Dealing with Challenges

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UCPS staff believe that Lehigh University students have an impressive capacity to accommodate and adapt to change, even of the COVID-19 variety. Periods of physical distancing or quarantine can be challenging for a number of reasons, most significantly, that humans are social creatures who rely on community for a sense of security, connection, and structure. Below are some coping strategies to help you sooth distressing feelings, find ways of connecting with others, and the repair a sense of normalcy and predictability in your life. 

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Connecting with Peers

Join a Group

Many students in isolation or quarantine find that they can persevere through difficulty most successfully with support from their community. If you are wanting to talk through your experiences, meet someone new, learn a new coping skill, or just say hi, we invite you to join our drop-in workshop, MindfuLU, or sign up for one of our longer workshops or groups. More information about these workshops can be found here


Get Out of Your Head

Think about someone else, and reach out to see how they are doing. This could be a peer on campus or your grandmother, an uncle, a high school mentor, a friend you know is struggling right now. Remember to listen to them before using the time to talk about yourself.

  • Why it works: Attending to another person brings you into the present, takes the focus off yourself and your worrying mind, and you get the wonderful benefit of experiencing worth because you are doing something positive with your personality and gifts.

  • By the way - - actually “writing” a letter to a friend and sending by mail may surprise you with its benefits.


Get Up In Your Feelings

Allow Difficult Feelings

Start by naming which ones are present and observing the sensations that go with them, how long it takes them to peak and abate, and where they are held in your body. Soften to your distress by allowing your feelings to be what they are without trying to change them, judging them, amplifying them, resisting them, or interpreting what they mean. Next, get curious about what this kind of feeling might need. Ask yourself, how do I care for this distress? What supports freedom? What might help?

  • Why it works: Gentle acknowledgement and validation quiets defensive reactions, releases us from exhausting self-justification, slows thoughts, soothes feelings, and lessens suffering.
  • By the way -- even painful feelings can be informative data, a source of motivation, a signal of something important, a marker that something was meaningful to us. Plus, learning to acknowledge, regulate, and soothe our feelings helps build self-compassion, self-esteem, and self-control.
  • Need help with this? Join our Live Better with Stress Workshop or try a Headspace Meditation.

Explore COVID-19 Worries

If you are troubled by fears specifically about COVID-19, put words on your experience by trying to narrate what you are actually afraid of either for yourself or for someone you love. Once you acknowledge the issue your feelings are alerting you to, list ways of circumventing, controlling, or coping with the problem.  If the problem is beyond the limits of your personal control, be gentle with your feelings and then focus on smaller aspects of the situation that you can influence or change. Put your energy into these things. For example, you may not be able to ensure that you can walk at graduation but you can find a way of marking and celebrating this accomplishment with a meal, a purchase, a scrapbook etc. Observe your feelings again: chances are your mood will be brighter, your mind will be more focused, and your body will be less tense.

  • Why it works-- Acknowledgment, acceptance, and choosing what you focus on increases self-esteem and self-efficacy, and results in better confidence and personal resilience.
  • By the way - - pay careful attention to how your stream of thought makes you feel, and when you're ready, tune into the things that match the feelings you want to welcome.

Cultivate Pleasure

Without parties, sporting events, academic breaks, cues of pleasure and mastery may not be as strong and obvious as they used to be. However, happiness is not outside your control. Notice what brightens your mood as you go about your day. When pleasure shows up, fully experience it, describe it in detail, notice its temperature, observe where you hold it in your body. Don't bother yourself with when pleasure will end, if you deserve it, or how long you might have to go without it. Consciously engage in small acts of pleasure: get lost in a good memory, look at a picture of someone attractive, dance to a favorite song, knit, look at a scrapbook, read the signatures in your high school yearbook, write a letter, or bake something new.

  • Why it works-- Finding ways of creating pleasure in our lives, different as they may be, increases our sense of control, engagement, hopefulness, and self-worth.
  • By the way-- Attending to all feelings both pleasant and painful allows us to earmark that both experiences can coexist and that experiencing distress does not preclude experiencing pleasure.

Take Stock of What's Missing

Ponder for a moment, what you most miss during this period in your life. Write them down.

  • Why it works: This is a wonderful time to think about what matters to you beyond the life you are living now. Knowing oneself and being committed to fulfilling personal passions gives direction and meaning to life.
  • By the way - - a time of self-reflection may result in your map for life.

Express Gratitude

Assess your life and determine whether you have anything to be thankful for, despite the pain of dealing with your present circumstances. Write down what you come up with and share it, touch every object in your space that brings you joy, list every relationship that is valuable to you, listen to every song that is giving you life, map out how each part of your body serves your purpose and pleasure.

  • Why it works: Being grateful increases positive emotions and serves as a protective factor against getting trapped in negative emotions.
  • By the way - - you might put some of this into a letter you write to parent or friend.

Laugh Intentionally

Get on line and find a something funny to read or watch, and perhaps share each day. 

  • Why it works: This one you’ve simply got to try - - for most people it’s very difficult to stress and laugh at the same time.
  • By the way - - your choice, laugh or cry.

Create Some Structure

Follow a Routine

Go to sleep and awaken around similar times, eat meals at the same time, exercise around the same time, read a novel for 30 minutes at a particular time of day.

  • Why it works: The fewer “decisions” one needs to make during periods of stress, the more psychic energy is available to do what needs to be done.
  • By the way - - add a little “spice” to the routine. Eat with your non-dominant hand, run backwards for 20 yards, read 2 engrossing books consecutively.

Draw Some Boundaries

You may have noticed that professors, friends, and family members are in frequent virtual communication with you at all hours of the day and night. People may expect that you are always available or that you can immediately attend to their concerns and requests. You may end up feeling pulled in multiple directions or overwhelmed with zoom meetings, Drawful challenges, Snapchats, phone calls, and texts. While we don't have external boundaries like practices, physical meetings, and classes to structure our flow of social contact - we certainly can't be "on," available, and at our best at all times. Make decisions about windows of time when you will answer emails or texts, assert when you are too "spent" to socialize, give yourself permission to respond to others at your own pace, go off the grid for at least an hour a day.

  • Why it works: Everyone feels most comfortable at a different "volume" of social contact. Recognizing and responding to our own needs for connection and separation can help us feel satisfied with our relationships and in control of how we expend our social energy.
  • By the way: Taking intentional time to recharge your social "batteries" is not the same as withdrawing and instead helps you engage more fully in your relationships when you’re renewed.

Schedule a Break

Plan for time to take a nap, or at least sit down for a few minutes and do nothing.

  • Why it works: Under stress, one tendency is to rush around trying to do everything at once. It can be wonderful to discover that even when doing nothing, life goes on quite the way it did before.
  • By the way - - you may discover that by practicing “intentional” inactivity you find yourself activated to go do something productive.

Switch to Involuntary Action

Many folks express difficulties focusing on academics and even friendships during a time when most activity occurs on zoom. Class, conversation, and assignments require voluntary attention - or directed, intentional focus on a particular task. Take time each day to permit involuntary attention which involves allowing your mind to focus on what “catches” it’s focus. For example, when you take a walk with no music, podcast, or phone call you’ll involuntarily turn your head toward sounds or movements, you’ll notice the temperature on your skin, you will be alerted to needs like hunger, thirst, and fatigue as they arise.

  • Why it works: Voluntary is a finite resource that can “run out” if you’re always using it. Taking a break and switching to a different system of attention (i.e., involuntary attention) allows you to renew your voluntary attention “stockpile.”
  • By the way-- watching Netflix, listening to a podcast, and chatting also involve voluntary attention so while they are great ways to take a break they also tax your resources. Thus, you may need to also give yourself time to let your mind and senses wander before returning to your responsibilities.

Ask for Help

And if you try everything you can think of, and still struggle with how you are feeling and behaving - - reach out and ask to meet with a counselor in the counseling center.

  • Why it works: Therapy or counseling has been empirically shown to help a large number of people utilizing it, to feel better, more in control, and better able to appreciate the joys of living.
  • By the way - - the Counseling Center is open as always, and counselors will be happy to Zoom with you.