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Importance of self-care during times of social distancing

Many college students, especially those with a mental illness, are finding the adjustment to social distancing or quarantine conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic difficult. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), factors like financial instability, stress, and limited contact with friends can affect physical and mental health. 

Although most people are not being quarantined, less extreme social distancing measures can also have a psychological effect. “I went from being extremely busy—full course load, Dance Co., sorority responsibilities and a job, to having next to nothing to do. I was really going stir crazy at first,” said Erin Magaw, a junior at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). 

According to Science News, people in quarantine studied during an equine influenza outbreak faced short- and long-term issues, such as substance abuse, insomnia, stress, and exhaustion. 34 percent of quarantined individuals reported high levels of anxiety, compared to 12 percent of those non-quarantined. One study of the 2003 SARS outbreak showed that folks in quarantine or working in high risk settings were more likely to develop alcohol abuse problems in the future.  

Neil Greenberg, a psychiatrist at King’s College London, told Science News that improving access to food, resources, and information during these times can mitigate psychological stress and decrease likelihood of long-term health issues.  

According to NAMI, social distancing or quarantine conditions may trigger anxiety, depression, or even traumatic stress. A pandemic can also trigger contamination obsessions, the “unwanted, intrusive worry that one is dirty and in need of washing, cleaning or sterilizing,” especially for those who already have obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Elissa Kozlov, a psychologist and instructor at Rutgers School of Public Health, recommends using technology to stay in touch with family and friends while practicing social distancing. She also emphasizes the importance of “meaningful social contact” with older folks and those at greater risk. Science News also reports that some people may see their social contact increase as they are closed in with their families. 

Science News also states that phone calls and video chats are no replacement for face-to-face contact and physical touch, which are shown to have positive effects on health.  

“It’s just hard to not be able to see my friends, I’m pretty extroverted and my friends are really like family, so I have been feeling really lonely,” said Magaw. Overall, she said that she has been adapting well by “doing what feels right” each day, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise and practicing some of her hobbies, including photography and video games. 

NAMI recommends moderating news consumption and practicing acceptance of the uncertainty of these times. They also recommend maintaining a sense of normality by sticking to a schedule that feels familiar. Magaw reports that since she is an only child, she is “decent at self- entertaining.”  

Andrea Visco, a student at Nashua Community College, said that she is having a difficult time adjusting because her new life at home does not have a structure or schedule. She said that she is falling behind in her classes. “My schoolwork is all messy and disorganized because there’s no Zoom meeting for any of my classes. It’s not the same routine, it’s very self-directed and I’m very bad at that… It’s very stressful.” 

UNH Psychological and Counseling Services is offering remote services including a new crisis hotline and telehealth services. While all of their upcoming in person events have been cancelled, the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) hotline is still available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

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