With schools and universities closing or going online during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to consider the impact this has on students. Although online learning seems convenient on the surface, it can pose not only logistical challenges but can also cause anxiety in students. Moreover, the student population notoriously suffers from diagnosable mental illness (1 in 4 students), with anxiety and depression sitting at the top of this list. Psychology Today outlines some strategies for improving student mental health in the wake of the pandemic.

Exercise. The effect of consistent exercise on mental health has been backed by considerable evidence. COVID friendly activities such as running, at-home yoga, and dancing promote positive mental health. These activities can also provide a certain sense of structure that is important when learning online.

Sleep. Good sleep has also been consistently associated with better mental health. Students need to get enough sleep (8 hours or more) and to consistently have nights where they get quality sleep. Reducing screen time before bed and reducing media consumption overall can help with quality sleep. 

Eating habits. A lack of structure or anxiety resulting from the pandemic can cause a considerable shift in eating habits. Poor eating habits can have a negative impact on mental health. Trying new recipes and making an effort to eat at regular intervals has never been more important during this time.

Social activity. Regular social engagement can help improve mental health. Even though social activity is limited by the closure of campuses, many online clubs can help facilitate this much needed contact with peers. 

Access to mental health services. With in-person counselling being cancelled at many campuses, it’s very important to still have access to these services. Fortunately, there are many online counselling services available for students. For example, Keep.meSAFE is a great resource for 24/7 telephone counselling. 

Religious activities. For religious students, private prayer can be an important facet of maintaining positive mental health. These activities can be integrated into daily routine. For non-religious students, spiritual activities such as meditation or yoga can still be useful. 

Students can always tailor these activities to their own interests and find what works best for them. It is important for educators to be mindful of the mental health risks that come with a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and to be sensitive and responsive to their needs. It is of utmost importance for students to show themselves compassion during these difficult times and to make use of the resources available.

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This post was written by McKenzie Cline