Ten tips to manage school and life during a turbulent 2020

Top ten tips. Heather Wieshlow/Lariat

Saddleback College students and other experts share strategies to manage school and life during a turbulent year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an upheaval of life as we know it in the United States. Almost 200,000 people are dead, six million individuals have tested positive for the coronavirus and a long-term cure has yet to be found.

Natural weather disasters and widespread devastation from fires have forced thousands to evacuate, leaving homes destroyed and forests charred. High unemployment has affected individuals’ ability to provide for their families. Black Lives Matter Protestors marched across the country, seeking justice for the controversial deaths of several African American men and women, while criminals used the crowds as a cover to loot and destroy businesses.

We have experienced a lot since the beginning of 2020. These events combined with the endless political turmoil have caused a pervasive sense of uncertainty in all our lives.

Human neuroscience professor, Elizabeth A. Phelps told the Harvard Gazette,“Uncertainty can change our learning about the world, our ability to deal with negative emotions, our decisions, and even our memories.”

Life goes on, despite the chaos and challenges we face. These tips offer strategies to deal with uncertainty and build emotional resilience.

Tip #1 – Consume news and social media in moderation

Limit the amount of time spent following the news or scrolling through social media. The constant barrage of coronavirus information, tragedies of the day and political bickering are emotionally exhausting. When the news consumption becomes too overwhelming, don’t be afraid to take a news break.

Firdaus S. Dhabhar, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, at Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Thrive Global, “It’s important to be educated and informed, but don’t expose yourself to the news 24/7.”

To gain a sense of control over the chaos, become an advocate for important causes and vote in the upcoming election.

Tip #2 – Be a good human – do the right thing

The Centers for Disease Control and reputable health experts offer credible research and health information concerning COVID-19— which can mean the difference between life and death.

Since the beginning of August, there have been over 8,700 positive cases of the coronavirus reported at colleges and universities across 36 states. The increase in the spread of the virus will correlate with elevated COVID-19 death statistics, as tracked by John Hopkins Medical Center.

Health officials have strongly urged restraint when it comes to gathering in large groups, asking individuals to wear a mask and practice social distancing to prevent transmission of the virus. If friends and family will not adhere to these practices, limit exposure and take personal precautions. The responsibility to slow this virus is based on making conscious choices to protect yourself and others.

“I’m wearing a mask because even if later we find out the virus was not something to worry about, I want to look back at my actions and know that I did the best with the knowledge I had at the time to protect the people around me,” said Val Sierakowski, a psychology major and recent graduate of Saddleback College. “I want to look back in the future, and know that I was conscious about my actions and showed that I was a good person.”

Tip #3 – Focus on what matters

Keep a positive mindset and find ways to create stability through the chaos. Focus on what is important in your life.

“I keep it simple by focusing on school, work, staying fit and spending time with family,” said Jerrot Fusco, a criminal justice major at Saddleback College. Fusco also brings levity to his life by watching comedies and stand-up comics, giving credence to the adage that laughter is the best medicine.

Tip #4 – Make time for fun and passions

Make time each day to create enjoyable and fun experiences, whether it’s on an individual basis or with a small select group of people. Take up a new hobby, practice a skill, start a dream business or learn about the world. With a little creativity and planning, humdrum days can turn into humdinger days.

“I use a planner to schedule time for everything including dinner, breakfast, painting, writing and anything else in my daily life,” said Kimberly Coblish, who works two jobs and is an environmental studies major at Saddleback College.

Tip #5 – Stay in contact

Stay in contact with friends and family by using FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, Netflix Party or House Party and enjoy creative ways to hang out.

Texting and email are always options for communicating, but consider something different by writing a personalized letter or note. Let someone know they are appreciated, that their life has made an impact and that they are important. This method may seem old-fashioned but can be especially meaningful for seniors or those who are homebound.

If one chooses to spend in-person time with friends or family, do so in a safe manner. Limit how many people are in the group, practice rigorous social distancing and wear a protective mask.

Tip #6 – Communicate and set boundaries

It can be difficult to share thoughts, feelings and concerns related to our nation’s issues. Some people may want to engage in arguments or blame others, while others are misinformed or just don’t care. Debates rage over the right way or the right choice, causing divisiveness and ongoing rifts between friends and families.

Approach these types of conversations with a spirit of curiosity, compassion and understanding. If individuals are not open to that type of communication, set clear boundaries on discussion topics or choose to limit the amount of time spent with them.

Be clear about personal values, choices and establish healthy boundaries. If an individual’s actions have the potential to be harmful and they are not willing to compromise, it may be time to end the relationship.

“Take a stock of your relationships and recognize who you really need in your life and who is pivotal to your mental health and growth,” said Alyssa Sherburne, psychology major at Saddleback College. “Know who is there when the going gets tough,”

Tip #7 – Thrive online 

For some students, learning to adjust to a full online school schedule can be challenging,  however, others have learned how to excel. Find out their secrets in the recently released two one-hour webinars Overcome Distractions in your Online Learning and Student Life When College is Online.

These webinars were produced by members of Phi Theta Kappa, honor society and shared in an email by Professor Rosenberg, honors program chair and honor societies advisor at Saddleback College.

Tip #8 – Focus on inner growth 

During these chaotic times it helps to focus on peace and reflection. Meditation, yoga or gratitude journals are techniques that can facilitate inner growth and understanding.

Arman Vakili, a psychology major at Saddleback college, has found several ways to create peace in his life. He focuses on personal growth and spends time looking inward because there are fewer distractions in his life which give him more time to read and listen to podcasts.

“Instead of looking for environments to be in, I find peace by creating an ambient setting in my own environment,” Vakili said.

Tip #9 – No shame in asking for help 

It is normal to experience a myriad of emotions, including overwhelm, anger, fear, anxiety, disappointment and frustration during these turbulent times. The CDC in their June survey found an elevated increase in adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19, with 40% of U.S. adults reporting that they experienced a mental health or behavioral condition related to the pandemic.

Individuals who are experiencing ongoing mental health issues, anxiety, depression, substance abuse or have thoughts of suicide can get help by contacting one of the following resources.

Saddleback College students enrolled in classes can access services from the Student Health Center at no charge. The center offers many resources including alcohol, drug and addiction support, housing and food support and domestic violence and abuse resources. Sessions can be conducted via a tele-health (Zoom) session or by phone, click here to make an appointment.

Another resource for Orange County residents is the OC warmline, a free and confidential resource providing emotional support 24 hours a day / everyday. Contact them at 877-910-WARM or use the online chat option at namioc.org.

211oc is an organization offering information and resources on public benefits, food and utility resources and health services. The OC Health Agency also provides a list of resources and information for coronavirus programs and resources.

Tip #10 – Maintain a spirit of resilience

This has been an unprecedented year and there are several more months to go. Getting through these turbulent times can be compared to an analogy of running a marathon: pace oneself, get help when needed and keep going one step at a time.

Remember we are all in this together and we will get through these times.