We are all experiencing anxiety and grief.
Since March, the losses have continued to accumulate. We bid farewell for who-knows-how-long to our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and extended families, to stocked grocery shelves and the promise of toilet paper, to our favorite restaurants and much-anticipated vacation plans…basically, to everyday life as we knew it before COVID-19 entered the picture.
Our young adults are grieving, too. While we remember the glee with which they used to welcome a snow day, we recognize that a single day is a far cry from entire school semesters. As the weeks have stretched into months, we’ve seen our UD students mourn the loss of time with friends, RAs, team and club members, romantic partners, professors, academic support systems, daily routines, campus-wide events, social gatherings, employment opportunities, and the sense of independence that comes with living away from home.
Our 2020 graduating seniors faced the loss of important and emotional traditions–including graduation itself–associated with their final semester, and now our incoming first-year students are starting their college careers in an unprecedented environment.
In recent months, conditions and impacts from Covid-19 have worsened significantly in several regions of the country, making it likely that many of our UD families have faced losses in the form of unemployment, unmet expectations, illness, and even death.
Grief tends to present itself in stages, and you may be recognizing in your Blue Hen some or all of the following:
- Denial: “I’m young; this virus won’t affect me. I can continue to get together with my friends.”
- Anger: “I can’t believe UD is limiting residence hall space and in-person classes! This isn’t what I signed up for.”
- Bargaining: “If my friends and I can find a place together and physically distance as a ‘family’, maybe it will still feel like college?”
- Acceptance: “This is happening. There’s no telling when the restrictions are going to be lifted so I need to figure out how to move forward in this new reality.”
It’s important to note that these stages do not always progress in a linear fashion, and your student may well cycle through a stage more than once. Regardless of where your young adult is in the grieving process, here are a few concrete suggestions for offering support in this difficult time:
- Each student’s experience of COVID-19 will be different. When checking in, listen carefully for the ways in which this situation has specifically impacted your young adult. Acknowledge their individual challenges and losses, and express confidence in their ability to problem-solve and thrive throughout this extraordinary semester.
- Promote self-care, healthy habits, and routine. If your student was used to regular workouts at the Lil Bob or with their athletic team, what are they doing now to maintain an exercise habit? Enjoying virtual workouts with peers can help alleviate some of the isolation associated with social distancing.
- When your student is wrestling with denial, anger, or bargaining, encourage them to ground themselves in the present moment. Free mindfulness apps such as Insight Timer allow students to search offerings by length and subject matter, and allow students to track their progress. Taking deep, full breaths while repeating affirming phrases such as the ones below can trigger a student’s parasympathetic nerve system, giving the body a much-need break from the “fight, flight, or freeze” response:
- “In this moment, I am okay.”
- “In this moment, my friends and loved ones are safe.”
- “In this moment, there is possibility and hope.”
- Know that the University of Delaware is here to support your student. If your student is struggling, encourage them to use any of the following UD resources. We are here to help!
Allison Banbury, M.Ed., LPCMH
Referral Coordinator, Center for Counseling & Student Development