Coping with COVID-19

Create Structure

Maintaining a daily routine can be helpful, especially when things are in flux or when you're feeling anxious or depressed. Give structure to daily activities such as showering, getting dressed, eating healthy meals, exercising, and following a regular sleep schedule. Add these items to your daily to-do calendar or planner if needed.

Have a "Gratitude Attitude"

Even when things are stressful, there are also good things, and it’s important to acknowledge them.  Gratitude has been shown to enhance well-being and improve immune functioning and sleep quality. Spend some time each day shifting your attention to something for which you are grateful, whether "big" or "small."

Avoid Media Madness

Information overload uses valuable cognitive space. Stick to reputable news sources, avoid media overexposure, and prioritize written news over video, as it may produce less anxiety. If you're checking the news too often, try limiting your exposure to one or two short periods a day. And remember that, sadly, a lot of misinformation is spread on social media, so stick with using it for connecting with friends and watching cat videos rather than using it as a news source.

Live by Your Values

What do you want your life to stand for? What is your passion?  How do you want others to remember you? Make choices that align with those values. For example, if helpfulness is an important value for you, try seeking out ways to do for others.  Living by your values can help you cope in hard times.

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 with 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 us hold tension somewhere in the body. This exercise can help release it:

  1.  Find a comfortable, quiet spot to sit or lie down.
  2.  While breathing slowly and deeply, spend a few moments gently focusing one by one on each zone of your body and scan it to see if there is tension: 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 each leg down to the toes.
  3. As you scan each area, if you notice tension, see if you can breathe deeply and allow it to melt (or wiggle) away.
  4. When you've finished your scan, your body should feel more relaxed. Take a few more slow, deep breaths before ending the exercise.

Focus on What You Can Control

During the COVID pandemic, there have probably been times you felt helpless and out of control. It's normal to have these feelings at times, but we want to balance them with also focusing on where we do have control. For example, we can control our use of safety measures. We can also control aspects of our day-to-day lives, such as using coping tools and managing our time. 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 fact that many have been struggling. Mistakes will be made. To build self-compassion, visit Kristin Neff's website to take a self-compassion assessment and do some reflection exercises. You can also watch Neff’s self-compassion TED Talk.

Understand Yourself

The pandemic presented us all with the opportunity to see how we typically cope with stress (chocolate!). Pay attention to what soothes or comforts you and what increases your stress, then use this knowledge to engage in self-care when possible. Do what works for you.


Most of us thrive on social interactions and struggle with isolation; loneliness is linked to an increased risk of depression. COVID required many of us to be more isolated but presented the chance to connect through technology, such as video chats, texts, phone calls, emails, and social media. As you readjust to doing more things in person with others, following safety guidelines and your own comfort level, consider continuing to connect with others virtually as well, if that has been helpful for you.

Find a Work/Life Balance

Schoolwork or a job 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. Make room for both being productive and resting.

Reframe "Stinkin’ Thinkin’"

We tend to buy into our thoughts as if they are fact. Our thoughts are often inaccurate or exaggerated. 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, if you notice yourself thinking, “I can’t handle this," restate it as, “I’m having the thought that I can’t handle this.” This reframe reinforces the fact that this was just a thought, and you can choose to believe it or question it. Taking a step back can bring new perspectives and insights: For example, maybe our pattern when stressed is to think of the worst-case scenario. Recognizing our thought habits builds self-knowledge and may even allow us to cultivate new, more helpful ways of thinking.

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. How to do it: Notice your current experiences without criticizing or analyzing them, and quiet your mind by focusing on something grounding, like your breath or counting. 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 can lead to anxiety. If you find yourself thinking about the past, ask yourself if it’s helpful. If it is, reminisce away! If not, come back to the present. If thinking about the future helps you plan or feel inspired, that’s good. However, if it is causing panic, learn to mindfully focus on what is happening now. Mindfulness practices, deep breathing, and grounding exercises can help. One grounding exercise is to take slow, deep breaths while noticing 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. (If you have a sensory disability that prevents you from using this technique, adapt it to fit with your abilities.)

Get Creative

Creativity provides enjoyment and expression and can boost productivity. Stimulate your creativity by trying something new, like making a YouTube video, cooking a new dish, using those crayons, arranging flowers, composing a song, making a sculpture out of found objects, or sewing (rainbow face masks, anyone?)

Embrace Vulnerability

Many of us have been struggling. Express your feelings in healthy ways. Be honest about your experience. If you’re having a hard time, 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 supportive to others--let them know it's OK for them to be vulnerable, too. Take a look at Brené Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability.

Consider Therapy

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 are experiencing abuse. But, we can all use help sometimes. Consider calling CAPS to ask about our services or to get help finding services near you. Call during business hours at (415) 422-6351 or -6352. Calling CAPS' free, confidential All Hours line is also an option if you need emotional or mental health support more immediately; it's available 24/7 to USF students and anyone concerned about a USF student at (855) 531-0761.

Campus Resources

Additional Resources

Tip #1: Use Trusted Resources

  • Limit social media exposure and seek out reputable news sources. (See the resources list below.)
  • Visit the USF Resources Page for the latest information about University actions, guidance, and resources to keep our community safe and informed. Critical information is also posted on Twitter at @usfca (the USF account).

Tip #2: Take Breaks From News

  • “Staying on top of the news” is one way our brains try to feel in control of an out-of-control situation, but news overload can lead to more anxiety.
  • Designate 10 minutes once or twice a day to check reliable sources for updates. Turn off push notifications about the news on your phone. Put limits on how much time you spend and what sort of interactions you have on social media.

Tip #3: Focus on What You Can Control

When things feel scary and unpredictable, it can be helpful to focus on what you can control.  Here are some practical things you can do today:

  • Follow local, USF, and state guidelines and rules around sheltering in place and social distancing
  • Follow proper hand-washing steps (20 seconds) and use hand sanitizer when washing your hands is not possible
  • Get your flu shot (doesn't prevent COVID-19, but does prevent flu)
  • Cover your cough/sneeze with a tissue, then throw it out, or cough/sneeze into your elbow, not your hand
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Get enough sleep and eat well to stay healthy
  • Contact your doctor's office for advice if you begin to feel sick

Tip #4: Use Healthy Coping and Connect with Others

Make sure doing things to relax and stay in touch with your support network don't fall off your to-do list. Here are some ideas:

  • Take a walk, outside! Getting outside is good for your mental and physical health; just be sure to follow your state and community safety/social distancing guidelines.
  • Take an online yoga or fitness class.
  • Take Yale's popular online class "The Science of Well-Being" for free!
  • Listen to a funny podcast or watch a comedy video.
  • Talk to friends and family by phone, video chat, or messaging. Staying connected is especially important to avoid getting isolated.
  • Make yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee (try herbal tea if caffeine makes you anxious).
  • Meditate or just sit quietly, taking deep breaths, for 10 minutes.
  • Color, draw, or scribble.
  • Listen to your favorite songs. Make a playlist of uplifting music.
  • Play with a pet or watch animal videos.
  • Write in a journal, or use the Pandemic Project website, a writing aid developed by a psychology professor with expertise in helping people cope with difficult situations; the site contains prompts for exploring your feelings related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • See the resources list below for online education and entertainment, self-care tools, and more.

Tip #5: Get Additional Help If You Need It

Take advantage of USF resources such as IT support and trainings on using online technologies. There are additional resources on remote instruction and working from home listed below.

If you tried tips 1 through 4 and your anxiety or mood feels unmanageable, contact Concern, USF's Employee Assistance Program, especially if you or a family member is experiencing some of the following:

  • Significant changes in sleeping or eating/appetite
  • Deterioration in focus and attention
  • Difficulty completing work or doing other important things
  • Thoughts about harming yourself
  • Problems with substance use
  • The occurrence of physical, emotional, verbal, and/or sexual violence

Concern has expanded its services to include more remote resources, such as texting and messaging. Employees still have two easy ways to initiate getting help, the 24/7 call center at (800) 344-4222 and Luma, their mobile app

Additional Resources




Coping Tips

  • Use trusted resources for news rather than relying on social media or sensational sources.
  • Take breaks from news and limit the amount you read/watch each day to avoid getting overwhelmed while staying informed.
  • Focus on things you can control rather than those you can't and the uncertainty we face currently. For example, focus on day-to-day tasks, adhering to safety precautions recommended by your city or county health department, and planning quality time with your family and friends (whether it's in person or virtual time).
  • It can be tough adjusting to different living situations and roles if your adult children have moved back home and family members are together most of the time. It's normal for people to feel more irritable with each other. Good communication and regular discussions of expectations may help, as well as finding ways to balance together time with personal space. Be patient with yourself and each other.
  • A recent survey of more than 3000 college students by Active Minds found that the most important thing parents can do for their student during the pandemic is to spend time with them.
  • Pay attention to your own wellness and needs while taking care of others. This includes trying to get enough sleep, eating well, getting some exercise (preferably outside), engaging in religious and spiritual practices, enjoying some entertainment, and finding things that relax and soothe you. See the list below for resources for taking care of yourself and your student.
  • Seek professional help if you need it. Find mental health care through your primary care provider or insurance company, employer's EAP program, or low-cost local agencies if you don't have insurance. Getting professional help is especially important if you are experiencing some of the following:
    • Anxiety-related trouble sleeping or eating
    • Inability to work or function day  to day
    • Thoughts about harming yourself
    • The occurrence of physical, emotional, verbal, and/or sexual violence

Additional Resources