Managing Reactions

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a novel virus that is spreading worldwide. Though the full clinical picture is still unknown, the majority of cases are mild and can be treated. Special care and consideration should be taken by individuals with compromised immune systems.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

As the situation of COVID-19 develops, including media reports, travel restrictions, canceled events, and televised news; concerns for your own health and the health of your loved ones are normative, as these experiences naturally elicit emotional and cognitive reactions.

Expected responses may include:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Anger, frustration, and/or irritability
  • Physical symptoms (increased heart rate, shakiness, upset stomach, or uncomfortable sensations).
  • Helplessness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Withdraw/Isolation/Exclusion
  • Concentration difficulty

Given the widespread coverage of COVID-19, feeling personally impacted and vulnerable is normal. In times like these moderating our thoughts, feelings, and reactions is important for both ourselves and our neighbors. There are many simple and effective ways to manage emergent reactions to events like these. Below are guidelines to improve coping and overall wellbeing:

  • Learn the Facts
    Limit social media as a direct source of information and updates about the virus. Rather, when seeking-out information use reliable sources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and the California Department of Public Health. The first step toward preparation is information.
  • Take Perspective
    After gathering relevant information to determine the risk and safety of yourself and your environment, adhere to the recommendations given for prevention. Stay up-to-date on campus-wide emails and information exchange on recent events and precautionary measures. Be sensitive to others going through this experience, as it is a stressful time for everyone. Try to stay positive as much as possible!
  • Adopt Healthy Practices
    Most importantly, maintain your cleanliness and hygiene (wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, clean common surface areas, shower regularly, and don’t touch your face). Be considerate of your neighbors: if you feel sick, stay at home. If you are around others cover your coughs and sneezes and avoid personal contact.
  • Practice Self-Care
    Be mindful of your sleeping, eating, and exercising habits, as the immune system functions best when we are healthy! Take time to care for yourself, similar to how you would a loved one. You are your best when you are healthy, so engage in healthy techniques and skills (see coping exercises) to manage your reactions.
  • Seek Help if Concerned
    If you believe you have contracted COVID-19 stay at home and call 911 for a medical evaluation. Otherwise, Take time off if you are not feeling well and make sure to visit a doctor or other health professional to discuss relevant symptoms.

For health-related inquires contact the health clinic on your respective campus.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your reactions to the recent events, or if your reaction is beginning to impact your relationships, academics, personal life, and/or general wellbeing, then you may consider contacting Psychological Services at your respective campus.

Coping Exercises

Mindful Breathing

  1. Belly Breathing
    Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose and exhale through the mouth. On exhalation try to verbally sigh. Your belly should rise and fall with each breath.
  2. 5-Count
    Using only the nose, inhale for 3 seconds then exhale for 2 seconds.
  3. Diaphragmatic
    Place one hand just below your ribcage, on your diaphragm, and breathe in slowly then exhale slowly; notice the movements in your hand with each breath.


  1. Get into a comfortable position, whether seated or standing. Your eyes can be open, closed, or anywhere in-between.
  2. Focus on your posture and the sensations felt in your body:
    What do you feel or notice? Where in your body is it? What does it feel like? Does it take you somewhere or make you think of something?
  3. After focusing on a sensation, such as the feeling of your feet on the floor, come back to your breath. If your mind wanders in this process, come back to your breath. Let breathing be the anchor of your journey into the present.  
  4. The goal of meditation is to increase awareness of your bodily reactions and experience of the present moment. It is a learned skill so give yourself patience and time to learn it!

Guided Imagery

  1. Get into a comfortable position. Maybe begin with some breathing techniques, such as discussed earlier.
  2. When relaxed, think about a scene that captures your attention. This can be something you have directly experienced or not. Think similar to a picture you would place as a desktop wallpaper - aka. “Your happy place.”
  3. When you think about this place try to engage all of your senses:
    What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? What does it feel like? Maybe there are even tastes associated.
  4. Stay with the imagery and access as many senses as you can until you feel relaxed.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  1. Find a comfortable seated position.
  2. Using one muscle group at a time, tense and relax each of the muscles in your body for approximately 5 seconds:
    1. Forehead → lips, cheeks, jaw → hands → forearms → upper arms → shoulders → back → stomach → hips and butt → thighs → feet