COVID-19 Coping Tips and Resources for Students

These tips are adapted from an article by Ashleigh Louis. Scroll down for a list of additional resources, including brief coping tip videos, news, self-care resources, and mental health advice.

Create Structure

Maintaining a daily routine is very important to your adjustment to this continually evolving landscape.  Impose structure on your basic daily activities, such as showering, eating healthy meals, drinking sufficient water, and following a typical sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up around the same time each day). Getting dressed helps, too!  Make a schedule in your phone or planner, adding these items to a daily to-do list. Set reminder alarms if needed.

Have a Gratitude Attitude

There is a lot to be upset about right now. There are also aspects of life that are okay, and it’s important to acknowledge them.  Gratitude has been shown to enhance well-being and improve immune functioning and sleep quality, among many other benefits. When you notice yourself thinking about the negative aspects of your life, shift your attention to something for which you are grateful. If you are stuck, ask your friends and family what allows them to feel thankful.

Avoid Media Madness

Information overload uses valuable cognitive space. Decrease your exposure to media, consult reputable sources (e.g., CDC, WHO, Johns Hopkins), and prioritize written news, as it tends to be less anxiety-producing than news videos. Put a couple of short periods of news-checking into your daily schedule; don't overwhelm yourself with repeatedly looking for updates. And a word about Facebook, Instagram, and other social media: Sadly, a lot of misinformation is spread here, so let’s stick with support from friends, jokes, and cat videos.

Live by Your Values

Trying to live according to your values is a good way to cope during times of stress. Ask yourself what you want your life to stand for. What is your passion?  Do you want to be remembered as someone who was helpful, kind, intelligent, funny, dependable, thoughtful, patient, generous, curious? Make choices that align with those values. For example, if you identified an important value is helpfulness, you could seek out ways to be helpful.  Intelligence a primary value? This is a great time to read more and watch TED Talks.

Do Some Deep Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful way to tell your nervous system you're safe and don't need to be in fight-or-flight mode:

  1. Sit comfortably or lie down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
  2. As you take slow, deep breaths in through your nose, notice how your belly expands.
  3. As you exhale slowly through pursed lips, draw your attention to your belly sinking.
  4. Continue to take deep breaths in and out according to whatever breathing pattern feels most calming or comforting.

Use a Body Scan to Relax

Most of old hold tension somewhere in the body. This exercise can help release it and relax you:

  1.  Find a comfortable, quiet spot to sit or lie down.
  2.  While breathing slowly and deeply, take some time to focus on each zone of your body and scan it to see if you're holding tension there.
  3. First, focus on the crown of your head, and slowly make your way down your face (forehead, eyes, jaw), neck, shoulders, each arm down to the fingertips, chest, torso, abdomen, hips, and then each leg down to the toes.
  4. Spending a few moment on each area, when you notice any tension, see if you can allow it to melt (or wiggle) away.
  5. When you've moved from your head to your toes, your body should feel more relaxed. Take a few more slow, deep breaths before ending the exercise.

Focus on What You Can Control

During this pandemic, our lack of control can feel overwhelming, causing us to feel a sense of helplessness or despair. It's normal to have these feelings at times, but we want to balance acknowledging these feelings with also focusing on some positives. While we can’t control the virus, we can control the role we play in preventing its spread, including maintaining physical distance, wearing a mask in public, and washing our hands. We can also control aspects of our day-to-day lives, such as exercising, breathing, and using our time to pursue important goals. Do more of what you CAN control and work toward accepting what you cannot.

Cultivate Compassion

Build feelings of compassion for others, and for yourself. Try to give others the benefit of the doubt and forgive their mis-steps. We need to be understanding of the impact the abrupt changes we are all experiencing have had our lives and recognize that many are struggling. Mistakes will be made. To build self-compassion, visit Kristin Neff's website to take a self-compassion assessment, do some reflection exercises, and more. You can also watch Kristin Neff’s self-compassion TED Talk.

Understand Yourself

Now is a great time to learn how you typically cope with stress (chocolate) and to notice what comes up for you when faced with difficult challenges. Pay attention to what soothes or comforts you and what increases your stress. Do more of what soothes you and do your best to limit those things that make you feel worse. You may find that a warm bubble bath, playing your favorite music, being around your pet, journaling, breathing, stretching, or connecting with a friend provide some relief. Do what works for you.


Most of us thrive on social interactions and can suffer in response to isolation; loneliness is linked to an increased risk of depression. There are numerous options for connecting through technology, such as video chats, texts, phone calls, emails, and social media. Many of our typical social engagements can be accomplished via technology. Game night? Movie night? Start a group chat or video conference get-together. Or for those who don't like virtual connections, organize a shout out or singalong for your building or street: Think about the fun connections some have made through singing, playing instruments, or howling at the moon from their windows or balconies.

Take Advantage of Your Free Time

Many of us have not had much free time for a while but may have more now. Schoolwork is not the only productive activity:  Clean out your closet, rearrange your room, try a new recipe, organize your music library. Staying busy and accomplishing things can help us feel good, but remember that relaxing is healthy, too. Watch a virtual concert on YouTube, "visit" an art museum online, attend a virtual lecture series, watch a new show or movie.

Reframe "Stinkin’ Thinkin’"

We tend to buy into our thoughts as if they are statements of fact. Our thoughts are often inaccurate, but it can be hard to see that in the moment. We can use cognitive defusion to distance ourselves from our thoughts and see them for what they are, simply thoughts. This helps us examine them and decide how to respond, rather than get stuck in them.

One cognitive defusion strategy is to repeat a thought back, starting with, “I’m having the thought that …” For example, you might notice yourself thinking, “I can’t handle this.” Restate this in your mind as, “I’m having the thought that I can’t handle this.” This reframe reinforces the fact that this was a thought, not a statement of fact, and you can choose to believe the thought or question it. Some thoughts are not true; others are exaggerated. Taking a step back can help us have new perspectives. In this example, you might realize you can handle things, even if it's hard. We can also better see our thought patterns: For example, maybe when things get hard, we tend to think of the worst-case scenario. Seeing our common thought patterns and their impact on us gives us some mental space to try and cultivate new, more helpful ways of thinking.

Acknowledge Feelings

It's normal to have all kinds of feelings and fears right now. Don't try to push them away—see and accept them, and give yourself some time to "sit with" them and process. A phenomenon called moral injury—feeling conflicted or guilty about our actions, especially if we're faced with impossible choices or dilemmas—is not uncommon during times like these. For instance, healthcare workers may feel responsible if they are unable to help a patient, and essential workers may feel conflicted about risking their health to keep their job. Others may experience moral injury if they are unable to visit a sick loved one or feel too anxious to volunteer to help someone. Signs include demoralization, inability to self-forgive, guilt, shame, and self-punishing behaviors. Some ways to cope include self-compassion, talking to supportive others, focusing on things you have control over, and building acceptance and patience.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, can be helpful, encouraging us to stay present and to notice our inner experiences without judgment or attempts to control. Mindfulness acknowledges the reality that thoughts and feelings are transient and don't define us. Being mindful, at the most basic level, means being present, noticing your current experiences without judgment, and quieting your mind by focusing on something grounding, like your breath or counting. There are numerous mindfulness and meditation approaches out there. Try a free app that provides mindful exercises, such as Headspace, Breathe, or Calm. A mindful practice for those who are religious is contemplative prayer.

Live in the Present

One quality that differentiates humans from many other animals is our ability to remember the past and anticipate the future. This is a gift in some ways, but it can lead us to experience anxiety. If you find yourself thinking about the past, ask yourself if it’s helpful. If it is, reminisce away! If not, bring yourself back to the present moment. If you’re thinking about the future in a productive way, that’s good. However, if thinking about the future is causing panic, learn to mindfully focus on what is happening in the present moment. “Grounding exercises” can help. To ground yourself in the present, try thinking of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste at that moment. Being present, while taking some deep breaths, often helps us let go of agonizing over the past or fearing the future.

Get Creative

Creativity serves many beneficial purposes, including enjoyment, expression, and productivity. People have created amazing videos talking about a variety of topics (some that you could even share with your mother!)--you could try out your film-making skills. Or you could bake/cook/grill a new dish, use those crayons, arrange flowers, compose a song, make a sculpture out of found objects, or get sewing (leopard-print face masks anyone?)

Embrace Vulnerability

Many of us are scared, confused, and overwhelmed. Express your feelings in healthy ways. Be honest about your experience. If you’re struggling, let those close to you know. If the people in your life are already offering support, take them up on it; if not, reach out to let them know you could use their help. Return the favor by being a supportive listener to others--let them know it's OK for them to be vulnerable, too. View Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability.

Still Struggling?

If you’re particularly overwhelmed or have a history of depression or other mental health conditions, therapy can be an effective source of support. It's especially important to seek help if you have thoughts of harming yourself, are having difficulty functioning, and/or physical, emotional, verbal, and/or sexual violence is occurring. CAPS therapists are offering telehealth services, providing much-needed support, encouragement, and therapy via phone or secure video conferencing. They can provide practical strategies for managing the intense emotions you may be feeling and help you find local resources if you are currently outside of California or need services CAPS can't provide. to make an appointment, call CAPS during business hours at (415) 422-6352. Calling CAPS' confidential All Hours line is also an option if you need emotional or mental health support more immediately. It is free and available 24/7 to USF students and anyone concerned about a USF student at (855) 531-0761.

Campus Resources

  • CAPS is offering remote therapy appointments, consultations, and other services through phone or video; call us during business hours at (415) 422-6352 to learn more. On evenings, weekends, and holidays, call our All Hours number for support or if you are in crisis: (855) 531-0761. CAPS has also created a series of short coping videos in conjunction with USF's Office of Marketing Communications.
  • Dons Connect: Tools for keeping connected and finding inspiration in the Dons community
  • Health Promotion Services, (415) 422-5797, is offering Zoom appointments.
  • University Ministry, (415) 422-4463, is offering virtual support and spiritual connection.

Additional Resources

coronavirus updates and resources