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Coping with social isolation: Advice from ISU’s Student Counseling Services

student walking on quad in summer

Student Counseling Services has suggested finding time to get sunshine at the appropriate social distancing guidelines can be an effective way to cope with isolation.

As Illinois State’s campus community adjusts to learning and working remotely to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), one question remains: How do we cope with being alone, together?

We reached out to Student Counseling Services Director Dr. Sandy Colbs and Associate Director for Programs Dr. Allyson Hawkins for advice on navigating the new—and sometimes lonely—world of social distancing.

“Our online connectedness makes it feel like we’ve been training for this our whole lives, but it can still be difficult to adjust,” Hawkins shared in a Zoom conversation.

Online meeting platforms like Zoom are a way the University is setting up its students and employees for success, but having the right tools is just one aspect of coping with isolation.

Engaging in healthy habits that promote mental health has become more important than ever.

Colbs and Hawkins offer some simple ideas to maintain a positive outlook while staying home:

  • Create a schedule or routine: While working or studying alone, it’s easy to put off tasks or get sidetracked. Write down a schedule for the day and do you best to stick to it.
  • Choose the right environment: Create a space that’s conducive to productivity. Make sure you have the right tools and supplies. A designated workspace also makes it easier to separate work and homelife.
  • Let light in: Open your curtains and find a sunny spot to study or work. The sunlight will give you a natural boost.
  • Get outside and get moving: Illinois’ remain in place order does not prevent citizens from enjoying outside time. Bundle up and go for a walk, run, or bike ride. Exercise boosts your immune system and time spent in nature gives you a break from staring at your computer screen.
  • Stay connected to others: Use group chat features to host virtual get-togethers with friends and family. Schedule conference calls and video meetings to increase your social interactions throughout the day. Use this time to reconnect with old friends or get to know colleagues.

What if you’re already feeling increased anxiety or depression? Hawkins suggests identifying the root cause of the issue. “Are you struggling with alternative learning modalities or are you anxious because you’re worried about family or friends? Knowing what you feel anxious about helps you problem solve what to do,” she said.

If your anxiety stems from feeling out of control, Colbs encourages you to become comfortable with the unknown. “It’s important to practice letting go of what is beyond your control,” she said. “Work to keep things in perspective. This is a time-limited situation and it will pass. Develop some coping statements that help keep you grounded.”

Colbs also points to resources already available through Student Counseling Services.

  • Students can speak with a counseling center professional by calling (309) 438-3655.

Those interested in practicing meditation and mindfulness can follow these tips from Illinois State’s Health Promotion and Wellness program or sign up for a 7-week Koru 2.0 Mindfulness Class held via Zoom. Go to https://wellness.illinoisstate.edu/living/stress for information.

  • Individuals seeking additional resources on COVID-19 and mental health can learn more at Student Counseling Services.

The center’s staff members are working to get other supports, such as the counseling center’s Relaxation Room, back online as soon as possible. Each effort is done to reinforce to all within the campus community that they are not alone. Student Counseling Service’s response to the virus shows that its staff, like the University as a whole, is ready to help all Redbirds succeed.

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