'You Can Trust Yourself': Staying Home, Staying Well

Dartmouth wellness experts offer strategies for studying and working remotely.

With efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 prompting drastic changes in almost every area of life, including where and how people learn and work, students have suddenly found themselves far from their classmates and the familiar campus rhythm. Faculty, staff, and employees are hurriedly transitioning to working from home, many for the first time. As spring term approaches, Dartmouth wellness experts are offering tools for weathering, and even making the best of, the challenging new circumstances.

"This is new to a lot of people. It can make us anxious and uneasy because it's not what we're used to," says Courtney Rotchford, Dartmouth's program manager for health promotion and wellness.

Fear about the virus, related changes to daily routines, and general uncertainty, including financial worries, exacerbate people's anxiety and stress levels, says Rotchford, who recommends focusing on what you can control, such as washing your hands frequently and practicing social distancing.

Social distancing is something everyone can do right now to have a positive impact on public health, says Caitlin Barthelmes, director of the Student Wellness Center. But it isn't easy, she says.

"We are social creatures, and we like being in community with each other," says Barthelmes. Remembering that even the smallest decisions have the power to break the chains of transmission "can increase our motivation to do our part in keeping the community healthy and give our sacrifices purpose."

In the meantime, she suggests exploring a variety of strategies for maintaining health and well-being while learning or working from home.

"If you're noticing you're not in a great place, you could look at your daily patterns," and experiment with more or less structure, or limiting your news intake, says Barthelmes. It's also a good idea to get outside at least once a day.

"Spending time in nature can help boost your mood, creating feelings of happiness and well-being, and help you feel more energized when you return to work or studying," she says. "As you navigate the transition, experiment, listen to your gut, and remember you can trust yourself to know what you need."

Plan for Balance

Maintaining a healthy life-work balance requires planning and discipline when you're studying or working from home.

With your computer within easy reach, "you can just work all the time, and that's not healthy," says Rotchford, who recommends creating a separate work or study space in your home, and continuing whatever healthy habits you had already practiced before the pandemic.

"If you were in the habit of taking walks, keep doing it," Rotchford says. Taking mini breaks to stretch and rehydrate, do a short meditation or breathing exercise, or draw or listen to music "can really help people regain focus, be less stressed, and more productive."

With schools and daycares closed, parents of young children face additional challenges.

There's no "magic formula," but Rotchford suggests creating a routine for your kids and yourself, and working with your supervisor to determine how to best meet work and family needs. "I think communication is key right now."

Stay in Touch

Maintaining connections with friends, family, and co-workers during a time of social distancing takes extra effort and creativity. But even brief, regular check-ins can have a big impact, says Sharon Morisi, counselor with the Faculty/Employee Assistance Program. Even if it's just Zoom, "seeing other people decreases that sense of isolation."

In these days of social distancing, "technology can be our friend," says Barthelmes. But don't forget about "the good old phone," or even letter writing, especially with family members or neighbors who aren't as tech savvy and may be feeling especially isolated.

However you stay in touch, Barthelmes suggests taking time to applaud the choices people make to protect their well-being and the health of others.  "I'm hoping this opportunity not only brings us together more as a community, but that we feel more connected because we are all working together for the collective good."

In addition to learning new ways of connecting with one another, having more time at home may also provide a chance to find different ways to connect with the self, which "is also in a whole different set of circumstances, says Rabbi Daveen Litwin, dean and chaplain of the William Jewett Tucker Center. "And from where I am sitting, obviously, we talk about a connection to something either within or beyond ourselves, and drawing on those sources of strength, confidence, resilience, and hope, when things are uncertain, and potentially frightening."

Barthelmes notes that while these circumstances are temporary, the knowledge we gain from them need not be.

If we use the time to learn about what we need, "we may walk out of this with a better understanding of how we can be our best selves, how we can be healthy and well," and eventually bring some of those practices with us when we return to the workplace or classroom, she says.

Ask for Help

It's natural during times of stress to reach for something that makes us feel better. But as the pandemic unfolds, it's important to pay attention to our moods, and our coping mechanisms, especially when they involve alcohol or other substance use.

"Reliance on any addictive substance, including tobacco, caffeine, and cannabis, can prevent us from finding healthier alternatives to coping," Barthelmes says. "It can also lead to chemical dependencies that are even more challenging to change and can negatively impact our mental health."

Also, people who are prone to depression or anxiety may find their conditions worsening. In that case, Morisi says, it may be helpful to talk to a mental health professional, or ask your PCP whether a medication adjustment is appropriate.

Other Tips From the Dartmouth Wellness Community

  • Eat regular, balanced meals
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Practice good sleep hygiene
  • Keep regular work or study hours, and log off at the end of the day
  • Prioritize your to-do list and stick to it
  • Stay connected to clubs and organizations you were involved with before the pandemic
  • Take advantage of time at home to pursue an old hobby, learn a new skill, or tackle a house project

Here are some resources for students, employees, faculty and staff. More resources are being added as the days pass, so be sure to check these websites for more information.

Resources for Students

Wellness Check-Ins

The Student Wellness Center is offering virtual wellness check-ins via Zoom to help students navigate the transition to online learning, refer them to additional resources if needed, and "just be there to support students," Barthelmes says. To request a check-in, email student.wellness.center@dartmouth.edu.

Counseling

Dartmouth College Health Service offers counseling, including 24-hour crisis counseling for students or those who are concerned about a student. Currently, counseling is being provided by phone, and will soon also be available via Zoom. The health service can also help students who live outside of the state connect with mental health professionals nearer to them, when necessary.

To access these services, email counseling@dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-9442 weekdays, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. After hours, call safety and security at 603-646-4000.

Resources for Employees

Wellness at Dartmouth's COVID-19: Coping Resources include strategies for managing stress and anxiety, and remote working tips for employees and supervisors.

Counseling

Staff and faulty can call the Faculty/Employee Assistance Program (FEAP) at 844-216-8308. The services are also available for family members.

Faculty and staff can also contact FEAP counselor Sharon Morisi directly at sharon.a.morisi@dartmouth.edu. Morisi is available via Zoom and telephone.

Additional Resources

Pastoral Counseling

Daveen Litwin, the College chaplain, and the United Campus Ministry, representing Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and many other faith traditions, offer confidential virtual counseling to students, faculty, and staff. To make an appointment, email college.chaplain@dartmouth.edu.

Relaxation Downloads

Share your tips and tricks, or photos of life working and studying from home. Tag us on your social accounts or use #DartmouthCollege, or email us at social.media@dartmouth@dartmouth.edu.

Brelynn Hess contributed to this story.

Aimee Minbiole can be reached at aimee.minbiole@dartmouth.edu

For the latest information on Dartmouth's response to the pandemic, visit the COVID-19 website.