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5 Tips to Manage Your Experience During the COVID-19 Emergency

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During the past several weeks, millions of students across the United States have found themselves facing a new normal of leaving their campuses and completing their educations remotely. If you are one such student, you may be feeling overwhelmed, anxious and isolated — you want to figure out how best to manage this new normal. Yes, these are unprecedented times — you hear it on the news every single day — but as speaker and storyteller Kindra Hall reflects, "you are in the middle of a story," your story, and you have a lot more control over how it develops and ends than you may imagine.

As the story unfolds, it's okay to spend time grieving what you will miss — proms, graduation ceremonies, sporting events, family and friend celebrations — and as you do that, it's ok to ignore the webinars and articles dispensing advice on how to be productive during a time of crisis. Really, it's okay to press pause for a minute. Put some Christmas lights up if it'll cheer you up! Once you go through the stages of grief, however, focus on what you can control. Below, I've listed five actions you can take to manage your experience during the COVID-19 health crisis.

1. Take Care of Your Physical and Emotional Health

First and foremost, take care of yourself, physically and emotionally. As disruptive and stressful as the current health crisis is, it has given you the opportunity to pause and reflect. No more F.O.M.O. and no more trying to balance an intense academic schedule with tons of class project meetings, on-campus and off-campus events of all manner and style, friend parties, family gatherings, competitions, and much more. Consider the current situation a chance to sit back and focus on all the things you may have ignored before, especially your health.

Physical Health

Staying physically active is key to staying healthy, boosting your immune system and reducing your anxiety. Depending on where you live, it may still be fine to go for walks, hikes or bike rides as long as you keep at least a six-foot distance between you and others. To avoid crowds, consider going outside during less busy hours (I prefer early mornings) or make sure you are in an area where it's easy to keep the recommended distance.

Whether going outside is an option for you or not, you want to make sure you stay active even when inside your home. Set a reminder to get up regularly and stretch. Consider indoor activities that keep you moving, such as cleaning and reorganizing your space. Chatting with friends and family on the phone? Why not get up and walk around your home or neighborhood as you do so. If you prefer formal workouts, check whether your local gym offers virtual sessions or find one you like from the many free ones available on YouTube. Dance!

Emotional Health

While staying physically active helps improve your mental health, it's not the only way to do so. Facing the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 can take its toll, so keep the following recommendations in mind as you navigate the coming weeks.

  • Limit and customize your intake of news. Sign up for brief daily updates from respected publications or reliable sources like the CDC or WHO; set up alerts for your state; and schedule long breaks from social media.
  • Take advantage of online wellness resources offered by your academic institution.
  • Devote time each day to reflection and meditation. Choose an activity that calms you down, centers you and allows you to simply breathe. I recommend journaling as a way to monitor your thoughts and stay grounded.
  • Register for and complete Yale's most popular class, The Science of Well-Being, available for free on Coursera.
  • Get a good night's sleep. Every night.

2. Focus Your Energy on Creative and Fun Projects

What is something you've been curious about doing but never had the time to do? Now is your chance to make it happen. Focusing on a project you enjoy can take your mind off the constant barrage of unsettling news. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a collage.
  • Reorganize your space or closet.
  • Make a scrapbook.
  • Create a vision board.
  • Learn how to cook your favorite meals.
  • Design your own website.
  • Master the correct lyrics to all your favorite songs, finally!

3. Grow Personally, On Your Own Terms

Living through a global health crisis will invariably change you in ways you can't control, but that doesn't mean your personal growth during the next few weeks is completely out of your hands. Remember that learning happens outside the formal academic setup as much as it does inside the (virtual) classroom. What's even better is that there are no restrictions when it comes to subjects; anything that sparks your curiosity can now get your attention, even topics you never thought you'd have the time to explore. Here's how to go about it:

  • Listen to podcasts.
  • Read books, especially the ones not marked as required class reading.
  • Take online courses.
  • Master a new language.
  • Learn a new skill (crocheting, calligraphy, drawing, origami, juggling, magic, or graphic design are all fine ideas).
  • Watch cool documentaries in addition to treating yourself to your favorite TV shows.
  • Visit and explore museums from the comfort of your home.
  • Enjoy Broadway plays for a week.

4. Foster an Online Community

Physically distancing yourself from the world does not have to equal social isolation. We are lucky to have technology that can keep us connected, so be sure to stay in touch with and check on friends and family. It would also be fun to write an actual physical letter and mail it to a friend, especially if you've never done that before. You can use the time to expand your professional network, but you may also choose to prioritize fostering an online community of shared interests and experiences:

  • Join an online book club.
  • Play games with friends online.
  • Schedule a Netflix party and watch a favorite show with friends.
  • Plan a virtual happy hour.
  • Start a blog and connect with other bloggers.
  • Do all of the above.

5. Reach out and Help

Communities and organizations across the United States and the world are facing unprecedented challenges and problems. How can you help them solve or address these? Find ways to contribute in your building, your neighborhood, your city. You can volunteer your time and services in person or online. For example, students at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School created a website to support their favorite local businesses in Baltimore and invited others to do the same.

What are the needs of your community? Reach out to vulnerable neighbors and offer to go grocery shopping for them. Donate blood or funds if you can. Volunteer to help teach and tutor kids in your neighborhood using online tools — their parents will appreciate it. Call or text a friend to support and encourage them. Lastly, remember that one of the most effective ways to help is to simply stay home and minimize outside trips to essential ones only.