide daily check-ins, exercises, and other mental health support tools. We’ve seen amazing results in students using this app, with symptoms of anxiety reduced 28% and depression 18%. Contact us to schedule your demo today!