For most students, college is their first time away from their home and family. But now, thanks to shelter-in-place orders implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they’re back in their childhood abodes. It was a sudden and unexpected change that – for some – has proven to be challenging.

Being back at home can be challenging. CAPS professionals share tips for coping. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Loss of independence or motivation, countless distractions and family disputes are some of the downsides to these new circumstances. In this Q&A, Marissa Floro, a clinical psychologist and the program manager for the Weiland Health Initiative, and Colin Campbell, the health education program manager for Well-Being at Stanford, share strategies for coping during this stressful time and ways to connect to helpful resources.


How do I maintain my sense of independence while living at home?

This will, of course, look different depending upon your relationship with your family, your living arrangement, your culture and a whole host of other things. For some people, having an ongoing, open dialogue about expectations, feelings and boundaries will work. Perhaps consider this tried and true interpersonal effectiveness strategy in asking for what you’d like now that you’re home:

  1. Describe the situation in a simple way – this sets a clear foundation for your ask.
  2. Express how you’re feeling using “I” statements, and try not to blame or criticize others.
  3. Assert your needs clearly and strongly – this makes it easier to understand what you’re asking.
  4. Reinforce this request by pointing out how it benefits those around you.
  5. Stay mindful about the situation and try not to be distracted about other things that are being said or going on.
  6. Regardless of how nervous, scared, frustrated, etc. you feel, try to appear confident.
  7. Remember that you are asking, not demanding. Negotiate with the other party in order to find a compromise that feels like a win-win.

For others, perhaps such conversations are not the norm or might be seen as disrespectful. Different approaches may be needed, like couching the need for privacy or alone time under the umbrella of academic needs or suggested by professors/the university. Perhaps you will need to seize opportunities for alone time or change when they arise. Try creating a tool kit of things that help you feel empowered even if this can’t be done with your family (e.g. setting physical activity goals, cooking your own meals, setting your own daily schedule, consuming different media than those at home). Independence can be felt in lots of dimensions of your life, even if not fully met in others.


Being back at home feels like I’m moving backward in life. How do I deal with thoughts like this?

That’s an understandable thought! You may not have planned on being back at home and so the last time you were in this space things were much different and your mind can’t help but remind you of that! No matter what the circumstance, thinking that you’ve “moved backward” or “regressed,” while totally normal thoughts, are probably not super helpful. In fact, it probably triggers a whole range of unpleasant feelings like shame, guilt, embarrassment, failure, loneliness, etc. Those feelings, to put it bluntly, suck, so what can be done about them?

Try to remember that this thought isn’t a fact. Whenever you feel bad, trace your feelings back to an initial thought and observe without judgment what this thought is saying. A lot of the time these thoughts are exaggerated, untrue and just plain unhelpful. Here are some alternative, realistic thoughts to try on in its place that may provoke more pleasant feelings:

  • “No one saw this coming. There’s no way I could have prepped for this or avoided this. This isn’t my fault.”
  • “I am absolutely not the only one in this boat. It doesn’t mean we have ALL moved backward. I am not alone in this situation or feeling.”
  • “Even if I’m back home, this is most likely temporary and doesn’t necessarily mean anything about my future. I still have control over some decisions in my day and life.”
  • “Even though I am back home, I am definitely not the same person I was before. I have grown and learned; as a result, I can interact with familiar spaces and people in a new way.”


How do I stay focused on schoolwork when there are so many interruptions and distractions, like siblings?

Ugh, it’s tough doing work in a space full of distractions, many of which are outside of your control since the space is shared with others. Just like some other answers, this will vary from person to person and home to home. For some, space is the issue: try to designate a workspace that is either away from others in an infrequently used room, has the privacy of a door or screen or faces a wall with little distraction. Then, try to be intentional about your workspace. Be comfy, but alert (so no work in bed, sorry), have things you need like water and pens and paper but not things that will distract you (like your phone), and try to reduce noise through wearing noise-canceling headphones/earplugs. Importantly, try to have this setup separate from where you sleep, play, eat and hang out. This tells your body that when you’re in this space, it’s time to work.

For others, the question may be more about setting good structures in your day and in your mind. Let people in your home know when your classes are so you don’t get interrupted, create a schedule for yourself that motivates you and share it with others so that they can respect your time, make sure to set aside rest and food breaks so that you feel motivated and focused when you have to work. For the mental stuff, treat your mind like your work setup: limit distractions, set yourself up for success and give yourself breaks.

If it’s hard to focus because you’re thinking of so many other things, try to notice the thoughts that come in without judgment and let them pass through your mind (they’re not facts, remember?). If you’re feeling unmotivated, break down your work into smaller chunks and challenge yourself to focus for at least five minutes and see how far you get. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take an intentional break; instead of scrolling endlessly, give yourself a mindful break. That means getting fresh air, connecting to your senses, really taking the time to enjoy a snack, talking to a friend who makes you feel good, etc. so that you feel re-energized and ready to try working again.

Also, what may have worked for you at school may not work at home – it’s a completely different environment with different people, expectations and ways of being. Be patient with yourself if the old ways of doing things aren’t working. Experiment with new ways of orienting your time, day and space in order to be flexible with all the change.


Can you share tips for mediation when there’s a dispute with a family member?

Conflict and consequential resolution will look different depending on the issue at hand, family dynamics, communication styles, etc. Before getting into some conflict resolution strategies, here are some universal tips:

  1. Connect with what it is you’re feeling: most likely, it’s not about doing the dishes. Maybe it’s about feeling disempowered, unacknowledged, burdened, etc. Try your hardest to identify and own what it is that’s going on with you so that you can directly address it individually or with the other person(s).
  2. Try your hardest to take perspective: it can be difficult to see other people’s perspectives when we’re riled up. Try to calm yourself and see how the other person(s) might be feeling, hearing you and experiencing the conflict. Empathizing with the other person will de-escalate the dispute.
  3. Take a bird’s eye view: how would this conflict look if you were watching it in a movie? Sometimes taking an aerial viewpoint can help decrease emotional intensity, blame and defensiveness and lend some fresh perspective.

Okay, since not every conflict is the same, not every solution strategy will be the same:

  1. Consider avoiding the issue if the dispute is unimportant, timing is wrong or you/someone needs to cool down. Similarly, accommodating or smoothing out differences for the sake of harmony may also be applicable in this situation until folks are ready to deal with the issue if it becomes more important.
  2. If a decisive choice needs to be made and there’s not much hope or time to get everyone on board, a decisive strategy may be best. This of course only works if the decision doesn’t further hurt relationships and feelings!
  3. Sometimes compromise or bargaining will work if people are all committed to resolving something temporarily and have something to offer/contribute. If the conflict centers around unrealistic expectations, then this may not work.
  4. If you find that everyone is willing to reach a solution, collaboration may be possible. Working together without too much time restraint or pressure may create a win-win situation for all.


What should I know about how my parents or guardians are feeling during this pandemic?

There’s really no way to know how others are feeling until they tell us themselves. However, they are humans just like you so perhaps they’re having similar feelings: stressed about all the changes, overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the moment, scared of getting sick or you getting sick, concerned about your education and career path, worried about finances and food, frustrated with how systems are acting/not acting, isolated from their friends and loved ones, and on and on and on. These feelings may come out as being irritable, rigid, apathetic, optimistic, withdrawn, etc. just like they may manifest for you.

Again, there’s really no way to know how our caretakers are feeling or coping unless they tell us, show us or we ask. Perhaps doing acts of service like doing extra chores, picking up treats, helping with cooking and cleaning or trying to keep harmony would show that you’re considering their feelings. Depending on your relationships with your parents or guardians, maybe talking about how you’re all feeling together will help everyone feel less alone, more connected and attuned to what each of you need moving forward. No matter what, try to have empathy and compassion for those around you – everyone is navigating this pandemic differently and to their ability, including our caretakers.


How can I connect with someone at Stanford to help me through this stressful time?

There are a bunch of different ways to connect with someone depending upon your needs. Please visit the new Virtual Well-Being site for the most complete collection of well-being resources, tips and events available to the Stanford community for spring quarter. Here are some resources to get you started:

  • Want some guidance and coaching? Check out our Well-Being coaching sessions.
  • Need some assistance around eating, body image and nutrition? Consider nutritional counseling.
  • Know you’d like some therapy? Call CAPS for an access coordination appointment and they can set you up with a CAPS clinician or clinician in your state (if you’re outside California).
  • Trying to access resources related to queerness, gender or other identity stuff? Ask a Weiland Health Associate (WHA).

Well-Being at Stanford Coaching: Coaching via Zoom available for students through Well-Being at Vaden Health Services.

The Bridge Peer Counseling Center: Peer counseling sessions via Zoom and phone offered 3-9 p.m. PDT, seven days a week.

Confidential Support Team (CST): Free and confidential support to Stanford students impacted by sexual assault and relationship violence. CST services include brief emotional support and ongoing individual counseling.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 24/7 mental health support is available for Stanford students by calling CAPS at (650) 723-3785. CAPS is glad to assist students in finding care resources in their home communities. Find the most recent CAPS service updates here.