COVID-19 outbreak has brought particular challenges to all of us. You may experience a range of negative emotions, sensations and thoughts, such as:

  • Fear and anxiety for your safety, safety of others and the future in general
  • Loneliness
  • Sadness
  • Tension in your body
  • Repeating worries about the duration and consequences of the current situation
  • Negative physical sensations such as headache, back pain, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal problems
  • Irregular sleeping and eating patterns
  • Feeling overwhelmed, or panic due to uncertainty, your body sensations, or being alone or in a small space for most of the day

It is also possible to feel some positive emotions, such as:

  • Relief that some obligations are cancelled
  • Feeling more connected to others because we all share similar difficulties
  • Pleasure in doing your hobbies and relaxing activities
These are NORMAL reactions to extraordinary circumstances. We can all experience such reactions, but some of us may also be confronted with specific challenges, such as: If you are an international student/PhD living in the Netherlands you may feel worried for your family and close friends that are far away.  You may have a smaller social network in the Netherlands, and worry about the lack of support in case of difficulty. You may feel guilty that you are not with your loved ones in these difficult times.
– If your family is close or you live with them, you may feel torn apart between the wish to support them and the worry that you will infect them. You may perceive yourself as a danger to their health, or feel guilty for not helping them enough.
– If you live alone it can be particularly challenging to endure ‘’social distancing’’. It really is a misnomer: it is ‘’physical distancing’’ that we are required to do. Unfortunately, this may lead to social distancing if we spend days in silence and without any physical contact.
– Some students may experience substantial personal or family financial loses.
– Students with a history of mental health difficulties or suffering from chronic stress can have stronger reactions to the current events.
In this period, it is difficult to make predictions, and it is impossible to be completely in control. Nobody can tell us when and how the situation will change. Nevertheless, there are strategies that can help us to feel better, to de-stress, and/or stay resilient during these circumstances. There are still things we CAN control.
Keep your routine
Limit the news feed
Breathe and stretch Exercise
Be here and now

Working from home

Luckily, a large part of our research jobs or studying can be done remotely. Besides staying productive, it is important to continue our normal work rhythm because it gives us structure and control, and reduces anxiety. However, work from home can also be challenging. These simple tips may help you:

  • Keep your routine
  • Wake up at the same time as usual, have your coffee/tea and breakfast as always. Take a shower, and put some usual (comfortable) clothes on instead of your pajamas. Turn on your computer when you usually start your work/classes.
  • Instead of cycling or travelling to work, do a stretching exercise and get some fresh air on your balcony or window.
  • Create a small office in your house
  • If you live in a small space, you can still set a small corner aside where you feel the most focused, even it is just a part of your dining table.
  • Try changing this corner by making it similar to your typical working space, or by simply making it different than usual. A new setting can help you to create new work-related associations.

A campaign by VerV Belgium – professional association for ergonomics:
  • Good chair and computer equipment and appropriate sitting posture are important. You may not have an ergonomic chair or a good computer like at the Erasmus MC. If you have some financial resources available, consider investing in a piece of equipment that you find important, such as separate keyboard, a big screen, or a comfortable chair. Lots of internet shops are doing home deliveries. You can use cushions and books as first aid to set the screen at your eye level, and to support your back. You can use an old box and plank to create a standing desk. Monitor your posture and take more breaks than usual to prevent shoulder and back pain. Stretching is also recommended.
  • Meet your colleagues and supervisors online. Keep your meetings as usual. Many colleagues and supervisors will suggest meeting on Skype or Zoom, or simply by calling. If that does not happen, show the initiative yourself. Online meetings help you to progress in your work and to maintain healthy level of social interactions while working.
  • Remove or mute your mobile phone for a few hours. It is even harder to resist social networks when you work from home (and in the time of a pandemic).
  • Monitor your working hours and close your “office” at the usual time. Sometimes it can be difficult to stop working. If you are working from home, that does not mean that you are non-stop available. There is a time for work and there is a time for play. 

Mindfulness can be more useful than ever

  • Cultivate acceptance and patience to cope with the current unpredictable, extraordinary and uncontrollable situation
  • With inability to make plans, learn to be present here and now
  • Use mindfulness techniques and exercises
– Breathing exercises reduce stress and anxiety.
– Use washing your hands as a practice of mindfully performing routine activity: it can help you to practice awareness AND protect you from the virus
– Awareness instead of autopilot can help you to stop touching your face and objects in your environment, and to maintain the safe social distance
– Bring awareness to the source of tension and anxiety
  • Use apps and online resources. e.g. Popular apps like Headspace and Calm have released free digital offerings.

Be physically active for mental and physical health

  • A physical activity may be the only opportunity to be outside of the house. You are still allowed to walk, run or cycle outside (in the Netherlands), as long as you are not in a group and you are able to maintain required physical distance. In that way you get some fresh air and some sun, boost your immunity and reduce stress.
  • There are many free online resources with all types of exercises and all levels of intensity.  From Pilates to 7-minute workout, from insanity to lazy morning stretching, everyone can find something suitable. Many gyms in the Netherlands provide their online resources while being closed due to COVID-19. Many apps allow you to do a challenge together with friends – in that way you can motivate each other

 Limit news feed- but connect with people

While it is important to be informed and up to date with the latest recommendations, constantly checking news and social media can only make us more tensed and anxious. In addition, it is more likely to consume unreliable contents that only spread myths and panic.

  • Limit reading the news to twice per day– for instance in the morning and in the evening. In that way you will stay informed but you will not be overwhelmed.
  • Use only reliable sources, such as RIVM and NOS
  • Use this time to contact old friends. Maybe you have reduced your contact because you do not live in the same city/country anymore, or have different schedules- now it is time to catch up!
  • Share your worries with your friends. We are all in this together. However, it can also be harmful to talk exclusively about the COVID-19. It is important to also chat about more relaxing topics. If you start lacking interesting topics, you can start a film or a book club.
  • If you usually enjoy being surrounded by people, organize a video call with multiple participants. In addition, many meetups (e.g. language exchange groups) and sound systems/ festivals are moving online! Check Facebook, Meetup and similar platforms for interesting ongoing events.
  • Online group classes, such as yoga and aikido, can provide a combination of mindfulness, physical activity and social interaction  
  • Help the ones in need – buy groceries for chronically-ill neighbors, send postcards to lonely elderly people, or volunteer as a medical student/ psychologist. You can make a difference, and at the same time, help yourself.
In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity. Albert Einstein

Online resources:

Covid-19 and well-being

Corona anxiety

Working at home

Mindfulness and Covid-19:

Do not let physical distancing lead to social isolation