Maintaining mental health and well-being while social distancing or self-isolating

AMES, Iowa – Following recommendations for social distancing or self-isolating is necessary to limit the spread of infection from COVID-19, and that means an adjustment to our daily routines and lifestyles.

Iowa State University Student Wellness health promotion coordinator Carrie Giese says it is possible and important to stay connected and active during this time, but it requires a different mindset. That means shifting our thinking from “me” to “we” to protect the health of our community.

“Our actions can have a positive impact on others or a negative impact,” Giese said. “Thinking about the greater good can help us feel like we’re positively contributing to the solution, and that can serve as motivation to stay home and adjust our day-to-day routine and lifestyle.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distancing means avoiding crowded public places, such as stadiums and arenas, and maintaining distance – approximately 6 feet or 2 meters – from others when possible. Giese says rather than isolate, we need to continue to move, be mindful and maintain a connection with others.   

Instead of going out for lunch or coffee with friends, Giese recommends a virtual dinner, brunch or tea. If you typically attend a group fitness class at the gym, try an online option. Giese says technology can help us adapt to changes in our lifestyle or daily routines, and it’s important to set and maintain boundaries.

“We’re lucky to live in a time when technology is so advanced that we can virtually see the world from our living rooms, but there must be a balance,” Giese said. “I limit my news intake to 30 minutes a day and check the Iowa State safety page once in the morning and once at night. For me that works great, but each person needs to find their own healthy boundaries.” 

Giese offered the following suggestions to stay active and connected:

  • Keep moving by incorporating movement you enjoy into your daily routine. Follow Recreation Services on social media for suggestions on how to keep moving.  
  • Create structure within your day and write down your goals. This is a good time for spring cleaning, journaling and trying a new hobby.
  • Staff and faculty can use Adventure2 to focus on their wellbeing. New strategies are added frequently, including some related to staying well during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Demonstrate empathy to those directly and indirectly impacted by COVID-19.
  • Take a minute to be grateful and reflect on all that is positive in the world. Write down three positive things – big or small – that happen for you each week.
  • Remember your furry friends. Pets can provide a sense of connection and community.

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, which is why Giese says you should develop strategies that work best for you. The CDC also has recommendations to help manage stress and anxiety, including specific information for parents, responders and individuals released from quarantine. While there are a lot of great resources online, Giese says no one should feel like they have to go through this alone.

“We really want to encourage people to ask for what they need and name it,” she said. “If you feel lonely and disconnected, let the people around you know that and give them the opportunity to help.”

If you have not heard from a friend or co-worker, or if you notice changes in their behaviors, thoughts, or emotions, check in with them and connect them to university or community resources, Giese said.  Student Health and Wellness offers many resources and services to help students stay connected and be well. Visit for more information.