As the coronavirus began spreading around the country and states began issuing stay-at-home orders, Kelsi Stewart, a senior at Elon University, was going through a change of her own.
“There were times where I was like I could cry at the drop of a hat,” she said. “But there were also times where I don’t feel anything at all.”
Stewart said she was diagnosed with situational anxiety and depression in October 2018. Situational anxiety is triggered by a specific situation or circumstance, according to Mark Eades, a counselor at Elon Counseling Services.
One week before North Carolina’s stay-at-home order was put into effect on March 30, Stewart said she began taking antidepressants under her doctor’s guidance. Stewart began experiencing mood changes once she started on the medicine and struggled with incorporating it into her life, she said.
On top of adjusting to the medicine, financial concerns amid the pandemic and transitioning back to life at home also had an effect on Stewart’s mental health.
“As much as I love my family and I love my roommates, I knew it was going to be a lot of time around the same people all the time,” Stewart said. “When you’re starting with mental health, that’s really hard. Because you have to have those moments of, ‘ok, I need my space for a second and to not overthink everything.’”
Stewart isn’t alone in her struggles. In a survey by the Student Government Association, 58% of Elon students said their mental health was a concern during the university’s transition to online instruction.
The uncertainty of COVID-19 is naturally anxiety-inducing, according to Eades.
“There’s so much around the disease that we don’t know that is fear-inducing,” Eades said. “When you don’t know a lot about what’s going on or how the disease spreads or what’s safe or not safe, how could you not feel tense or anxious?”
Adjusting the way we live to physical distancing guidelines can also affect mental health, Eades said.
“With that uncertainty not just with safety but with when can I get back to the things that feel good and not really knowing, that just naturally has a lot of tenseness and anxiousness for a lot of people who want certain answers,” he said.
Though it may be easy to focus on the negative aspects of the pandemic, Eades said it can be beneficial to shift your attention to things you can do to benefit yourself.
“The more you think about ‘this is what I have and this is what I can act on’ and to really start moving towards those ideas, putting them into practice, you’ll find that a lot of times it can be very, very helpful to remind yourself ‘yeah, there are things I can do’ and to get some fulfillment, even though this isn’t ideal circumstances by any means,” he said.
For Stewart, the best way to pull herself out of cycles of negative thought is to do things for others, she said.
“When I can sit and say ‘ok I’m in this moment where it sucks and I don’t want to be here right now and I don’t even know why I’m here,’” Stewart said. “But I’m going to write this letter to someone I really like because, you know, that’s just going to make me feel better, it’s going to make them feel better.”
To help others during this time, Stewart opened up about her struggles in a blog post, hoping to show other people they’re not alone.
“Especially during a time like this where you can think and sit and go like ‘man, I have a job, I have a house, I’m not in a position that the world would call less fortunate, but I’m still suffering through these things,’” she said. “That’s scary to talk about, that’s scary to acknowledge. But if you don’t it will ruin you. You have to get it out.”
As circumstances around the pandemic continue to change, Eades said Counseling Services is working on ways to help support students on campus in the fall. There is already a page with COVID-19 resources and videos and the department is “working as quickly as they can” to find a way to have virtual appointments available for students on campus, according to Eades.
When making adjustments in your life, Eades said to be patient with how it may affect your mental health.
“It’s not all like a straight line,” he said. “It’s not all going to be really hard one day and then all of a sudden click on the second day. So give yourself space, give yourself time and it will get better. It just might not be as quick as you want.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends also taking care of your body to help with mental health by eating well, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and taking screen breaks. If stress impedes your daily activity for several days in a row, the CDC recommends calling your healthcare provider.
If you feel you need immediate help, text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.