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Coping with the New COVID-19 Normal

Section 1

April 6, 2020

Summary: Check in with yourself, marshal your coping strategies, and reach out to campus resources during this challenging time.


Dear Anteaters:

I write from my front porch, where a warm sunshine and a gentle breeze remind me that spring arrived a short while ago, right around the time we were packing up residence halls and offices. I didn't take the time to notice this seasonal transition as we began imagining what it was going to be like to learn, work, and socialize from a distance, and so I'm doing so now. I'm also taking stock of what has grown lately, around me as well as within me: my capacity to cope with uncertainty, my tolerance for the unknown, and my knowledge of technology.

In order to acknowledge the growth that can occur after a trauma or dramatic change (often referred to as post-traumatic growth), it's important to notice the event(s) that prompted that growth. COVID-19 has been that event for all of us, thrusting us into a new normal, and life has changed in large and small ways for us all. I'd like to invite us all to take a moment and simply acknowledge this change as we find a path forward.

For many of us, it has been a difficult transition, and we cannot ignore that this period has been challenging for the world, our nation, and for members of our very own community. At the same time that we have been presented with new opportunities to turn inward, spend time with loved ones, and use technology in exciting new ways to stay connected, these first weeks have been, for many, characterized by uncertainty, anxiety, fear, or sadness. We have lost some of our routines. Some of us have had to confront economic uncertainty, as well, prioritizing essential expenses, scaling down, or realizing how we can mobilize our resources to help others who are experiencing difficult circumstances. A colleague refers to these sorts of challenges as "character-builders," and I would say that we have had no shortage of those over the weeks.

We cannot cope with what we don't acknowledge or notice, so as you begin this new spring term, I encourage you to spend some time noticing. Give space to the grief, frustration, or loss that you might be feeling. Notice how this feels in your body. What has this loss done to your appetite, ability to sleep, or ability to connect with others? In what ways are you or are people in your life a little more short-tempered, anxious, or angrier, and how can we be more compassionate to ourselves and to others during this time? What have you learned about yourself as the seasons have changed? How has this pause created new opportunities to connect with friends and neighbors, regenerate your energy, or appreciate those aspects of your life that we are sometimes too distracted to notice?

Then let's take several deep breaths in, allowing us to reengage those parts of our brain that often get hijacked during high-stress situations. We're going to need a lot of collective deep breaths during this time of uncertainty. Although we look forward to the future when we can resume portions of our normal lives, we are going to need to marshal our coping strategies now. Here are a few tips:

If it helps, keep a journal or write down what you and your family are experiencing right now. The scientific literature suggests that writing in order to better understand your emotions can have both mental and physical health benefits.

Notice the hallmarks of a good day and make a plan to repeat what worked well.

Savor something delicious, whether it's homemade, take-out, or delivered to you

Find some aspect of the arts (dance, theater, poetry, music) that inspires you.

Reach out for help if there is some aspect of telecommuting or distance learning that is unfamiliar, and try to be quick to answer a question for someone who appears to be struggling.

Keep abreast of national and local headlines, but turn media off periodically. Take time to unplug, rest, and just notice what's happening right now in this unprecedented time in our history.

Noticing allows us to marshal our coping resources. One of those coping resources might be professional help. If you find that you are noticing depression, a worsening of a pre-existing mental health condition, an unshakeable anxiety, or any other symptoms that could use a professional lens to understand, please do not hesitate to reach out to campus resources, which are available to you even if you have left campus:

I encourage students to reach out to the Counseling Center (counseling.uci.edu) by calling (949) 824-6457. During business hours (Mon-Fri 8am-5pm), to schedule an appointment or for all other inquiries, leave a message and the office will call you back within 2 hours during normal business hours. If you cannot wait to be called back within 2 hours or are calling after business hours, select option 2 to speak with a counselor by phone.

Faculty and staff can reach out to our Employee Assistance Program by calling (844) 824-3273 or accessing services at wellness.uci.edu/facultystaff/eap/introduction.html, which also links to other campus resources.

Best wishes for the spring quarter, and may the opportunities and challenges ahead prompt reflection, compassion, and the best of the human spirit.


Marcelle Hayashida, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Chancellor
Wellness, Health & Counseling Services