UT University Health Services

Staying Well While Social Distancing

Social distancing is critical for the mitigation of COVID-19. Though these practices are designed to keep you healthy, the side effect is that being apart from others can have an impact on your well-being. It’s important to make conscious choices about health and wellness during this time. This list is designed to provide some tips and things to consider as you take care of yourselves and others during this time.

Living with others during the pandemic can present challenges and considerations for staying safe. Here are some useful tips to help you stay healthy while sharing your living space (pdf).

Healthy social connections improve our capacity to cope with stress and can boost our overall physical and emotional well-being. In a time of social distancing, it may be difficult to maintain social connections and social support. To alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation, here are some ways to stay connected:

  • Check in with friends and loved ones by phone or text. Simply checking in with people can help manage your stress and result in feeling less isolated.
  • If you have access, consider virtual gatherings in lieu of in-person events. Online platforms are great ways to have face-to-face contact while maintaining social distance. So even if your social outing is canceled, consider moving that event online!
  • Check out current campus events at Longhorn Connection.
  • Apps designed to keep groups of people in contact are great for group chats and check-ins. To initiate a group chat, ask your friends or loved ones if they’d like to join, set group agreements about ways to use the chat, and brainstorm ways to support one another.
  • Social media can be a great way to feel connected; however, it can at times feel overwhelming. Create boundaries for yourself with social media and online use. Consider logging off or taking a break from digital platforms if you feel overwhelmed.
  • If you’re in need of emotional support and would like to discuss your options for mental health support, you can call the Counseling and Mental Health Center at (512) 471-3515.

Being physically active includes any body movement produced by the skeletal muscle that results in energy expenditure. This means that whether you enjoy a more structured workout, playing sports outside while physically distancing or cleaning your kitchen, all forms of movement are physical activity. Physical activity has numerous benefits for your body and mind.

If you want to be active, here are some tips:

  • As you are creating your class schedule, carve out time for an activity break by blocking it off like you would an academic class. This way, it is already in your plan. Some people prefer to move their body in the morning, others in the afternoon or before bedtime. Consider how movement makes you feel and whether it energizes you or makes you sleepy. This can help you decide when to block off time.
  • Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. If it is hard to do all 30 minutes at one time, try breaking it up into 3, 10-minute bouts.
  • Check out UT RecSports guide Stay Home. Stay Active.
  • Sometimes thinking about being more physically active can be overwhelming. There are so many different choices and everyone's starting point is different. Remember to be kind to yourself and start small. Maybe even going online and doing a little research first can help boost your confidence to try something new.
  • Your living space and situation may have changed. You may also be limited in the different places that you have traditionally gone to be active like gyms, recreational facilities, etc. To mitigate some of the concerns you might have about limited physical space, think about how you could modify your current living space to be more conducive to physical activity. Does this mean moving furniture or perhaps rearranging a room? If you live with others, talk with them about using common areas for physical activity.

It can be difficult to maintain your regular eating habits while also practicing social distancing. Paying attention to your nutritional needs during this time can help you stay well. Your daily routine may look very different while you’re practicing social distancing. Remember to plan for meals and snacks (eating every 3-5 hours) and listen to your body. Here are a few tips:

  • Get your fruits and vegetables. Try frozen, canned or pre-packaged fresh produce, which isn’t out in the open at the grocery store and can last a long time.
  • Get your macronutrients.
    • Carbs: Try beans, lentils and grains that people are less likely to buy like wheat berries, barley, amaranth, millet and buckwheat. If you can cook rice, you can cook these.
    • Protein: Try eggs, frozen meats (or fresh that you freeze), canned meats, dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese) and legumes. If plant-based protein doesn’t fill you up, try a vegetarian meal with a fried egg on top to promote fullness and satisfaction.
    • Fats: Try avocados, nuts, seeds, oils, dressings, sauces and butter.
  • Utilize University Housing and Dining options. You can check the current operations schedule here.
  • Make sure you are drinking lots of water. If you choose to drink alcohol on occasion, make sure you have eaten something and alternate with a glass of water.

Sleep strengthens your immune system and your body's defense against contracting viruses and infections. It’s also essential for daily functioning including maintaining your mental health and overall well-being. Here are some sleep tips:

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  • If you feel tired during the day, supplement your sleep with a 20 to 30 minute nap between 1:00p.m. and 4:00p.m. Keep naps short and in the early afternoon to reduce disruptions of nighttime sleep.
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible (waking up and going to bed at he same time every day). Even while class/work may look different from previous semesters, your body thrives on routine and helps regulate your internal clock which influences the rest of your health.
    • If you’re having trouble sleeping, try: light yoga stretches before bed, journaling or getting your thoughts down on paper, shutting off technology at least 1 hour before sleep, drinking a soothing cup of non-caffeinated tea, listening to soothing music or sounds, and/or meditating. Click here for more sleep tips and resources.
    • If you choose to use alcohol or other drugs, be mindful of the ways that substances could impact your sleep. For example, using alcohol or other drugs close to the time you go to bed can impact the quality of your sleep. While you may think that some substances may help you fall asleep, they can actually disrupt healthy sleep patterns, leaving you feeling groggy the next day.

You may actually be spending a lot more time with the same people. Whether you’re with a partner, friend, or roommate, navigating this dynamic can be challenging. Continue to communicate about your needs and boundaries, and to practice the 7 C’s of Healthy Relationships. Additionally, keep in mind the following:

  • Everyone experiences stress differently, and we cope in different ways.
  • Intentionally carve out time for yourself. For example, practice your own hobbies or self-care or check in separately with friends and family through calls, texts or video chats.
  • Conflict can be a healthy part of a relationship as long as everyone “fights fair.” However, emotional and physical violence are never okay. If you’re worried about your emotional or physical safety, call the Counseling and Mental Health Center at (512) 471-3515. In case of emergency, call 911.
  • Consent is necessary for all sexual interactions, as well as for other kinds of physical intimacy. If you are engaging in sexual activity, remember that Healthyhorns play it safe by using condoms or other forms contraception.
  • Communicate proactively about your boundaries and expectations around practices to prevent the spread of COVID 19.

As more aspects of daily life have shifted online, whether they are related to classes, work and/or social events, it is important to acknowledge the relationship between technology and health. There are many factors to consider when maintaining a healthy relationship with technology while staying home and spending more time using screens. Here are some tips to help improve your mental and physical health while utilizing technology more frequently:

  • To alleviate eye strain while using screens:
    • Adjust computer screens so your eyes gaze slightly downward and the screen is 20-26 inches from your face (arm’s length).
    • Use the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
    • Blink often to maintain eye moisture and increase the ability to focus.
  • Video calls can be draining. Try using email or phone calls, when possible. When you have a lot of classes or video calls, do your best to space them out and take breaks to move your body in between.
  • Focus on setting boundaries with screen time and social media:
    • Set daily time limits to ensure that you maintain a healthy balance and support your personal well-being.
    • Unfollow accounts that don’t bring you positivity, motivation or inspiration.
    • Take note of the information you are sharing and consuming. Make sure it is based in facts and not harmful to others.

Finances may already be a concern when you’re a college student -- undergraduate or graduate. A crisis like a pandemic can create more financial worries. There are financial support services available if you find yourself in need of them. Here’s what UT Austin has to offer:

  • Student Emergency Fund: Provided through the Office of the Dean of Students, this fund provides limited emergency financial support to currently enrolled students. Average awards range from $25 to $300 per student.
  • Texas Global (International Student and Scholar Services) Financial Services: Provides scholarships and other financial support, including tuition and emergency cash loans, to international students. Tuition loans have a $4000 maximum, and emergency cash loans have a $500 maximum.
  • Voices Against Violence (VAV) Survivor’s Emergency Fund: Provides financial assistance to student survivors of sexual violence, relationship violence and/or stalking. Students seeking VAV support do not need to disclose details of their experience to access financial help.
  • Financial support related to paying for food, health care, housing, childcare, etc. can be found throughout the state of Texas. 2-1-1 Texas provides information about resources located around the state.

During the school year it can be difficult to engage in hobbies and activities unrelated to school or work. During this time of social distancing, maybe you now have more time to make it a priority to explore creative ways to take care of yourself and engage in new activities. By doing this now, you can help to create lasting habits that span past this uncertain time. Here are some ideas:

  • Try out a new hobby. Carve out time to explore new interests--perhaps it’s learning a new language, drawing, or playing a new musical instrument. There are online tools and video tutorials, including LinkedIn Learning, available to you.
  • Read a book for fun. Carve out time every day to read something that isn’t a textbook. If you have a library card you can download free audiobooks, or you can explore other avenues for acquiring free e-books and audiobooks.
  • Meditate. During this time, it can be hard not to worry about the future. Help yourself be in the present moment by meditating. Visit the Counseling and Mental Health Center’s website for guided meditations.
  • Journal. Ever wanted to journal regularly but didn’t know how to create the habit? Now’s the time to create new routines that can eventually become habits. Set a reminder on your phone every night before you go to bed to journal to help you process your thoughts and emotions.
  • Create playlists to send to friends. Two great ways to support your mental health is connecting with friends and listening to music. Take time to create and send playlists to friends. This can be a great way to check in on friends and let them know you are thinking about them. Check out this list to get you started
  • Try out the Thrive @ UT app for a great way to help you make small changes in your routine to improve your well-being and mental health. You can explore interactive and customizable content on community, gratitude, self-compassion, mindfulness, mindset, thoughts, moods, and purpose.

Longhorns take care of each other, whether online or off. While engaging digitally with your peers, you can still practice bystander intervention. Being part of a community that looks out for each other even when practicing social distancing includes recognizing when someone’s digital presence is starting to show signs of extreme stress such as:

  • Drastic changes in the content or scope of their messages
  • Increasing evidence of reliance on drugs or alcohol
  • Mentioning symptoms of mental health challenges like depression or anxiety
  • Interactions take on a different or more extreme tone than normal
  • Drastic changes in their appearance in photos or videos

Choose to connect online with someone you are concerned about. Act to schedule a video or phone chat. Let them know that they are supported by someone who cares. There are resources like the Behavior Concerns Advice Line if you’re concerned about a student, faculty, or staff member’s behavior.




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