Female student wearing a mask working on her laptop.

It may feel like a lot of things are up in the air right now: the economy, the rise of COVID-19 cases, plans for returning to work, changes to the upcoming semester and much more. Persistent uncertainty and rapid changes can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, frustrated and exhausted. Here are a few strategies you can practice to help you regain a sense of control, take care of your mental health and cope with what’s to come (whatever that may be). 

Find community

In the era of physical distancing, relationships can be one of the first things to take a hit. Remember to make time for friends, join online meet-ups with your colleagues, seek out clubs or groups to join, cook with your family members or housemates and check in regularly with your mentors. It’s also important to set boundaries around activities you are (and aren’t) comfortable with. For instance, it’s okay to say no to going out for dinner with friends at a restaurant. If you’re worried about missing out on a social occasion, suggest doing something with friends that you’re more comfortable with, like a physically distanced walk in the park or a bike ride around town. Setting boundaries (and sticking to them) can help ease anxiety and make hanging out with others more enjoyable.

Tackle the things you’ve been avoiding

One helpful strategy in reducing stress is to address any of the important things you’ve been avoiding — you know, the stuff that has been on your to-do list for awhile that you keep putting off to next week, next month or next year. These items can often increase stress, lower your sense of self-efficacy and contribute to burnout. Begin addressing these items by breaking them down into smaller goals. Create tasks that you can achieve in short 5- to 15-minute bursts. 

Most importantly, be specific about what you want to accomplish. For instance, creating a spreadsheet of important dates or downloading the PowerPoint template for a presentation are both manageable milestones that you can achieve in a short amount of time that can contribute to larger goals like finishing your thesis or dissertation.

Create joy

Whenever we are struggling with chronic anxiety, stress, burnout or depression, we may avoid doing the things that help us thrive. This type of avoidance can make us feel worse over time because we’re missing out on all of the things that give us pleasure, meaning or joy. 

In order to break this cycle, it’s important to identity and engage in activities that are meaningful to you. This could be any activity that aligns with your core values, feels good or brings a sense of accomplishment. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some ideas to help get you started:

  • Start a journal. Write down a list of things that you enjoy doing or make you feel accomplished. Identify ways to work these into your daily routine.
  • Try something new. If you’re unsure about what truly brings you joy, trying something new can be a great way to explore new hobbies and find activities that make you feel good. It could be signing up for a fitness class, meditating, joining a club or testing your skills in the kitchen. 
  • Talk to someone. CU Boulder grad students have access to mental health resources through Counseling and Psychiatric Services, including workshops, consultations, therapy groups and short term individual therapy geared specifically to graduate students. 

Stay grounded

Things are changing, and many of these changes are out of our control. This may leave you feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Practice patience with yourself and others. Lean into self-compassion and self-care. It can also be helpful to know that whatever emotions you’re experiencing right now are valid and normal. If you’re struggling to feel grounded or mindful in the present moment, there are a number of free Health and Wellness resources available to help. Here are just a few:

  • Mental Health Workshops Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides a number of free virtual workshops for undergraduate and graduate students. Workshops cover a variety of topics, including mindfulness, anxiety and stress management, COVID-related topics and more. 
  • Wellness Wednesdays Wellness Wednesdays offer students an opportunity to take a mid-week break to check in, relax and practice self-care. Opportunities are available in person and virtually. 
  • Skill-Based Therapy Groups Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers a number of free skill-based therapy groups. These groups help students learn new skills, improve interpersonal relationships, address specific mental health conditions and increase self-awareness.
  • Process Therapy Groups Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) also offers free process therapy groups. There are several process therapy groups that are specifically tailored to graduate students, while others focus more broadly on identity, coping skills and more. 

If you or someone you know is struggling to cope, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) is here to help. Business and after hours support is available by calling 303-492-2277. In case of a life-threatening emergency, please call 911. 

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