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Five tips for managing the stress of uncertainty

October 7, 2020

Melinda McCormick

Melinda McCormick is an Undergraduate Academic Advisor at the School of Informatics and Computing

This year has been…something, right? We’ve had a lot thrown at us that we’re all navigating and the list can be stressful and overwhelming to think about. For me, I move from feelings of gratitude and calm, then quickly to anxiety, anger, or sadness with the slightest trigger. Though we’re all impacted in different ways and have different coping strategies, I think it’s safe to say that everyone can relate to the stress that this year of uncertainty has brought. I am NOT an expert in mental health, but I did want to write down some thoughts/ideas on how to manage all of this in case it can help someone.

Be Good to Yourself

We’re not meant to sit in front of a screen all day by ourselves and yet you might be finding yourself staring at your computer for hours at a time.  Set a timer for every hour or two to take a break. Get outside and take a walk. Do something creative, cook, read a book, listen to an upbeat podcast, journal, puzzle, listen to music, do something that brings you joy every day.  Check in with how your body is feeling and if you need more quiet time or more noise throughout the day, go find it. I hate to be a nag, but eating healthy foods if you can, getting exercise, and a good night’s sleep can make a world of difference for your mental health. There are many one-credit HPER courses like yoga, stress meditation, weights, sports, or dance, to take as a way to incorporate movement into your day. There are also free or inexpensive apps that help with relaxation, gratitude reminders or meditation.  Take it easy on yourself, you’re doing the best you can in a weird situation.

Set a Schedule

It’s hard to stay on top of what day it is anymore so it’s imperative to build structure in your day and find a routine.  It might be easier to stay in your pajamas all day (guilty!), but try to wake up at the same time each morning, shower and get dressed.  Set aside a block of time to study and find a spot to do your work that’s different than your normal living space if you can. It’s easy for work and play to blend into each other so set a cut off time to finish up your work and turn it off for the night.  On days that I don’t feel very motivated, I’ll add the smallest tasks to my to-do list like sending an email or doing the dishes so I can have a sense of accomplishment when I cross it off the list. Whether you use the calendar on your phone, a planner, or make a daily to-do list, find what works for you in order to create some structure.

Lead with Empathy

It’s so easy to stay in our bubbles and focus on our own stressors because we’re literally having to quarantine in our own bubbles. Though I’ve been more sensitive and irritable these days, I make an effort to think about what others are facing. For example, maybe I get an email that’s a little rude or demanding. Instead of letting it ruin my day, I may instead give some thought to the “what ifs” that they may be dealing with like a potential job loss or sick family member. Currently, you may be upset at an instructor for giving too much work, but remember that online learning is new to them too and they may be dealing with their own pressures outside of the classroom. Avoid reacting to negativity and lead with kindness when you can.

Connection and Community

We’re craving connection more than ever before as we’re more isolated and alone than we’re used to. Rather than going at this alone, reach out to others to talk about your struggles or check in on a someone to see how they’re doing. If you’re lost in a class, visit the instructor’s virtual hours or meet with a tutor.  Stop by peer mentor drop-in hours for extra academic support or set an appointment with your advisor if you need to vent.  Though student groups are currently virtual, it’s still a good way to get involved and meet others with the same interests as you. If you’re “zoomed out”, call a friend, write an email or a letter, or plan a social distanced visit with a family member.  A simple text to let someone know you’re thinking of them could make someone’s day, even if it’s yours. Those connections are a good reminder that even if you’re feeling lonely, you’re not alone.


If it gets to be too much, ask for help! Your mental health is priority number one and it’s completely normal to not be ok. If your feelings become overwhelming, you have a tough time getting motivated or you’re not finding productive ways to manage your stress, be vulnerable and find help. If it’s difficult to tell a family member or friend, reach out to an instructor, an advisor, counselor or medical professional. The Division of Student Affairs offers amazing resources ranging from campus offerings like counseling services (CAPS), crisis and suicide hotlines, social support and recovery programs, as well as community and crisis resources throughout the country.