Ask a Researcher: Tips for Managing Stress During COVID-19 (Part 2)

Published October 13, 2020

Stressed person sitting in street.
“The abrupt shift from ‘normal life’ to the age of social distancing can have a harmful effect on our mental health.”

In part two of this Buffalo Research News interview, University at Buffalo researcher Yu-Ping Chang, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, FIAAN, explains the importance of maintaining social connections, and outlines warning signs to watch for in loved ones.

Chang is the Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Endowed Professor; Associate Dean for Research & Scholarship; Department Chair — Family, Community & Health Systems Sciences; UB School of Nursing; a CTSI KL2 Mentor; and a CTSI Pilot Study Co-Principal Investigator. Her areas of interest include substance abuse and depression in older adults, as well as dementia care. (Read part one here.)

How important is it to maintain social connections during this time? And what are some alternative ways to stay connected while still being safe?

While the concept of social distancing and its importance are very easy for us to understand, it does go against one very fundamental principle of being human — that at our core we crave to be social beings. The abrupt shift from “normal life” to the age of social distancing can have a harmful effect on our mental health. This is especially true with college students, as well as school-age children, who have had to quickly adjust to the switch from in-person classes to online sessions and the loss of many other parts of their daily routines.

While it may be easy to stay in touch with friends and family through texting or other brief social media interactions, try to schedule something more fun, more substantial, and more interactive. Organize a virtual group lunch over platforms like Zoom or Skype, or use a tool like Netflix Party to watch and discuss your favorite shows simultaneously with your friends.

Many museums are offering virtual tours of their exhibits right now, so plan an online group get-together with friends. It is important for us to use technology to connect, but be careful to not overdo it. Excessive monitoring of social media can also cause stress. Set clear times to use technology to meaningfully connect with friends and family, but also set aside time to disengage and step away from screen time.

What are the warning signs we should looking for in loved ones?

There are some specific things we can look for that can act as warning signs:

  • A change in sleep, appetite or personal care
  • Rapid and dramatic changes in mood
  • Social withdrawal or the loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • A decrease in functioning (either in school, work or social activities)
  • Demonstrating problems with thinking and/or concentration
  • Increased sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Other sudden unusual behaviors

One or two of these signs alone cannot predict that a person is suffering, but may indicate a need for further evaluation. If a person is experiencing several symptoms at one time and the symptoms are causing serious problems in their ability to study, work or relate to others, they should be seen by a mental health professional. Anyone with suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming others, needs immediate attention.

If we, or people we are close to, seem to need outside help, where should we turn? What are some community resources?

The Erie County Department of Mental Health has some excellent resources, including support for substance use related to COVID-19, that can be found at: For immediate support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or It is available 24 hours a day in English and Spanish.

For the student, faculty, and staff population at the University at Buffalo, there are excellent resources that are available remotely, including counseling services and crisis resources. If you need mental health support during this stressful time, visit or contact UB Counseling Services at 716-645-2720.

If you find that you or a loved one are having trouble coping, please reach out for help. You are not alone.