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students on the quad at the U of M with Pembina Hall residence behind

Try to maintain relationships, keeping a safe distance, get outside, talk about non COVID-19 things, counselling centre says. // Photo: Marianne Helm.

Students seem to be weathering mental health challenges during COVID-19

March 20, 2020 — 

As the COVID-19 crisis spreads to impact more and differing parts of our lives each day, one could easily imagine that calls to counsellors would increase, but that is not currently the case at UM’s Student Counselling Centre.

“We have actually seen a decrease in calls and visits,” says David Ness, the centre’s director. “It’s a little unexpected but it reminds me that our students can handle a lot and can manage a lot of things. Perhaps they are using their own resources or maybe they feel disconnected from the university in some way now. There’s probably lots of reasons for this decline, but people have a range of reactions to this type of event.”

Every day, the centre reserves appointment slots to intake new students and these are normally filled within the day’s opening hour. But this week, they have had a surplus every day. Given this, the centre has reached out to every student who has contacted them since January 2020 to check in and remind them of supports available.

“I feel we have done a good job of reminding students we’re here,” Ness says. He notes that UM offices that support students continue to operate, and he encourages students to use them as needed. And his office continues to update their website (for the most current news on the coronavirus and UM operations, please regularly visit

“Some people will under-respond and view the threat as an exaggeration, others will over-respond and become highly anxious, others will respond somewhere in the middle,” Ness posted online. “All responses are normal. The situation is ABNORMAL! So how do we stay emotionally well during these times, when we’re separated from friends and our university “home”?

Here’s some tips the Centre has recently compiled and posted online:

Know that the University is committed to you

You’re the reason we exist!  So we’re working very hard to plan carefully and ensure your studies, growth, and campus connections continue.

Be careful of Covid-19 overload. 

Limit the time you spend taking in Covid-19 news.  It’s coming at us from all directions and this can be downright overwhelming.  Turn off/stop reading the news.  Maybe check in once or twice a day. Even for students who like to follow the news, it can be too much to continually watch coverage of Covid-19.

Be careful of Covid-19 misinformation. 

Rumors abound about what’s open, what’s not, what’s closing, and so on.  Check out rumors for yourself by going to reputable sources.  Check out provincial and local government sites for up to date information about closings.  Go to the World Health Organization or the Government of Canada Health Site for correct information about the virus.

Our emotions reside in our bodies, so take good care of yours! 
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule—try to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time.
  • Work towards maintaining good nutrition and regular meals.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Limit caffeine intake.
  • Move your body -get some exercise or do something so you’re not just sedentary!
  • Spend some time outside, in nature, especially.
  • Practice deep breathing, relaxation, yoga, Qigong. Not sure how to do these?  YouTube!!
  • Try taking up an activity that requires use of your body and mind, which can give you an emotional break: knitting, art, playing an instrument, etc.
Social connection is really good for us too! 

Maintain social distance, of course, but stay in touch with friends.  You might even try the old-fashioned art of letter writing! Think of other creative ways to connect with others.

Maintain a schedule, just as you would if at school (while respecting safety recommendations). 

Meals, study time, relaxation time.  Having a schedule helps us contain emotions and feel a sense of control. You want to focus on what you can control as much as possible. We suggest trying as much as possible and safe to do what you ordinarily would do. For example, if you would usually go to the gym to work out each day, continue to work out daily but at home or outside (away from people) doing other activities. Even a brisk walk has health benefits and it definitely has emotional benefits. You could even try to take a pleasure walk: take a 15 to 30 minute casual stroll outside taking in as much of the world as you can; noticing as many pleasurable things as possible (e.g., melting snow, blue sky, star constellations, a bird flying, etc). Imagine walking like you’re on vacation.

Consider keeping a journal about what this experience is like for you. 

But be sure to end your daily entry with 3 good things about the day, however small, to help keep your spirits up.

Maintain perspective. 

While this is a HUGE event for all of us, remind yourself of what’s good in your life and what’s important: health, friends, being able to continue towards your degree, and spirituality. Remind yourself that the current crisis will pass. Keep in mind that graphic images on the internet, rumors on social media, may exaggerate the actual threat. Images of empty shelves are compelling visuals but not necessarily common and may be confined to certain areas. No one is posting images of stocked shelves and calm shoppers because those images aren’t newsworthy.

  • Try a gratitude activity once a day where you identify one thing you’re grateful for by filling in the following statement:

               “I’m grateful for_____________________ because __________________.”

Spend time with your four-legged friends if you have one. 

Some play or snuggle time with your pets can make a tough day a lot easier.

Take the focus off of yourself: do something kind for someone else. 

Call someone to connect – don’t just talk about Covid-19 though! 

Try using distraction techniques:
  • Make a list of things that make you happy.
  • Take a hot both with bath oil or bubbles.
  • Curl up under a blanket with hot cocoa and a good book.
  • Baby yourself somehow.
  • Light sweet-smelling incense or a candle.
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Think of many uses for a random object (e.g., what are all things you can do with a twist-tie?)
  • Rub liniment under your nose
  • Take a cold shower
  • Focus on how it feels to breathe – notice how your chest and stomach move with each breathe
  • Do a task that is exacting and requires focus and concentration
  • Pick a subject (not Covid-19!) and research it on the web
  • Watch a documentary
  • List as many good things about yourself as you can
  • Do something nice for someone else
  • Draw or colour
  • Play a game
  • Bake or cook
  • Clean
Consider making use of one of the many mental health apps that are available for free and for pay. 

You might find this link helpful in finding something that speaks to you. 

Some additional website links that you might find helpful:
  • Audio relaxation from the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba
  • TED Article on managing anxiety related to Covid-19                                  

If you feel you need more assistance in the form of counselling, read on. 

  • The Student Counselling Centre (SCC) will continue to provide counselling services to students but will do so only via telephone except for students who warrant an emergency triage session. Please contact our reception at 204-474-8592 for more information.
  • For now, we are maintaining are regular working hours of 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday (except for students studying at the Bannatyne campus location of the University).
  • Also, check our website for a listing of off campus supports including Empower Me – a brief counselling support service purchased by the University of Manitoba Student Union which is available 24 hours/7 days week (1-844-741-6389).

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis . . . .

    • Go to the Crisis Response Centre at 817 Bannatyne Avenue
    • Use one of several available crisis line services:
      • Mobile Crisis Service: 204-940-1781
      • Klinic Crisis Line: 204-786-8686
      • Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line: 1-877-435-7170
      • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Services: 1-855-242-3310
      • Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 1-888-292-7565

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