Coping with COVID-19

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 important to your adjustment to this continually evolving landscape. Impose structure on your basic daily activities, such as showering, eating healthy meals, exercising, and following a regular sleep schedule. Getting dressed helps, too!  Add these items to your daily to-do calendar or planner. 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 provide benefits including enhancing well-being and improving immune functioning and sleep quality. When you notice yourself thinking about the negative aspects of your life, shift your attention to something for which you are grateful. If you're stuck, ask friends and family what allows them to feel thankful.

Avoid Media Madness

Information overload uses valuable cognitive space. Stick to reputable news sources, avoid media overexposure, and prioritize written news, as it tends to be less anxiety-producing than visuals. If you're checking the news too often, try scheduling one or two short periods a day to read up. And a word about Facebook, Instagram, and other social media: Sadly, a lot of misinformation is spread here, so let’s stick with using it for connecting with friends and watching cat videos.

Live by Your Values

Trying to live according to your values is a good way to cope during times of stress. 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.  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 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, take some time to focus on each zone of your body and scan it to see if you're holding tension there: 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. Spending a few moment on each area, when you notice any tension, see if you can allow it to melt (or wiggle) away.
  4. 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 our 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, then try and boost your self-soothing activities and 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 may 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. Plan quality time with your roommates or others with whom you live, and find safer ways to see others face to face (e.g., meeting a friend or two on the beach or for a walk in the park, wearing masks), following your city and state COVID guidelines.

Take Advantage of Your Free Time

Many of us have more free time than before, with former in-person activities being limited. 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 a museum online, watch a new show or movie, doodle.

Reframe "Stinkin’ Thinkin’"

We tend to buy into our thoughts as if they are statements of fact. Our thoughts are often inaccurate, but that can be hard to see. 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 the thought or question it. Some thoughts are not true; others are exaggerated. Taking a step back can help us have new perspectives and see our common thought patterns: For example, maybe when things get hard, we tend to think of the worst-case scenario. Seeing how we think and the impact our thought habits have 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. 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. 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 criticizing or analyzing them, and quieting your mind by focusing on something grounding, like your breath or counting. There are lots of tools for practicing mindfulness out there, such as apps like 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 thinking about the future is helping you plan or feel inspired, that’s good. However, if it is causing panic, learn to mindfully focus on what is happening in the present moment. Grounding exercises can help. One strategy for grounding yourself in the present 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 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 video-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 (rainbow 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. But, we can all use help sometimes. CAPS therapists are offering telehealth services, providing much-needed support, encouragement, and therapy via phone or secure video chat. 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 ask about services or 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 services through phone or video; call us during business hours at (415) 422-6352 to learn more. Or, call our All Hours number any time for immediate 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, provides online 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

Scroll to the bottom for a list of lots of additional resources on news, self-care, and remote instruction/working from home.

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




coronavirus updates and resources

Scroll to the bottom for a list of additional resources, including a video for parents, news, self-care, and tips on supporting your college student.

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 social distancing and hand-washing precautions, planning quality time with your family, and scheduling calls and video chats with others close to you.
  • It can be tough adjusting to different living situations and roles if your adult children have moved back home and family members are home 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


Video From CAPS: Parent/family self-care and supporting your USF student



coronavirus updates and resources