Students walk in main promenade on Cal State Fullerton campus

Photo by Chris McCarthy

As coronavirus has forced society to restrict activities and stay home, it has sparked a secondary crisis of depression, anxiety and other mental-health concerns.

According to U.S. Census Bureau studies conducted this spring, 24% of respondents reported significant symptoms of major depression, while 30% had symptoms of generalized anxiety disorders, both twice the levels reported six years ago.

And unlike the coronavirus itself, which is most devastating for older populations or those with pre-existing physical conditions, the mental-health challenges appear to be more acute for young adults ages 18 to 29, which includes the majority of Cal State Fullerton’s students and recent grads.

Jacquiline Vital, faculty crisis counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist at Cal State Fullerton’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), provides tips on how to manage stress and anxiety during this challenging time.

What are some good ways for young people to deal with stress and anxiety? 

With the many changes and uncertainty happening during this time, it is completely fine to feel uncertainty and anxiety along with a host of several other emotions.

To help ease this anxiety, it’s best to take a step back, take a deep breath, and be more mindful of what we are thinking and ask ourselves a simple question: “Is this thought helpful?”

This simple question can assist in alleviating our anxiety because we are re-training our brain to think about our thoughts as healthy vs. unhealthy.

Other great ways to assist with managing stress and anxiety:

  • Connect with people who are having positive, helpful and hopeful conversations. We as humans strive for connection with others. Be sure that you are staying connected with your support team.
  • Practice deep breathing. When there is panic, our brain starts to go into panic. By deep breathing, our body will calm itself down and it sends a signal to our brain to also slow down.
  • Some of us cope by being productive and organizing. Others cope by taking a step back and relaxing and watching a movie. Listen to what your mind and body need from you during this time.
  • Begin a gratitude journal. Journaling can help you acknowledge and express your feelings. Writing in a gratitude journal helps to focus your attention on the positive things in life.
  • Fact checking – If you are not in immediate danger at this moment or if you are not in immediate physical pain, remember that YOU ARE OK. You have to remind yourself that you are OK aside from your thoughts about what could happen.

What is one thing you recommend young people do within their daily routine to improve their mental wellbeing during this time?

Incorporate meditation into your daily routine. By dedicating five to 20 minutes daily, meditation can calm your body and mind leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to face the challenges of your day with a healthier attitude.

As I’ve implemented consistent meditation into my daily life, I have noticed an increase in a positive attitude, calm demeanor and a deeper sense of gratitude! Guided meditation is a great place to start for those beginning the meditation process. You will be guided by a narrator that will walk you through a series of breathing techniques and mantras to help you practice.

Some of my favorite apps are Headspace, Calm, Aura, Sattva and Insight Timer.

What spe​cific advice would you give to a student to keep up a social life during quarantine? 

It is extremely important to stay connected to your support system during quarantine. During this time, it’s a great idea to connect in ways that we may not have otherwise.

Try picking up the phone and calling friends or family. Texting a friend can be convenient, but having a meaningful conversation through the phone can be very impactful.

Writing letters to friends and family or creating a care package can be another great way to keep in touch with others in a unique way.

Something I have always wanted to be a part of, but never got to until quarantine, is joining a book club. It has been so great to bond with others and something I would definitely recommend.

Lastly, Facetime dance parties or Netflix parties are a great plus!

Many young people are moving back with parents, other relatives or friends, and while this can be constructive, there can also be conflicts and tensions. What advice would you give about relationships with family and finding your own space in this time? 

Living with family during this pandemic can create great memories and lots of laughter, but it can also create conflict when we are confined to our homes and are in constant contact with each other.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the importance of creating healthy boundaries with family members. This means taking responsibility for yourself and setting your own boundaries with your family members by telling them how you would like and expect to be treated. It’s important that we tell others what we expect from them. Along with this is open communication. Open discussion is essential especially when there is conflict to prevent any unnecessary escalation.

Furthermore, I find it important to have “alone” time and “family” time. Alone time can involve reading, listening to music, exercising or anything you do alone to recharge your mental-health batteries. Family time is also important, and that can include meal time, family game nights or watching a movie all together. Balance is key when living with family during these times!

Resources to Stay Well

Cal State Fullerton offers a range of resources to help students, alumni, faculty and staff stay well mentally and emotionally during the coronavirus crisis.

This includes YOU | Cal State Fullerton, a confidential space for your personal well-being; webinars from the university’s many diversity resource centers, counseling services and workshops through CAPS (these resources are all virtual); virtual workouts through the Student Recreation Center; and even cooking classes taught by members of the university community.

We are in the midst of the most challenging era in most of our lifetimes, but we will get through this together!