Hello, Bobcats! Welcome to the brand new school year. As we learned last semester, college education looks very different in the time of COVID-19. For a general guide to your first year at Montana State University, refer to “Letter of Advice for Freshmen” in the Culture section. However, mental health is just as important as academic and physical health. As this virus ravages our country and leaves us with our heads spinning, we need to learn how to best keep an eye on the sunny side of life.

As a precursor to this article, note that at a very basic level, mental health begins with the individual. We are all very different people reacting to the trauma of COVID-19 in radically different ways. However, there are some commonalities to mental health, including keeping routines, maintaining social contact, and limiting your exposure to social media and news feeds.

Many of us experience increased stress during times of trauma, such as COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control and Protection says in their article “Coping with Stress” that “coping with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.” The first step is to know where to get help in an immediate crisis. You should know the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, which is 1-800-273-8255; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration number, which is 1-800-662-4357; and the Disaster Distress Helpline number, which is 1-800-985-5990. Counseling and Psychological Services at MSU provides tele-therapy and other resources at their website https://www.montana.edu/counseling/, and you can also reach out at (406) 994-4531. 

If you’re not in immediate distress, there’s still plenty of things that you can do to balance your mental health. On their website, the World Health Organization recommends keeping a consistent schedule and developing routines. This is a great way to make sure you have a sense of control over your life even during situations like COVID-19, which make many of us feel helpless. You should make sure to wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day and maintain regular eating and exercise schedules. In addition, ensure that you have free time for hobbies that you can safely practice alone or socially distanced from others. 

Next, it’s vital to maintain social contact with others, according to the CDC, WHO, and the Minnesota Department of Health website. If you are able to meet in person (while safely socially distancing), do your best to spend time with friends, family, and loved ones. Even if you can’t meet in person, make time to call or video chat. Humans are social animals, and we need the love and support of others to function well. We are all going through this together, and we all need to help each other through it.

Finally, The Mayo Clinic, along with other health resources, recommends limiting your exposure to newsfeeds and social media. “Constant news about COVID-19 from all types of media can heighten fears about disease.” In addition, social media can further the spread of false rumors or misinformation, and avoiding continual contact with social media limits your interaction with falsehoods. Rather than repeatedly glancing at the latest information every few minutes, schedule a time each day to check local and national updates, then put your phone away to keep yourself calm and centered.

In short, keep a healthy routine, reach out to loved ones, and put your phone down. From all of us here at the Exponent, stay calm and stay safe, Bobcats.