How to manage your mental health in isolation

Minneapolis, Minn., sophomore Caelin Hoben laying in a fort she built in her apartment. Brittney Matthews | Multimedia Editor

By Andie Chilson | Reporter

With continued social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates in the wake of COVID-19, mental health is at the forefront of the national discussion.

Dr. Helen Harris, a professor in the School of Social Work at Baylor, urges students to remember that although we may be physically distant from one another, we do not have to be emotionally distant – a common misconception surrounding the term ‘social distancing.’

“It’s really important to connect with other people who matter to us and to whom we matter,” Harris said.

Dr. Sara Dolan, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, also cautioned students about the dangers of becoming too isolated while social distancing.

“Thinking about self-isolation as something that’s actually isolating can be really hard for people, so not reaching out to people and staying emotionally isolated as well as socially isolated can be really harmful,” Dolan said.

Harris also reminded students that the feelings of fear and anxiety that many of us are experiencing during this unprecedented time is normal.

“These are scary times for everybody, so don’t be too harsh on yourself if anxiety and depression are part of what you’re experiencing,” Harris said.

Dolan also emphasized the importance of addressing feelings of fear and anxiety during these times, as they are to be expected and are completely normal.

Harris offered some concrete tips for students suffering from feelings of anxiety or panic, including deep breathing, spending time in nature and looking beyond our current reality to the future.

“Life continues, life will continue, new life will continue. We have lots of evidence around us in the spring of hope and new life and fresh starts – all of which are going to be available to us as we come to the end of this pandemic,” Harris said.

Dolan also encouraged students to stay connected with their friends and family.

“I think it’s really important to build in social and fun time. So everyday, try to have some kind of virtual social connection,” Dolan said.

Another piece of advice that Dolan offered was creating structure in your day. She encouraged students to try to eat, study and exercise at the same time each day.

While staying up to date with the development of the pandemic is important, it is also necessary to limit our news consumption so as not to overwhelm ourselves with negativity, Dolan said.

“It’s important for all of us to have the factual information, but we can go overboard and stress ourselves out,” Dolan said.

Dolan encouraged students to take advantage of the myriad of resources available. Among the best of them are the American Psychological Association’s tips for getting social support, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s resources for stress and coping and this review of the psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it.

Dolan also recommended that students in need contact the Baylor Counseling Center for assistance. They can be reached via phone and video.