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York College Psychology professor gives five tips for finding balance during COVID-19

May 19, 2020
Graphic for YCP Heroes stories during COVID-19

While William Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Macbeth under quarantine during the plague and Sir Isaac Newton credited social distancing for some of his most accelerated research, a key to surviving the current coronavirus outbreak might not be productivity. Rather, says Lisa Hess, adjunct faculty in York College of Pennsylvania’s Behavioral Sciences/Psychology program, creating balance should be a goal.

“It’s a great idea to think how we might use our time wisely while most of us are at home, but the stress and anxiety factors many of us face are very high,” Lisa says. “It can be incredibly hard to learn something new when you’re overwhelmed.”

Students at York College aren’t just adjusting to taking classes online, either. Many are now helping teach younger siblings who are home from school and others have had to cope with the grief that can come with accepting they won’t finish their senior year on campus.

“I’ve even had to take a moment to look back at the past month and realize all that has changed,” Lisa says. Even with all the uncertainty, there are coping skills that can be used to help ease through the rest of the time many will face at home.

1. Find three things to be grateful for each day

One of the big topics discussed in Lisa’s First Year Seminar Class is happiness. While it can seem like a fluffy recommendation to practice gratitude at this time, she says, research supports the idea that finding three things to be grateful for at the end of the day can improve someone’s mental health by putting an optimistic spin on their perspective. While it doesn’t fix things, a practice of gratitude can dramatically improve one’s mindset.

2. Focus on what you can control

It can be easy to sweat over what might be out of our control, Lisa says. In Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Lisa references his description of the inner circle, which is what can be controlled, and the outer circle, which is what impacts someone. So, what can someone control in these times?

“We can control what we eat, what time we get up or when we go to bed, to some extent how much sleep we get, how much news we watch,” Lisa says. “It can be easy for us to closet ourselves in a room and not interact with family, and that can be a balance for a lot of people.”

3. Create routines

When classes and work are moved online and into the home, it can be challenging to set boundaries on time. That’s why Lisa suggests creating routines so students have designated times to work on class assignments, to go to work, to eat and exercise, and to rest. And, even though it’s been challenging to create those routines when circumstances feel like they change almost daily, being flexible with ourselves to adjust and adapt can be helpful.

4. It’s OK to grieve

Some students are experiencing grief because they’ve had to move off campus sooner than expected, they may not have the graduation celebration they worked toward the past four years, or were disappointed that end-of-year competitions and projects were canceled. “It can feel like a death for a lot of people, and it’s OK to allow oneself to mourn what was lost,” Lisa says. She also recommends being aware of triggers, such as the date approaching on a calendar when an event was originally supposed to take place. Those days can feel especially heavy, and students should give themselves space to work through those emotions.

5. Reach out

If there’s one thing Lisa hopes students do during the rest of their time at home, it’s that they reach out. Whether they contact a professor, a friend, a parent, or anyone else they can confide in, she says, reach out and let them know if you’re struggling or having a hard time. “I often check in on my students if they missed a class or an assignment, not so much because they missed that thing, but because I want to check in on them and learn why they missed it,” Lisa says. “That’s when I often hear they’ve been taking care of someone else at home, or they have technology issues, or they’re just feeling overwhelmed. When I know those things, I can help them.”

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