Campus Recreation Leads Higher Education to Keep us Engaged & Well Amidst Uncertainty

This empty dorm room is an all too familiar reminder of the current state of colleges and society as a whole. Terry Woods, Vice President of Sales for the Americas with Core Health & Fitness, wrote about the importance of today’s rec centers, referring to them as an essential “third space” for students when he dropped his eldest daughter, Andi, off to college for the first time. Terry returned to California State University-Fullerton to pick up his daughter much earlier than anticipated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as the University, like many, decided to close its doors. Terry says, “When I think about what has happened in the last few weeks, I get angry, truly sad, and very helpless quite frankly that we are now in a position where the last few months of my daughter’s Freshmen year was cut short.” Making it an even tougher pill to swallow, Andi relayed, “My freshman year of college ended within one week, and my track season was over before it even started. The morning before my first college meet, we were informed that the Big West Conference was suspending our season indefinitely. I was overwhelmed with questions.”What can I do to manage my stress?

Unfortunately, Andi’s example is only a microcosm of what is happening on a much larger scale.  Amidst the panic and chaos with COVID-19, there are certainly negative impacts and inconveniences aplenty and our worlds may feel totally rocked. Maybe you’re working from home for the first time, managing a household, dealing with a cloud of uncertainty, or all of the above. Of course, the health and well being of our community is of the utmost importance, but you must first take care of yourself and adjust to your new normal before taking care of others. Here are our top tips for you to consider during this corona-chaos:

1. Maintain a Routine. Aim to wake up around the same time every day. This helps stabilize your internal clock and improve your sleep. You’ll feel more refreshed and focused throughout the day.

Getting ready just like you usually would. Shower, get dressed, have a cup of coffee, etc. This will help you get into the mindset that you are ready to work.

Make sure your routine benefits the whole family. If you are a parent with kids at home due to school closures, we know it feels like the real March madness. We highly suggest you create a flexible household schedule that includes e-learning, creativity, movement, chores, quiet times and outdoor times in order to give your kids the comfort of stability that they need…even if it is a guise!

Take scheduled breaks. Try setting an alarm to get up and stretch every hour or so. Walk around your home while chatting on the phone with a friend or play with your pets/kids. Move to a new area, away from your email, to eat lunch for 30 minutes.

2. Set boundaries as you navigate Work from Home (WFH)

Create a work-space. Try to set aside a work area separate from your sleeping area, as this will help to prepare you for work mode and make it easier to switch off at the end of the day. You don’t need a home office to do this – a small desk set up in a corner of your room, or a laptop at the end of the kitchen table can do the trick. Clear your work surface of clutter and position yourself to avoid physical strain.

Protect your time. People tend to work more from home because it’s harder to “leave” work. Set “in office” hours and communicate these with both colleagues and family.

Talk to family members or roommates about the hours you are working from home and the ground rules during those hours to minimize interruptions. Assume that anything that can interrupt you will interrupt you and be okay with that. We are living in extraordinary times that is very different from the usual WFH scenario.

3. Socially connect while we social distance. This is not the time to isolate yourself – It’s less about social distancing and more about physical distancing. Make an effort to stay connected through social media, email, texting, and video calls. Take this opportunity for quality time to deepen your relationships with your partner, kids and other loved ones in your home.

4. Seek news only from reliable sources, and only in short stints. As with all things, we can find ourselves over-consuming news and updates. Try not to become absorbed in the coverage for long periods of time, and find opportunities to appropriately disconnect.

5. Take breaks to ease your mind and distract yourself when you start to worry. Play a game. Watch a movie. Take a yoga class. Try a meditation app.

6. Mindfully move your body every day. An intense HIIT workout or long run might be just what you need to blow off pent-up stress, or you may find that your body needs a gentler form of movement like yoga or a walk around the neighborhood. Listen to your body, but just be sure to move it. There are many free virtual workouts available now due to the pandemic so use this time to explore new ways to stay active while at home.

7.  Go outside. You are allowed to go outside even though we are in quarantine. There’s an abundance of convenient outdoor recreational activities that can be enjoyed in a safe way: gardening, hiking, biking, kayaking and even some no-contact outdoor sports such as golf that can all have an enormous impact on our mental state during this uncertain time. Of course, please follow along prudently with any local shelter in place precautions that may exist.

8. Make a list of your favorite indoor activities and maybe some aspirational ones too. Accepting that the stay-at-home precaution might last weeks or even months can be mentally challenging. That’s why we’re recommending that you plan ahead. There are many activities to take part in at home and indoors. Start a new puzzle or play a board game – even virtually with your friends. You can also do activities like coloring, painting, cooking or writing in your journal. Be sure to sprinkle in activities that can give you a sense of accomplishment like an online professional development course, a home improvement project or even reorganizing a closet. By making a list, you’ll remind yourself what you can do when boredom starts kicking in.

9. Practice gratitude. Notice the good things in your life. Each day think of three things you are grateful for. Savor the feeling of gratitude and express your gratitude to others. Now throw that joy around like confetti.

10. Give yourself grace. This is a season of unprecedented chaos. It’s not going to go perfectly. You’re bound to have technology snafus, miss a workout or get impatient with a loved one. It’s okay.

Suffice to say, we are all still adjusting. These are important tips to consider during this period for our overall well being . Andi, the freshman at California State University-Fullerton, says, “It may not sound like too much fun, but dad plans workouts for my sister and I that we can do as a family, if he can get the music to play!:). I am also learning how to cook, trying my best to stay on top of my classes, and stay in shape.” Terry reinforces several of the strategies outlined saying that, “My suggestion to both of my kids, especially now, focuses around routine and helping. It is very important not to consider this a spring or summer break. During the week there is a time to get up, shower, and take on the day. Stay mentally and physically engaged. And this goes for the whole family.”

Campus & Societal Impact

While it was apparent that it was not a matter of if, but when this virus would hit the United States, most of us did not anticipate its level of impact. Nearly every institution has shut down normal operations for the remainder of the academic year and transitioned to an online delivery of in- and out-of-classroom experiences. One institution, Tufts University, according to a Boston Globe report, has taken it a step further to evolve its infrastructure to a potential triage and care center that could provide vital support for an overtaxed healthcare system. Other Universities may need to follow suit to serve their respective communities.

How are Recreation Departments Responding?  

Closure of most campus recreation centers and exercise facilities is also the new norm. The “third place” that so many find comfort, socialization, overall well being, among many other essential elements of daily life…CLOSED…BUT…Are they really closed? While the physical shell of the facility is empty, recreation professionals have not skipped a beat to change it up and keep students and members engaged with a diverse offering of services accommodating ALL in critically important ways. A fun, unique example, driven by the CENTERS team at the University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL) Recreation and Wellness Center is their current “Social Distancing March Madness 2020” bracket.

Dan Bettmann, UMSL Assistant Director of Competitive Sports, says in a campus blog, “We would normally be having some competition in a bracket challenge, and we want to provide that normalcy and a distraction in a good way. It’s a dose of fun and a dose of realistic things you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

What are other teams doing?

Teams at other institutions have left no stone un-turned. Whatever you like, whatever keeps you engaged, it’s out there. You just have to find it. Here’s a quick snapshot of services that collegiate recreation departments are providing back to their constituents amid “shutdowns”:

Keeping Active

Louisiana State University’s “Stay Active at Home” options

University of California San Diego’s Online Fitness Classes

Mental Health – Ohio State University’s Mental Health Tips during COVID-19

Family Activities – CENTERS @ Moraine Valley Community College’s FitRec Family Focus Series

Virtual Event – CENTERS @ The University of Alabama Birmingham’s Virtual 5K

Academic Services – Olympic College’s Tips for Improving Your Academic Self

We think it is important to also use this time to change our perspective and see things through another lens. Have we lost something during this time? A resounding yes. If we shift our point of view slightly, do we allow ourselves to see what we have gained? We sure hope so, and encourage you to examine questions like:

– Do we have more time to devote to those close to us?
– Have we taken time to re-prioritize and re-frame what is important?
– Have we taken the opportunity to work on the many facets of our own well being?

Stronger Together

While we may not be able to see each other as we typically are accustomed to, today’s technology also affords us many opportunities to stay connected.  Dr. Yvette Kell, Director of UMSL Campus Recreation, emphasizes, “During this time, we need to do everything we can to lean on one another, make sure everyone knows they’re not alone, and try to provide a bit of normalcy. It’s going to take all of us coming together to get through this.”

Stay engaged. Stay well. Stay ahead of the Curve.

Authored By:

Ken Wolters | Global Education Manager | Core Health & Fitness, LLC
Stacy Connell | Founder & Consultant | SLC Wellbeing, LLC


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