Hamline News

Hamline Experts on Coping with COVID-19

Read highlights from a recent Hamline University Leo Lecture titled “Working, Living and Coping in a World with COVID-19” with Jodi Metz, director of Health Services, and Hussein Rajput Ph.D., director of Counseling Services. During the live stream conversation, Hamline experts answered questions about health and wellness during the global pandemic.

How can we cope with loneliness?

Rajput pointed out that loneliness is common in this time of social distancing and isolation.

“In some ways, people who live with others are experiencing loneliness as well,” he said.

Rajput recommended instituting a daily practice of staying connected to people in some way. Due to the fatigue caused by video calls, he suggested “old school” ways of being connected and mentioned talking to neighbors, getting outside, going for a walk with someone, picking up the phone or writing a letter.

Metz noted that one of the benefits of the mandated isolation and subsequent telehealth appointments was that students had to begin using the telephone more regularly and in a new way.

“It’s been fun to have those interactions with a generation who maybe didn’t ever use the telephone in the way that they’re using it now,” said Metz.

Is telehealth effective?

Metz said she was resistant to telehealth before the COVID-19 pandemic but learned that it has provided more access to health care. Now, for instance, people who are sick do not have to venture into the clinic. The realization of increased access to care has spread through the health care industry and now visits are covered by many insurance plans.

This recognition is new and provides greater access to health care, including among students.

“For those for whom transportation or time were barriers to care sometimes...they can now get into appointments that would not have worked otherwise,” said Metz.

“I imagine we will be retaining this form of care to some extent, even post-pandemic,” said Rajput.

When should people seek help for anxiety?

Think about duration, severity and frequency of symptoms. A certain amount of fluctuation in feelings is normal, but if something persists for a few weeks, it might be time to investigate. If symptoms impair day-to-day functioning and affect relationships, or impulses to harm self or others emerge, seek professional help.

How can people get better sleep?

It is normal to not be getting optimal sleep right now because sleeplessness tends to come with stress, noted Rajput.

The first step to a good night’s rest is to start with good sleep hygiene. Metz and Rajput recommend establishing a bedtime routine for settling down and keeping the bed and bedroom associated with calm and rest. Things to avoid include: working in bed, screens one to two hours before bed, caffeine after noon and naps.

If you experience insomnia during the night, the best thing to do is to get out of bed and go elsewhere.

If your sleep is being thrown off by disruptive thoughts, it is helpful to write them down and address them when you are awake. Also, schedule time to worry during the day. Another helpful step for good sleep is to exercise daily.

“One of the best things you can do is get some physical activity during the day, exercise, depending on your level of activity,” said Rajput. “It will most likely contribute to restful sleep.”

What if a family member works in a high-risk setting?

Guidelines recommend isolation for family members of people who are at high risk for exposure. However, Metz advocates a flexible approach in keeping with lifestyle and risk tolerance.

“It is impossible to follow the guidelines to T. Do the best you can. There is no social distancing police…. Do the best that you can, even if you slip up every once in a while,” said Metz.

Rajput noted that family members of high-risk and front-line workers are contributing to the cause and are part of their work.

When it gets overwhelming, said Rajput, “look to others to give to you when you need it…being willing to say, “My cup is pretty empty right now, who else can I turn to?’”

What should parents tell college-bound students?

All schools are working on opening plans to mitigate risk for students, faculty and staff. At Hamline University, facilities services are restructuring classroom and residential spaces in alignment with social distancing guidelines from experts. People will be encouraged to wash their hands and will be required to wear masks.

Metz noted that health screenings and periodic testing should be anticipated by anyone going to college. People who get sick will be asked to quarantine. Accept that there will be hybrid situations where people will have to be creative about accommodations to keep people in the lowest risk situation possible.

Rajput said it was important to recognize the tension between social etiquette and social distancing practices. He advised parents to ask their children to think about their response if others do not follow the guidelines, because there are a number of social pressures that work against people calling attention to it.

“I encourage people to think about ‘what are your scripts?’ for instances when people are inadvertently not following a recommended practice,” said Rajput. “Have some things in your back pocket to say when people are not following recommended practices. There’s a lot of teaching that has to happen.”

Metz echoed the civic responsibility theme and recommended pointing out to young people that when they wear a mask, they are protecting other people.

“I have had success with students by reminding people that this is a new virus and even infectious disease experts have been surprised by it,” said Metz.

What should I say to teenagers about limiting social interactions?

According to Rajput, highlighting personal risk does not change teen behavior around COVID-19. The reality is that young people have had adverse outcomes in only a small fraction of instances, and teenagers know that. 

Instead, talk to teens from the standpoint of civic responsibility. It might work to say: “You’re not protecting yourself. You’re protecting your community.”

In terms of behavioral guidelines for young people, look at a middle ground compromise of lowering, not eliminating, risk. For example, define who is in their social circle or COVID-19 bubble and try to minimize the number of people included. The goal in these conversations is to mitigate risk without being so constraining so that teens rebel.

“I am a big proponent of getting teenagers to police themselves. Appeals to conscience are often more compelling arguments to teenagers than abstract ones or the threat of consequences,” said Rajput.

What is the best way to talk to younger children about the current situation?

Rajput mentioned that it can be helpful to ask a child what they are concerned about. Sometimes children will tell you what they need to know.

Adults have an opportunity to model that uncertainty is something that can be tolerated. Not having all the answers is part of this experience.

“It can be scary and uncomfortable, but tolerating uncertainty is life skill that is helpful beyond the pandemic,” said Rajput.

Rajput also noted that he is not a child psychologist and suggested consulting expert websites for resources.

What are tips for building resilience?

Rajput recommended focusing on what can be controlled instead of what cannot be controlled.

“Stress is a ratio of your perceived challenges to your perceived resources for coping,” Rajput said. “What can you do to increase the other side of that equation?”

Building resilience includes self-care and community care. Caring for the self means making sure sleep, nutrition and exercise are adequate day to day.

Community caring means looking out for people through participating and volunteering. Helping others can increase resilience because it builds a network of people supporting each other and provides meaning.

“When we find meaning in something that’s hard, that can go a long way,” said Rajput.

What are credible sources of information about COVID-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are excellent resources, according to Metz. The MDH webpage also lists testing sites.

She mentioned that insightful articles concerning research on the pandemic can be found in the Atlantic and New Yorker. For the latest scientific research, the best source is the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Final thoughts

Rajput noted that the paradox of COVID-19 is that we’re experiencing unprecedented hardship and loss while also experiencing “silver lining” moments. These moments are worth noting and savoring.

“It is hard to differentiate between something being bad or good because everything is so intertwined,” said Rajput. “There are opportunities for us to navigate it effectively by acknowledging when something good happens.”

Access the complete Leo Lecture with Dr. Rajput and Metz.


Written by staff.