Articles & Events | Psychiatric Associates of Iowa CIty

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COVID, School and Stress

September 8, 2020

By Kelly Mayer, LISW, Psychiatric Associates

Amid the hustle and bustle of normal back-to-school chaos, this fall we return to classrooms and campuses with a whole new set of worries on our minds: 

  • What if I get sick? 

  • What if I get others sick? 

  • What if school goes virtual? 

  • What if school remains in-person? 

  • How do I keep myself safe? 

  • How do I keep my child(ren) and my family safe?

As questions, concerns and “what ifs” start to creep in, it’s important to find ways to stay grounded. Remember that it’s not about making the “right” choice—but about making the choice that’s right for YOU. Not all things are black and white, and global pandemics certainly fall into this category. 

While you navigate the uncertainties, keep these tactics in mind: 

  • Be mindful. Be aware of what’s happening within and around you. Be present in the moment, and allow yourself the space to observe thoughts, feelings, sensations, judgements and distractions without latching on to them. Being mindful doesn’t always mean being positive. It simply means being aware of whatever it is that’s coming up for you. We cannot change what we do not see. 

  • Focus on what you can control. In the current health climate, we’re watching those around us share thoughts, feelings and opinions that may differ substantially from our own. We’re watching individuals and families make decisions that may not align with ours. We must remind ourselves that no decisions are easy, and all decisions have their own consequences. Any time and energy spent concerned with the decisions of others is time taken from the values deemed most central in our own lives. Don’t be afraid to create a new routine, lean into slowing down and nurture healthy habits. 

  • Reframe expectations. As we navigate through the unknown, practice letting go of “should” language and create space for what IS. Allow yourself to radically accept circumstances as they are—not as they could, should or would be otherwise. 

  • Do more of what fills your bucket. Take time to do the things that bring meaning and purpose to daily life. If you’re like me, the work-life balance has been even more difficult to honor since the two worlds collided in response to social distancing. Take the extra 10 minutes outside at lunch, order the coffee, create space for laughter. Use your five senses to self-soothe in the moment. You could try hot tea, essential oils, smooth stones, calming sounds or a weighted blanket. 

  • Stay connected. Whether virtual or in-person, make an intentional effort to engage with those close to you. While the idea of sharing space through a screen may feel less than intriguing, isolating from social supports can make us feel disconnected and unheard. Go for socially distanced walks, support establishments prioritizing safety measures, send snail mail. (You wouldn’t believe the pick-me-up you get from a colored envelope in your mailbox now and again!) 

It’s Okay to NOT Be Okay

This is uncharted territory. Global pandemics certainly weren’t on my radar before COVID-19, and while many of us try to plan, prevent and be proactive where possible, there will be hard days. Days where everything is different, everything is heavy. 

I urge you to hold space—for yourself and for others—to come as they are. One thing I do know is that all heavy things feel lighter when we don’t carry the weight alone. 

To schedule an appointment with one of our providers, call us at 319-356-6352, or use our online form.



Kelly Mayer, LISW

Kelly is a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW). She has experience working with a variety of mood and behavioral disorders including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality and others.