Tips for Living With Academic and Pandemic Stress


Emily Ross

Stress is a fact of life, but there are circumstances that make it worse. A global pandemic, national unrest and individual life challenges all compound our feelings of stress. Added to that is another academic and work semester separated from campus for many members of the UCF community.

In this editorial piece, clinical psychology doctorate student Emily Jayne Ross, M.A., outlines some tips for working through this stress.

  • As a Clinical Psychology student and as a graduate student in general, what are some mental health related issues that you believe students should take into consideration and keep an eye out for during this time?

“This is a very stressful and unprecedented time right now. Students may be experiencing high levels of stress, fear, anxiety, sadness, worry and isolation. Experiencing these strong emotions can make us feel overwhelmed and that everything is out of our control. Graduate students also have high levels of academic and financial demands placed on them in addition to the stressors associated with a global pandemic. Mental health is an integral part of our overall physical health and wellbeing. Remember that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How an individual responds to stress can depend on many factors, including but not limited to their background, environment, level of social support, coping techniques and financial situation.

It is important to be aware if you or someone close to you is having difficulty coping with their situation right now. People with pre-existing mental health conditions may be particularly vulnerable and should continue with their mental health treatment and be aware if they are experiencing new or worsening symptoms. We advise students to closely monitor if your mental health is getting in the way of your daily activities, functioning, if you have lost interest in activities you used to enjoy, and/or experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Get immediate help if you are in a crisis. Crisis hotline and mental health resources are detailed below.”

  • As a graduate student, what is one piece of advice you would give to your peers during this time in regard to maintaining their mental health? What are some things you see may cause extra stress or anxiety, and what are some tips for your peers? 

“Relying on social support, whether it be from family, friends, and/or your fellow graduate students can be extremely helpful in coping with how stressful this year has been. During times of social distancing, maintaining our social connections can be more difficult and we need to get creative! Phone calls or Zoom video chats can help increase social connectiveness and decrease feelings of loneliness or isolation.

It is important to remember to take a break, engage in self-care, and practice kindness towards yourself and others. As graduate students, we tend to be hard on ourselves about academic productivity and it can be difficult to take a break. We are also used to feeling in control of our situation. Unfortunately, there is a heightened sense of ambiguity and loss of control right now. Making time to unwind and take care of your body is particularly crucial.  Practicing self-care can promote more productivity later. Prioritizing one’s mental health is just as important as prioritizing one’s physical health. If someone broke a bone, they (hopefully) would not wait to seek medical help. The same rationale should be applied for getting help for psychological difficulties. Enrolled UCF students can get free counseling from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The UCF Psychology Clinic also offers psychological services. See below for mental health resources.”

  • Do you know of any new ways or techniques under study studied that others can use if their mental health begins to deteriorate? 

“We know that when someone encounters a perceived threat, their nervous system goes into fight, flight or freeze mode. This is useful for an acute stressor because it prepares the body to fight a threat to our survival. However, this response can be detrimental to our health when it is continually activated during a chronic stressor, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are several evidence-based ways to help cope with anxiety, depression and chronic stress. These include behavioral activation, relaxation techniques including mindfulness meditation, increasing social support, and practicing healthy lifestyle habits. Additionally, relaxation techniques help switch on the “rest and repair” mode of our nervous system by engaging our parasympathetic nervous system.

Behavioral activation is very useful for helping with depressive symptoms such as feelings of sadness, loneliness, and isolation. Behavioral activation is important because when we are feeling down, we often do not have the motivation to spontaneously engage in enjoyable activities. Put another way, making plans can help overcome lack of motivation and increase enjoyment. Some examples could include starting a puzzle, taking a walk outside, scheduling family Zoom time, playing a musical instrument, or doing a virtual dance class. Other helpful techniques include practicing meditation, deep breathing, and setting limits to how much time you spend reading or watching the news.”

Mental Health Resources

UCF Counseling and Psychological Services (UCF CAPS):

CAPS phone number:  407-823-811 for scheduling

CAPS after-hours crisis/ help line 407-823-2811 (press 5)

CAPS Coping Resources:

Mindfulness exercises:

Free Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction:


UCF Psychology Clinic: 407-823-4348

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Toll-Free: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Toll-Free (español): 1-888-628-9454 TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889)

Website in English: https://

Lifeline Chat Link:

Website in Spanish:

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 Press 1

SAMHSA’s National Helpline Toll-Free: 1-800-662-HELP

(24/7/365 Treatment Referral Information Service in English and español)


SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline

Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990 (English and español)

SMS: Text TalkWithUs to 66746 SMS

(español): “Hablanos” al 66746 TTY: 1-800-846-8517

Website in English:

Website in Spanish:





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