Miranda Williams '22 talks with friends via Zoom.

Bucknell Experts Share Tips For Reducing Stress During Physical Isolation

March 27, 2020

by Brooke Thames

Miranda Williams '22 talks with friends via Zoom. Emily Paine, Communications

Miranda Williams '22 says she expected Bucknell to make the transition to remote education in response to coronavirus (COVID-19), even before receiving the announcement in an email. What she didn't anticipate was the challenge of adjusting to physical distancing as a college student.

"I don't think anyone thought we were going to be isolated like this for the foreseeable future," says the philosophy major, who is just one of many students who has found face time with friends, peers and professors cut short due to COVID-19. "It's a worldwide health crisis and new developments are happening every day, so staying home makes sense even if it's sometimes difficult."

Physical distancing has become the name of the game in combating the spread of the virus and the illness it causes. But as state officials across the country continue to issue "shelter-in-place" orders, many are being encouraged to remain at home as much as possible. This sudden need to physically isolate not only disrupts our daily lives but also breeds stress and anxiety, says Professor Kim Daubman, psychology, who notes that these feelings are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

"When you think about the number of times we interact face-to-face on any given day, it's very unsettling to suddenly have to sever that interaction," Daubman says. "It's natural for us to want to affiliate when we're scared, and to want to bring the people who are close to us closer."

The abrupt change can be especially chaotic for college students, who rely on structured routines and count on daily interaction with people on campus. Kelly Kettlewell, who directs Bucknell's Counseling & Student Development Center (CSDC), says the disruption creates feelings of extreme uncertainty, which can "trickle down and impact sleep schedules, routine meals and even exercise."

For Williams, maintaining a sense of normalcy during isolation means waking up early, going on afternoon runs and writing down things she's thankful for — all habits she maintained while at Bucknell that help boost her mental health, she says. 

Actions like these are among the tips that Daubman and Kettlewell have for Bucknellians who are still adjusting. They also encourage students to:

  • Acknowledge and label feelings. Taking the time to name sadness, anxiety or fear can decrease the intensity of these feelings and help you decide how to respond.
  • Maintain a daily routine. Sticking to predictable routines creates a sense of control in times of uncertainty. Wake up and go to sleep around the same time each day and choose a dedicated space for getting work done. Spend quality time doing hobbies that relieve stress and bring joy, whether that's practicing yoga, reading or watching movies.
  • Exercise outside. You don't have to stay inside to be socially or physically distanced. It's safe to go for a walk or run outside in areas where you can remain at least six feet away from others. Even sitting on the porch or in the backyard is a great way to get fresh air and reconnect with the world beyond your home, Kettlewell says.
  • Carefully consume information. It's easy to refresh your newsfeed every few minutes to get the newest coronavirus update — but it isn't healthy, Daubman says. Too much information can increase stress and worry. Limit the amount of time you spend looking at headlines on social media and news sites and opt for a productive activity instead.
  • Use technology to stay connected. The options for staying in touch with friends and loved ones are endless, from Zoom and FaceTime to a simple phone call. Find creative ways to connect with others by playing games over video chat or starting an e-sports league with friends.

Above all, Kettlewell and Daubman urge people to reach out if they feel unease and fear. Students can call CSDC staff for mental health support during the day, and an on-call counselor is available after business hours and on weekends. The center is currently working to create online resources, including Zoom support groups, to help students, faculty and staff navigate the current world — and also care for each other.

"The most important thing right now for everyone in our community is to lean into being a human being," Kettlewell says. "Everybody has a role here and we're all in this together."

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