Environmental Wellness During COVID-19

When most people think of the term environmental wellness, they imagine wellness relative to the natural environment. If asked how to improve wellness in this realm, they may suggest recycling, spending time outdoors, biking instead of driving, etc. While cultivating a good relationship with the natural environment is part of environmental wellness, this branch also involves developing a nurturing and supportive personal environment. Your personal environment includes the people, places, attitudes, and ideas that you surround yourself with in your daily life. During this unique time of social distancing, we are spending long intervals of time within our rooms. Since we are surrounded by the same places and people all the time, cultivating environmental wellness in these spaces is of utmost importance to stay mentally and physically healthy while in quarantine.

Explore themes created by our intern Avery Indermaur regarding maintaining environmental wellness during COVID-19. 

  • Keep in touch with your community.
    • Social connections are one of the most fundamental components of long-term happiness. It is so easy during times of separation to forget about our support systems and lose touch with the people that lift us up when we are down. However, making time to connect with important people in our lives -- whether they are family, friends, teachers, mentors, or coworkers -- will help prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Try to establish regular virtual gatherings (via Skype, Zoom, Facetime, etc.) with your support system.
    • Having a schedule helps keep these times for social connection from slipping by the wayside.
    • Can be cooking together, game night, movie night, or just a chat.
  • Balance your alone time.
    • For those of us in quarantine with other people, recognize that it is natural to become agitated or frustrated at times. Many of us are not used to spending all our time around the same few people, especially in such close quarters.
    • Be open to having conversations with people you are living around about how much time and space you need to be comfortable. Especially for the more introverted among us, it is important to stand up for your alone time to reconnect and re-energize throughout the day.
  • Having Difficult Conversations  
    • Have conversations with roommates/friends/coworkers about COVID-19 safety. 
    • Talking about comfort levels is the only way to make sure that you don’t do anything to make your roommates or friends uncomfortable and that they don’t do anything to make you uncomfortable either.  
    • Safety and comfort conversations are especially important to have with roommates. The stress of finding out you have made your roommate feel at-risk or they have done the same to you is worse than having the conversation to begin with.   
    • While it may seem awkward to bring up, everyone is aware that we are living in a pandemic and that safety is a serious priority. Don’t be afraid to ask your roommates or friends questions like: 
      • Does this comply with the Duke community standards? Duke Compact?
      • How many people are going to be at that gathering?
      • Are you and others wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing during this event?
      • When was the last time you/(a friend of a roommate/friend) were tested? 
      • Is it okay if (person) comes over? 

After having these conversations, it can be difficult to learn that you are the roommate who is less concerned or wants to take more risks. However, we encourage you to review the Duke Compact and COVID-19 safety precautions to perspectives to set expectations for safety within your space. 

  • Remember to rely on honesty and open communication with your roommate, friends, or coworkers. It is not worth the risk of getting someone else sick just because you want to take a risk. 

  • Need help, don't know where to start? Reach out to duwell@studentaffairs.duke.edu to receive communication tools. 

  • Be mindful of screen time.
    • If you’re like our intern, you’ve been looking up after hours now sitting on the computer in the same place and thinking: Why am I so tired? I haven’t even moved! The body registers boredom as tiredness. Our routines have gone from days full of movement and stimulation to largely solitary ones, confined within the same walls, so it is natural to feel like you’re dragging during the day.
    •  Looking at computers can also physically tire your eyes and your head. The human body was not made to look at electronics for hours on end.
    • Get your energy up during long days of classes with little brain breaks!
    • Take a Buzzfeed quiz, find a new recipe, crack open a coloring book, organize your desk.
    • Anything is a worthwhile break from the monotony. 
  • Practice gratitude.
    • In such uncertain, stressful times, it can be very difficult to remember that there are things to be thankful for. Even if it is something as small as the smell of roses on a walk or the macaroni and cheese you had for dinner, thinking about small things that bring you joy helps distract and refocus from bigger, scary issues.
    • Try making a gratitude journal! Write down three or five or ten things that you are thankful for from the day before you go to bed.
      • Try not to repeat items! Nothing is too small or too big to write down.
  • Boost your energy.
    • Do something fun.
      • color, read some jokes, flip through a magazine, daydream, waste some time.
    • Soak up the sun.
      • take a 10 minute walk outside or, if you have to do work, try finding an outdoor environment.
    • Practice breathing.
      • belly breathing, alternate-nostril breathing, or just good old fashioned deep breaths.
    • Move
      • stretch, do 30 jumping jacks/pushups/sit-ups, walk up and down the stairs, find ways to move your body.
    • Drink more water.
    • Use better posture.
      •  Good self check: keep your head over your heart over your pelvis; be mindful of your neck → is it craning forward?
    • Check your noise level.
      • take out your headphones for a few minutes, or ask those around you to use them if you need quiet.
    • Lower refined sugar/junk food intake.
      • choose nuts, raw veggies, roasted edamame or chickpeas, flavored seltzers, and greek yogurt with berries as snacks instead of junky alternatives.
  • Stay active.
    • Whether you are someone with a normal gym routine or not, staying active during a stressful, confined time like this is crucial. It helps clear your mind, boosts your energy level, and is good for overall health and longevity.
    • Try to establish a routine for staying active while at home or on campus. There are many options for things to do without access to a normal gym. You can:
      • Do online exercise videos for bodyweight training, yoga, pilates, HIIT, etc.
      • Learn a dance! You can follow a music video or find tutorials on YouTube.
      • Go for a walk/run/bike ride.
    • Feed yourself with love. 
      • When stuck inside with a life full of stressors, many people begin to struggle with their relationships with food. Whether it is adopting a defeatist mindset and letting nutrition slip or being too strict in an attempt to feel in control, it is important to recognize these patterns and work towards cultivating healthy, nourishing habits.
    • There are two sides to this story:
      • Some people when stuck at home will let nutrition and regular eating go by the wayside. They may forego eating regular meals, opting for only snack foods. Stress eating may take over their normal habits, leading to bingeing on junk food. They might struggle with maintaining willpower when at home and around food all day. 
      • Other people, perhaps those who have a history of restrictive eating patterns, will be encouraged to return to those habits. When surrounded by so much uncertainty, people may focus on controlling their eating since it is one of the only things within their power.
      • Both extremes, total release and total control, are detrimental to your health. On one hand, letting yourself go during a time like this, likely bingeing and feeling guilty afterwards, will just leave you feeling worse about yourself and more helpless than you were to begin with. However, turning to such heavy restriction leads to self-criticism and undo stress about every eating choice.
      • Thus, it is important to find a middle ground when it comes to your relationship with food. Try to stick to well-balanced, regular meals to boost your physical health and give you as much energy throughout the day as possible. However, remember that it is important to eat food that you enjoy without guilt. If you want a piece of cake, let yourself have it! Good food can bring a lot of joy into your life, and this is a time when we need as much joy as we can get!
  • Everyone is different in terms of what types of spaces are most fitting for them. However, it is important to reflect on what environments make you feel most at ease and to work towards cultivating those types of spaces.
  • Here are a few things to think about when trying to tailor your spaces to meet your needs:
    • Do you need a lot of natural light in your space? Or, if natural light is not a possibility, what quality of light makes you feel your best?
    • How do you deal with clutter? Does it make you feel claustrophobic or at home?
    • Do you like to have a separation between where you work/take classes and where you relax? Is there a way to distinguish those areas within your small space, even by using different parts of the same room?
    • What noise level is acceptable for you? Do you need to have conversations with your roommates/family about noise?

While on-campus OASIS spaces are currently closed, consider how you can bring the energy and idea of those spaces into your own room. Could you adjust the light level or quality? Add peaceful background noise? Incorporate mindfulness tools, like the balancing feathers or singing bowls?  

Constructing a personal oasis may be even more valuable than visiting the on-campus sites because it gives you the opportunity to reflect on what makes you feel most calm and nurtured and to have a space that is truly unique to you. If you need help getting started, check out the ideas below for how to create your own oasis. 

  • Essential oils 
    • Can purchase a diffuser to make the whole room smell like a certain scent.
    • Make your own aromatherapy room spray. 
  • Natural accents 
    • Nature elements help create grounding energy 
    • Ex: plants (real or fake, I won’t tell), wooden accents, nature art 
  • Fuzzy blankets and pillows 
    • Surrounding yourself with cozy, warm items can greatly enhance feelings of ease.
    • Blankets can help encourage a good night’s sleep 
  • Mindfulness tools/games (touch) 
    • Great way to take a break from studying or get out of your thinking mind if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
    • Ex: Singing bowls, baoting balls, puzzles, coloring books, play doh (or find an old Flop Ball!) 
    • Coloring books are opportunities to creatively decompress.
    • Benefits of mindfulness 

Ways you can adjust your space:

  • Create a personal nook.
    • Give yourself a corner (literally a corner, space under your bed, your whole bed, a special chair, anything!) where you can curl up with a blanket and relax.
    • If you are someone who values separation between work and relaxation space, creating a nook will be especially helpful. 
  • Consider your color scheme. 
    • What colors make you feel the most soothed and at home? Warm colors? Cool colors? Lots of white? 
    • Simply editing your existing décor with an eye for color or adding something simple like a white throw blanket can make your space much more soothing. 
    • Colors’ impact on mood 
  • Decluttering 
    • Think about your relationship with clutter: Does it make you feel more at home or claustrophobic? Even if cleaning your room or getting rid of unnecessary items might seem like a chore, it may work wonders for making you feel more at ease in your space.
    • Benefits of decluttering  
  • Room temperature 
  • Get a noise machine app
    • While water features and noise machines can be expensive, there are plenty of free or very cheap apps that have white noise, ocean sounds, rainfall, and other types of peaceful background noise. 
    • Help mimic the fountain effect, like what we have in the OASIS with the fountain or fish tank.
    • Benefits of nature sounds
  • Create nature art/peaceful wall décor  
    • Surround yourself with art pieces that make you feel calm and refreshed.
    • Pinterest is a great place to look for ways to DIY wall décor, from paper crafts to wreaths to canvas designs. 
    • Hang photos of people you are grateful for or things that are integral parts of your life.
  • Have a journal or scrap paper handy.
  • Play music (sound) 
    • Combine music with meditation or just incorporate mindful music listening into your day to decrease stress.
    • Music meditation can feel simpler and more instantly relaxing than other forms of practice.
    • Try connecting your breath to the music to enhance relaxation.
    • Create a playlist of songs that help you relax, can include many difference genres and instrumentals.

Reduce single-use plastics.

  • From iced coffee cups to to-go utensils to snack boxes, we are surrounded by food housed in single-use plastics. Single-use plastics exacerbate a host of environmental issues (think energy crisis, air and water pollution, climate change, etc.). 
  • Try bringing your own coffee cup and utensils to dining halls, or eating in instead of getting meals to-go! Little things can make a big difference. 

Use reusable bags. 

  • Plastic and paper bags contribute also contribute to the waste issue.  
  • Think about leaving a small reusable bag in your backpack or purse for when you go shopping! 

Get outside

  • How can you appreciate the natural world if you never spend any time in it? Find a way that works for you, whether it’s doing homework on the BC Plaza, taking a walk around the East Campus Loop, or journeying with some friends to the Eno. Time in nature is good for the mind, body, and spirit. 
  • Spending time outside is especially important during the time of COVID, since people are spending so much time in the same indoor spaces.  
  • Being outside helps get vitamin D, encourage exercise, and release endorphins, all important for maintaining mental and physical health. 

Maintain a routine. 

  • Resist the temptation to wake up 2 minutes before your class or work meeting and log on from your bed. It might seem like a good way to maximize sleep, but it is a recipe for checking out as soon as the Zoom session gets up and running. 
    • Instead, do what you would normally do before class or work. Whether it’s going for a morning jog, doing a stretching or yoga routine, having a healthy breakfast, or simply grabbing a cup of coffee, make sure to set up your morning in the way that feels natural and energizing for you. 

Create an ideal workspace. 

  • Again, working from your bed is not a recipe for success here. Find a quiet place in your home to designate as a work space. Keep it clean, organized, and free from distractions. 
    • If working in one place makes you a little stir crazy, then try switching up your locations. Maybe you like doing some work at a desk, some from the couch, and some from the kitchen table! 

Schedule your day and your projects.

  • Staying on track of personal tasks, Zoom meetings, and long-term projects is hard when you have basically the whole day to yourself. Instead of procrastinating to fill the time, try scheduling your day in advance! It helps you actually accomplish all of your tasks and feel like your day is productive. 
    • If scheduling is hard for you, try making it fun to look at! Get a cool planner or a bullet journal and spend time at night or in the morning organizing and jazzing up your plan for the day.  

Update your technology to the best of your ability. 

  • It is even harder to pay attention to an online class when your internet is cutting out or your headset only lets you hear the professor half the time.  
  • Try to address any wifi problems as soon as you notice them, so they don’t become overwhelming. 
  • It also may be helpful to download and familiarize yourself with online platforms used in class or work (Slack, Sakai, Microsoft Teams, etc.) before you have to start using them so you don’t feel left behind. 

Eliminate distractions. 

  • While this seems obvious, it will be impossible to pay attention if you let yourself get distracted by Snapchat and text notifications, chatty roommates, pets, or any movements out your bedroom window. Try to get away from these things during meetings. 

Save calls/meetings for the afternoon.

  • For morning people, saving meetings until later will ensure that you are using your most morning productive work time wisely. Use calls to reenergize and break up your day when you are likely to be lagging in the afternoon. 
  • For not morning people, waiting until the afternoon will ensure that you have fully woken up and are going to be engaged with the people you’re talking to. 

Match your music to the task at hand. 

  • Having good background music can make all the difference for energy and productivity. Whether it’s something more mellow for casual reading or something exciting for cranking out a paper, finding music that matches your vibe can make all the difference. 

Make after school/work plans. 

  • Plan things to look forward to after a long day of work. This could mean a trip to the grocery store or doing a face mask with your roommates or getting a socially-distanced drink or dinner with a friend. No matter the scale, having something to look forward to will help you get through the day and remember to take time off. 

Keep meetings short and organized. 

  • We spend so much time in front of our computers now that extra hours spent in dragging meetings can be really draining. Try to come to meetings with a list of points or questions in advance to do your part to quicken the pace. Don’t be afraid to say you have to jump off at the scheduled end time if it seems like the meeting is going over. 

Take breaks. 

  • Distractions and breaks are very different. It is one thing to have your attention pulled away from what you are trying to do by a distraction, but another to take 15 minutes to step away from the computer and do something to energize yourself. No one has the stamina to stare at their computer and do work all day.

Try taking breaks that don’t involve screens, like: 

  • Taking a walk 
  • Doing yoga/stretching 
  • Coloring in a coloring book 
  • Calling/Skyping/Zooming/Physical Distanced Meeting a friend   

Prepare meals in advance. 

  • Having a good meal plan for lunch and dinner or even something already made will make sure that you’re not skipping meals or relying on unhealthy snacks. Eating nourishing foods is essential for having enough energy throughout the day. 

Make time for yourself. 

  • Even though most of us are studying and living in the same spaces now, don’t let work or school take over your entire day. Give yourself time, aside from just little breaks in between tasks, to actually do things for you. These moments will help keep your energy up and help prevent burnout. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. 

  • You’d be surprised how understanding most professors and employers are when it comes to added stress from COVID. Whether it is asking to reschedule a meeting so you can take a break from computer time or for certain supplies from your company to help workflow, try to advocate for yourself.  

Don’t be too hard on yourself. 

  • If you find yourself straying from your routine or are having a really hard time concentrating one day, that’s okay. You’re not alone. Trying to force yourself to keep working when your head is not in it will only lead to bad work or a bad mood, or both. 
  • Instead, take a breath and forgive yourself. If the task isn’t that pressing, work your schedule around to make time to step back for the day. If you are up against a deadline, still take a short break and some deep breaths to help get some perspective and get back at it. 

Talk to other human beings. 

  • Yes, like talk in person; physically distanced of course!. Don’t get so sucked into your work that you forget to the importance of genuine human connection. However, talking and ideally smiling with other people in-person can make a huge impact on mood. 

Assess your learning style. 

  • Some people may prefer to attend a synchronous online lecture to feel more engaged and ask questions in real time. Others may be more suited to recorded lectures, since they can pause to take breaks or rewind to go back over something they don’t understand. 
  • If your classes allow, try out both methods to find out what works best for you.   

Reach out. 

  • Even in a virtual class, don’t be afraid to reach out to professors for one-on-one meetings or to other students in your class for support.  
  • You could even try forming a study group, either meeting outside of class virtually or outside with physical distancing and masks! 

Remember, online classes are a marathon, not a sprint. 

  • While some people might be tempted try to get all your work done quickly since we have abundant free time, trying to do too much too fast will lead to burn out. 
  • Pace yourself, and make sure that you leave time for self-care, hobbies, and staying connecting to friends and family in your schedule. 


  • Make sure you are reminding coworkers frequently of your schedule, availability, needs, task completion, etc. As everyone is trying to juggle their own schedules, it is even harder for others to remember how you fit in. Communicating a little extra will help you stay on the same page as your coworkers and keep misunderstandings to a minimum.  

Take your vacation days. 

  • Even though you might not be able to go on a conventional vacation, taking a rest from work can be very beneficial for your mental health. 
  • If you do have the means, consider a COVID-friendly vacation, like camping, road-tripping, or going on a day hike. 

What is sustainability?

  • Sustainability means meeting the needs of current users without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  
  • In other words, sustainability is not using anything beyond its ability to regenerate.

 It is generally divided into three facets dealing with different issues:  

  • Environmental sustainability: clean air, water, and land; preserving biodiversity; slowing or reversing climate change; protecting ecosystems. 
  • Economic sustainability: sustainable economic growth; sustainable infrastructure; cost of energy; managing natural resources.
  • Social sustainability: food security; human health; quality of life; environmental education; safe housing and transportation.

Why is sustainability important? 

  • Sustainability is central to the health, well-being, and longevity of the planet and all the species that inhabit it.  
  • If that seems like an overstatement, consider the consequences of sustainability’s most widely-recognized target: climate change. Not prioritizing sustainability means people will continue polluting, wasting, and consuming resources, which lets global temperatures keep climbing.  
    • Already, we see the impacts of climate change through species extinction, wildfires, severe storms, and extreme temperatures. 
    • If this issue goes unchecked, these issues will only worsen while others become more visible, like food shortages, droughts, and energy crises.  
  • Sustainability is not only important for preventing damage, but also for prioritizing health and happiness. 
    • The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals describe reducing climate change as just one of 17 targets of sustainable actions. 
    • Sustainable actions also contribute to issues like gender equality, good health and well-being, decent work for all, economic equality, and reducing hunger globally.  

How does sustainability connect to wellness? 

Sustainability connects to all six components of wellness: 


  • Having a strong, supportive community is essential to creating environmental change and staying motivated to create change yourself. 
  • Conversations with friends, family, peers, and coworkers help spread sustainability literacy. 


  • Thinking sustainably means considering our relationship to the environments around us and how we can make them less harmful.  
  • Environmental wellness encourages connection to nature, a key component of caring about sustainability action. 


  • Many practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions also encourage better physical health, like walking and biking or eating less meat. 
  • Stress reduction helps give perspective about how and why one should take action towards sustainability.  
  • Prioritizing mental health is crucial when trying to contribute to solving a problem that is happening on a global scale.  


  • Only buying things that you need helps reduce waste. 
  • Supporting local businesses whenever possible encourages social sustainability and reduces emissions from transportation of the product. 


  • Staying informed about current climate change updates and sustainability solutions to those problems will help motivate and target actions.  
  • Students can think about how to integrate sustainability into their coursework or research while at Duke. 


  • Spiritual wellness is about how one finds meaning in their actions, regardless of connection to a formalized religion. This broad mindset encourages people to think about why sustainability must be prioritized for a larger purpose. 

How can Duke students, faculty, and staff practice sustainability?  

  • While the reasons to be sustainable might seem daunting, don’t be discouraged. Just because the problem is big doesn’t mean we should try any less to make our actions part of the solution. 
  • Looking to increase sustainability in your life? Here are some ways to be more sustainable no matter what your community, and some added tips/info for those of us who are located in the Duke/Durham area: 

Bike or walk to class or work (or use public transportation)

Eat less meat. 

Reject disposability.  

  • More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since 1950, 60% of which is currently in landfills or the natural environment.  
  • How can you help?  
    • Bring your own reusable mug and utensils to campus to reduce the use of disposables. 
    • Use reusable bags for shopping. 
    • Bring your own water bottle. 
  • At Duke: Duke has made waste diversion through recycling and composting a top priority in its sustainability efforts. 
  • In Durham: Here is a great list of waste reduction opportunities from recycling to compost to sustainability certifications in Durham. 

Buy clothing responsibly. 

  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions and 20% of wastewater production globally.  
  • To reduce your impact, buy clothing only when you really need it and from thrift stores as much as possible. 
  • At Duke: Stay tuned for programs at Duke that support clothing reuse, like the Devil’s Thrifthouse!  
  • In Durham: Durham is a hot spot for great thrift stores! Places like Scrap Thrift, Rumors, Durham Rescue Mission, and more make buying sustainable clothes easy, fashionable and fun! 

Support local businesses. 

  • Buying local has many great benefits for all facets of sustainability, like reducing transportation emissions from the products you buy, keeping money in the local economy, and supporting the local community.  
  • At Duke: By eating at dining halls on Duke’s campus, you are supporting several local farms.  
  • In Durham: Duke has also partnered with Durham on a Small Business Recovery Fund Program to help small businesses impacted by the pandemic.  
    • Here is some great information on how to support local businesses in Durham during the pandemic.  

Get involved in sustainability initiatives. 

  • Joining a sustainability group or program is probably the most targeted but easily-accessible way to become more sustainability. 
  • At Duke: There are countless ways to integrate sustainability into your Duke experience from student clubs (Green Devils, Duke Climate Coalition, Environmental Alliance) to sustainability classes to research to the Sustainability Engagement Certificate. 
  • In Durham: Durham is a hub for sustainable action. 

How do we manage our digital space now that we are relying on virtual communication?

Digital Space 

  • In this context, digital space is defined as everything related to one’s interaction with the Internet and technology, including: 
    • Social media presence and websites visited
    • Screen time 
    • Physical arrangement of apps/documents/pages on one’s screen 
    • Phone, computer, and tv interactions 
  • Currently students are interacting with a variety of digital spaces for a variety of reasons
    • Social: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, FaceTime
    • School/classes: Zoom, Sakai, Google Scholar, Duke Libraries website, online research databases, coding software, e-mail 
    • News: Apple News, New York Times, podcasts 
    • Music/Entertainment: Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu 

Digital clutter 

  • In this context, digital clutter encompasses anything that is disorganized, messy, or unnecessary in your digital environment.
  • Here are some examples:  
    • Unread emails
    • Files/photos without a home 
    • Pages of rarely-used apps 
    • Endless internet tabs 
    • Notifications and alerts 

How does digital clutter affect environmental wellness? 

  • Clutter is linked to stress and distraction, making it hard to focus and think clearly while in your digital environment. 
  • Clutter can cause people to feel overwhelmed, making simple tasks seem impossible to accomplish.  
  • Having a disorganized digital workspace hinders productivity, since you have to spend more time searching for things than accomplishing your tasks.  
  • Looking at so many tabs, notifications, and files also encourages distraction. 
    • Gives users too many things to click 
    • Causes users to turn away from the stressful digital environment to do other things, like scroll through social media 
  • Clarity of your screen can reflect the clarity of what is in your head. By organizing it and clearing out the junk in your digital space, you will frequently be doing the same thing for your headspace. 

How can I reduce/manage digital space and clutter?

  • Digital content/files/documents 
    • Label or file e-mails using filters.
    • Create folders to separate work, school, and social emails.
      • Can also separate based on urgency of topic  
    • Unsubscribe from e-mail services you don’t use.
      • Why bother deleting e-mails from stores, organizations, or people that you know you will never read every day when you could just stop getting them?   
      • If you are on tons of these lists, you are not alone. Instead of deleting the e-mails, scroll down to see if there is a way to unsubscribe from the list for the future. It takes a little more time up front, but it will do wonders for decluttering! 
  • Keep your desktop clean. 
    • While it is tempting to save all your documents to your desktop, that gets very cluttered and overwhelming very fast. 
    • Try putting them in folders or saving them in Documents instead. 
  • Streamline phone contacts. 
    • Do you still talk to your best friend from 5th grade? Go through your contacts and cut them back to only the recent, relevant ones. 
    • If it feels scary to delete them for good, consider backing all your contacts up on the computer and saving only the most needed ones on your phone. 
  • Do the six-month test. 
    • Have you used this document in 6 months? No? Then delete it! 
    • If deleting is too stressful, save it to the cloud or an external backup drive, and then delete it from your desktop. 
  • Organization of digital environment/screens 
    • Use quick search to find apps on your phone.
      • If you find yourself getting lost in a sea of apps, this is a great way to streamline the process of finding what you need to find without endless scrolling 
    • Organize apps by color.
      • Not only does it make things easier to find, but it is much easier on the eye! 
  • Use a simple clean background. 
    • Looking at a screen with a wild, colorful background dotted with even more colorful apps is hard on the eyes. 
  • Change your phone to black and white. 
    • If you are having a hard time not looking at your phone or are finding that it hurts your eyes, try changing the color scheme to black and white. 
    • Having a black and white screen makes checking social media less appealing and makes it easier for your eyes to process what you’re looking at. 
    • Here is a great article on how and why to add the black and white option on your phone! 
  • Streamline your calendars. 
    • Try to consolidate all your Google Calendars, Outlook Calendars, and personal calendars into one place 
    • Try to only use calendars for events. Using calendars for to-dos and notes can leave them cluttered and overwhelming. 
  • Assign a procrastination window. 
    • No matter how productive and focused someone is, no one can resist checking Facebook or Pinterest a few times throughout the day. 
    • Open a separate browser for these distraction searches. It will make them accessible while keeping work/school areas focused on the tasks at hand. 
  • Limit the tabs open in a window at a given time. 
    • While it is easy to open 10 or so tabs while writing a paper or doing research, try to only keep a few open at a time while you’re using them. 
    • If you know you found something, aren’t using it at the time, but want to come back to it, drop the link in a Google Doc or a word document with a description so you can find it when you need it later! 
  • Notifications 
    • Turn the sound off on your notifications whenever possible. 
    • Nothing is more distracting when you’re trying to work than the incessant dinging of social media, texts, and emails trying to steal your attention. 
    • If turning the sound off and on constantly feels like too much work, put your computer and phone on Do Not Disturb when you’re working. It only takes one click! 

Remember: Don’t try to pack all the decluttering into one day. 

  • Once you realize that you need to put work into organizing your digital space, it can seem overwhelming. 
  • Don’t' be discouraged! Tackle one issue at a time, and you will be on your way to a less stressful digital landscape in no time! 

Apps/resources for managing digital space and clutter. 

  • PassFab helps you keep track of your passwords.
  • Home Routine helps you schedule those daily tasks that shouldn’t be cluttering up your work/school calendar.
  • SaneBoxAquaMail, and Mailbox help sort your e-mails.
  • Evernote and Pocket allow you to clean out your bookmarks and store them here; Evernote is also great for organizing note-taking.
  • DropBox and OneDrive are great places to store documents not directly on your computer or desktop. 
  • If you find yourself spending a lot of time on Twitter, check out this minimalist guide to using twitter. 
  • File Juggler helps you organize your files without having to click around—it does the clicking for you!
  • Station organizes your work apps. 

According to the Duke Compact, physical distancing guidelines are: 

The CDC recommendation of 6 feet is an appropriate distance. However, with precautions and protective equipment in place, the minimum distance may be less than 6 feet. And, if participating in athletic training or vigorous exercise, more than 6 feet may be necessary. 

Physical distancing is required because (per the CDC website): 

  • COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within 6 feet) for an extended period of time.
  • Happens through release of droplets from talking, sneezing, coughing, etc. from one person that land in the nose or mouth of another person,
  • People can spread the virus before they are showing symptoms.
  • Important to maintain physical distance even if someone doesn’t seem sick.
  • COVID-19 can also spread through contact with surfaces, so physical distancing helps limit opportunities to come into contact with surfaces that may be contaminated 

We know it can feel challenging to build in-person connections while also abiding by Duke’s rules. If you are unsure of how to find this compromise, here are some ideas: 

  • Outdoor activities 
    • Get an outdoor lunch.
    • Study together on the quad.
    • Sports: frisbee, football, Spikeball 
  • Indoor activities
    • Art time (coloring, painting, paint-by-numbers) 
    • Ping pong
    • Go to the gym together
  • Message a peer you’ve met on Zoom classes or meetings and see if they are comfortable having a masked/physical distanced in-person meeting.

  • Stay tuned for Duke-sponsored outdoor events and go with friends.

    • Ex: movie screenings, DuWell pain nights, cookies on the BC plaza, outdoor fitness classes 

    • Helpful sources of info on events: newsletters (DuWell, DUU, DuArts, VP Short List) DukeGroups, Facebook. 

Spots on campus for outdoor meetings 

Reading days this year are April 24th-26th before the finals period from April 27th-May 1st. Since many classes will be having online exams this year, it’s a good idea to take some time during reading days to prepare your space for finals.  

While this might seem like a lot to ask alongside prepping for the tests themselves, having the right space for your learning style goes a long way towards helping you succeed. If you need a little guidance, check out these tips! 

Physical environment 

  • Clutter 
    • For a many people, clutter becomes a source of stress and can make it hard to relax and focus in your space. 
      • If that sounds like you, take the time to clean. Put away that dirty laundry, take out your trash, either go through or stash any random papers on your desk. It can do wonders for your headspace, too. 
    • For others, clutter can be comforting. 
      • If that sounds like you, don’t touch a thing! 
  • View 
    • Think about what would be the best thing for you to look at during an exam. 
      • Would you prefer something peaceful, inspirational, funny, lighthearted? 
      • Maybe looking at nothing would be better to help you focus.  
    • Either way, think about where you will likely be taking your exams and set the view that works for you. 

    • If you’re not sure what would be the most calming, studies suggest that views of nature can be very comforting in stressful situations. 

  • Comfort 
    • Is your chair/desk/table comfortable to sit at for a long period of time?  
    • If not, what are ways that you could make it better, even using things you already own? Consider: 
      • Putting a pillow in the base or back of your chair 
      • Borrowing a more comfortable desk chair from a roommate or neighbor for a long test 
      • Experimenting with raising and lowering the height of your chair (if able) 
  • Scent 
    • Is there a certain smell that calms you down? Try bringing it into your space with a room spray, essential oils, or an air freshener! 
    • Check out these six scents to calm you in any stressful situation 
  • Roommates/neighbors 
    • Make sure to communicate with your neighbors about your exam schedule. Open communication is very important regarding your needs for peace and quiet. 

Digital environment 

  • Get organized! 
    • Around finals, it is so easy to let your computer screen become completely littered with open tabs and files. If possible, try to keep open only the ones you need. 
    • If closing out of things adds more stress than it might save, consider a way to organize them, like: 
      • Having one browser open with websites for each class 
      • Organizing windows and tabs based on priority of the assignment you are using them to work on 
      • Separating all school-related windows from fun ones 
      • Making separate documents and Google Drive folders with assignments for each class 
  • Check out some of the many digital tools available for getting yourself organized. 
    • For more in-depth tips on digital organization, see our past section on managing digital clutter for better mental health 
  • Eye strain 
    • Consider investing in blue light glasses to reduce the eye strain caused by looking at your computer. 
    • If buying glasses is not feasible or you already wear glasses, set the display on your computer to night mode to reduce strain. 
  • Connect with others remotely.
    • If you are worried about an exam or feeling burnt out studying by yourself, link up with a classmate on Zoom! 
    • This is a great opportunity to talk about study habits, ask questions, or just check in with someone else going through the same thing about how you’re both feeling. 

What is daylight saving time? 

  • Daylight saving time is the name for moving our clocks forward one hour during the spring time and moving the clocks back one hour in the fall. 
    • An easy way to remember what happens in each season is spring forward, fall back. 
  • The goal of this practice is to make better use of natural daylight during the spring and summer months by having one extra hour of daylight in the evenings.  
  • After daylight saving time ends in November fall, the sun will rise and set one hour earlier than usual. 
  • Daylight savings time starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November. 
    • This year, daylight saving time ends on November 1st.  

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? 

  • Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is related to changes in the seasons, occurring at roughly the same time every year. 
    • In most cases, SAD symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months. 
  • General symptoms may include: 
    • Feeling depressed for all or most of the day Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed 
    • Having low energy 
    • Trouble sleeping 
    • Changes in appetite or weight 
    • Feeling sluggish or irritate 
    • Having difficulty concentrating  
    • Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty 
  • Fall/winter-specific symptoms may include: 
    • Oversleeping 
    • Appetite changes, especially increased cravings for carbohydrates 
    • Weight gain 
    • Tiredness or low energy 
  • While specific causes of SAD are unknown, contributing factors may include: 
    • Your biological clock/circadian rhythm 
      • The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months may disrupt your body’s internal clock and cause feelings of depression. 
    • Serotonin levels 
      • Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, which may trigger feelings of depression. 
    • Melatonin levels 
      • The change in season can disrupt the body’s melatonin levels, which help regulate sleep and mood.  
    • SAD occurs more frequently in women than in men and in young people than adults.  
    • Other risk factors include a family history of SAD, bipolar or major depressive disorder, and living near the equator. 
  • As with other types of depression, SAD can worsen and lead to serious consequences if left untreated. These effects include:
    • Social withdrawal
    • Substance abuse 
    • Other mental health disorders like anxiety and eating disorders 
    • Suicidal thoughts or behavior 
  • Treatment for SAD includes light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy. 

Interaction of COVID-19 and SAD 

  • Stress and worry caused by COVID-19 have already negatively impacted people’s mental health across the country.   
  • Many Americans are now experiencing difficulty sleeping and eating, increases in alcohol consumption and substance use, and worsening chronic conditions. 
  • As the pandemic wears on, people are experiencing prolonged exposure to situations known to cause poor mental health effects, like job loss and isolation.  
  • For people already experiencing worsened mental health due to COVID-19, the impacts of the changing seasons may be even more prominent.  
  • Experts are also predicting that the effects and spread of COVID-19 may worsen during the winter months. 
  • Increased spread may lead to reinstated lockdowns or increased fear, likely exacerbating already poor mental health outcomes across the country. 

How to protect your mental health in the coming months 

  • Because of the connection between COVID and SAD that we are likely to face this winter, taking precautions to preserve your mental health is of utmost importance.  
  • Some common ways to ease the effects of SAD are: 
    • Light therapy  
    • Aromatherapy 
      • Essential oils can help you relax and stimulate mood-altering chemicals in the brain. 
    • Daily exercise 
      • Regular exercise is known to help ease depression and anxiety. 
      • For SAD, outdoor exercise is especially beneficial 
    • Soak up the sun. 
      • When you are suffering from a lack of sunlight, getting outside to enjoy whatever rays you can catch is essential. 
      • Research has shown a link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression, so the more sunlight you can take in, the better! 
    • Stick to a sleeping routine. 
      • If your SAD includes difficulty sleeping, sticking to a routine is important for helping your body restore its circadian rhythm.  
      • Check out this article about the impacts of SAD on sleep and sleep hygiene tips that can help you deal with it.  
    • Keep a journal. 
      • Tracking your experience and acknowledging how you are feeling will help you get through the winter months. 
    • Be proactive. 
      • If you suspect that you will be experiencing SAD symptoms, take initiative to plan events and get support from friends and family. 

Resources available to help explore your feelings and emotions surrounding SAD are: 

  • DuWell’s expressive writing journaling prompts 
    • These deal with a wide range of emotions but could be tailored to whatever you are feeling in the moment. 
  • CAPS workshops 
    • Stay tuned on the CAPS website and DuWell newsletter for workshops that can help you process feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression during this time. 
  • Meditation apps 
    • Apps like Insight Timer can help guide you through a daily meditation practice which helps boost mental health. 
  • Blue Devils Care
    • If you're feeling overwhelmed, you will be able to talk to a licensed mental health provider from your device. This service provides on-demand mental health support and gives students a safe space to talk about anything at any time including anxiety, relationships, sadness, isolation and loneliness, and more.
  • Koru Meditation
    • You will learn specific skills that help calm and focus your mind, including breathing exercises, guided imagery, body scan, and more!
  • Developing a winter mantra.
    • Come up with a mantra that helps keep you grounded in the present moment instead of constantly wishing for a better time. 
  • Gratitude practice. 
    • When you feel like the world is turned against you, focusing on little things that we can be grateful for every day does wonders for improving mental health. 
  • Consider adopting the Danish art of hygge 
    • Hygge is the Danish concept of coziness, helping them weather their long, dark winter days. Cozy blankets, tea, warmth, and relaxation guide the philosophy. 

The start of the spring semester and a new year is always a good time to think about ways to refresh! Whether it’s your mindset, digital space, or home space, here are some ways to bring the spirit of spring cleaning to get organized and decluttered for the new semester. 

Declutter your head 

  • Reassess your priorities (and make a list!) 
    • Are they the same that you had at the beginning of last semester or last year?  
    • Is there anything you hope will change about the balance between school/work/social life? 
    • Do you see your priorities evolving throughout the year? 
  • Reassess your habits (and make a list!) 
    • Is there anything you have a tendency to do that you want to get rid of? Anything you want to add or do in its place? 
  • Get a calendar/agenda/bullet journal 
    • Having a place to write down your goals, plans, and objectives on a daily or weekly basis is a great way to keep your thoughts organized and manage your time. 
  • Declutter your digital space.
    • Unsubscribe from e-mail services/newsletters you don’t use or read. 
    • Label or file e-mails using filters for work, school, and social emails. 
  • Keep your desktop clean by erasing unneeded files and storing others in folders instead. 
    • Streamline your calendars onto one platform. 
    • Limit the tabs open in any given window at a time. 
    • Turn off notifications on your phone and computer that aren’t useful to you. 
    • For more on this, visit the managing digital space page on DuWell’s website! 
  • Declutter your dorm/apartment 
    • Go through papers on and in your desk 
    • File the ones that are important in a folder, and recycle the rest! 
    • If they are materials from an old class that might come in handy again, consider moving them to another place so they don’t take up space from your newer materials. 
  • Organize your closet 
    • Go through all your clothes and make piles to keep and to donate 
    • Consider alternative ways to get rid of old clothes other than just donating to Goodwill. Re-selling on platforms like Poshmark or Facebook marketplace or giving them to friends is actually more sustainable than straight donations! 
    • Use the 90-day rule: if you haven’t worn something in the past 90 days, it’s probably safe to donate 
    • Consider making a system in your closet so it’s easier to find things 
      • Ex: hanging all of one type of garment together, sectioning off by level of dressiness, putting clothes in rainbow order, etc. 
    • Get a shoe rack/shoe bin 
      • Uncontained shoes can be one of the worst woes of a messy closet. A simple shoe rack or even an old Rubbermaid bin or cardboard box can do wonders for making a closet look organized! 
  • Find your junk drawer/shelf/corner (we all have one)...and sort it out! 
  • Go through your refrigerator/cabinets 
    • Throw out any old or expired items. 
    • Take inventory for what you want to stock up on in the future. 
  • Do a bit of housekeeping 
    • Get out that vacuum and/or broom from the back of the closet and get to work! Taking care of cleaning before other commitments move it down the priority list is a great way to make sure your space stays ~fresh~. 

Environmental wellness encompasses not only your physical environment but your social environment as well. Surrounding yourself with people who can comfort, support, and encourage you is extremely valuable. Here are some ways to reflect on, maintain, and build your support environment. 

If you’re not sure where your current support environment stands, consider this quick journaling or thought exercise. Either jot down your thoughts or just take a few moments to consider: 

  • Who do you turn to when you need comfort? Advice? Encouragement? 
  • Do you feel like you have enough people to rely on in your life? 
  • Do you feel like your relationships with those close to you are balanced and reciprocal? 
  • Is there a person you know you can talk to about anything without judgement? 

Maintaining your support environment 

If, after reflection, you feel like you have a strong support environment, it is important to take steps to maintain those relationships. 

  • Make sure that the support goes both ways. 
    • Ask them how they are doing too, and really listen. 
    • Be vulnerable with your feelings to the extent that you are comfortable so that they feel open expressing themselves. 
  • Prioritize social relationships.
    • While balancing school, work, and social life is challenging, don’t let social time always get the bottom of pushed from the priorities list. Having those supportive relationships is what helps you get through stressful times in other areas of your life.  
    • Continue making time to see (virtually) or speak to the important people in your life.  
  • Be honest.
    • When you come to others for advice, you want them to be honest with you, even if it may not be what you want to hear. 
    •  Remember that when you are listening to or giving feedback to others, and be willing to speak the truth about a situation. 
  • Have boundaries.
    • Remember that your support system is there for support, not to make choices or perform tasks for you. 
    • Be conscious of whether you are asking too much of those around you, and speak up for yourself if someone is asking too much of you. 

Building your support environment 

If you feel like your support environment is lacking, consider: 

  • Quality over quantity. 
    • Sometimes it is hard to develop strong, supportive relationships if you are juggling too many people at the same time.  
    • While just cutting out people from your life is not the answer, consider who you value most in your current social circle and devote more energy into those relationships.  
  • Recognize unhealthy relationships. 
    • It is important to be aware of negative signs in your current relationships, so you can either address them early or move on to building relationships with others. 
    • Look out for feelings like one-sidedness, manipulation, isolation, judgement, unreliability, energy drain, belittling, and dishonesty.   
  • Be open. 
    • If you are afraid to let people in, they will likely match that energy and the relationship will stay surface-level.  
    • Try opening up about something small happening in your life (hard exam, friend drama, tough decision, etc.) and see how they respond.  
  • Be present.
    • Disconnect from technology when you are around those you want to build better relationships with. This will allow you to devote attention to them and show them that you are invested in the relationship.  

If you’re finding it harder and harder to stay motivated and invested in digital environments, you are not alone. Whether it is classes, meetings, programs, or even social events, engaging in virtual spaces requires more concentration, direct eye contact, and fewer breaks than in-person settings leaving us especially drained. 

Here are some tips for combatting this phenomenon, popularly coined “Zoom fatigue”: 

  • Avoid multitasking. 
    • While it can be very tempting to get other computer work done during a meeting, pulling your mind in so many different directions is exhausting and hampers productivity.  
    • Stay present during each digital event by acting like you would if it was in person. Close distracting tabs, put your phone on silent, and try your best to ignore computer notifications. 
  •  Build in breaks. 
    • Moving through digital environments means it is possible to schedule back-to-back classes and meetings. 
    • If you find yourself in a Zoom marathon, take breaks by turning off your camera to move around or even just to not look at the screen for a few minutes. 
    • While it might seem like bad form, your teachers, bosses, and colleagues, have probably experienced some sort of Zoom fatigue themselves, will understand. 
  • Schedule screen-free time.
    • Be intentional about scheduling time to step away from the computer. Put it on your calendar and take it as seriously as you would any other meeting or class. 
    • Go for a walk, bake a cake, play with your pet. Do something that will give you energy. 
  • Reduce on-screen stimuli. 
    • Zoom meetings present a new level of distracting visual stimuli, since you are not only looking at 10 people but also 10 rooms with different lighting, decorations, family members passing through, pets, etc. 
    • If you are in charge of a meeting/event, encourage people to use plain backgrounds or virtual backgrounds if they are in a busy space. 
    • If not, put your Zoom on speaker view to reduce distraction from the person talking.  
  • Be cognizant of scheduling virtual social events.
    • While we all want to stay connected with family and friends during this time, be mindful of when/how frequently you are scheduling Zoom social events. 
    • After a long day of virtual classes and meetings, spending another hour or two on camera may be more exhausting than energizing. 
  • Switch mediums. 
    • Check your calendar to see if any scheduled meetings could be conducted over the phone or via e-mail instead of over video.  
  • Avoid defaulting to video.
    • It is tempting now to send a Zoom link whenever we want to meet with someone.  
    • However, if you are in charge of scheduling a meeting with someone outside of your circle or organization, suggest a phone call instead. 
  • It’s okay to say no. 
    • If a meeting or event doesn’t seem relevant or important to you, you can decline. 
    • Advocate for yourself if you’re feeling fatigued. Even if you have something already on the books, you can ask to switch to phone/e-mail or reschedule for a time when you have more energy for the call.  

Managing your environmental wellness can be difficult, especially when there are so many environments to consider (physical, digital, mental, social, etc.). To help, here is a quick checklist of things to look for, be aware of, and consider when assessing each of your environments. 

Physical space 

  • Is this level of clutter comfortable for me?  
    • Would I feel less stressed with fewer items? More at home with more items? 
  • What type of lighting makes me feel best (natural, warm, cool, bright, dim, etc.)? 
    • How can I integrate that into my space? 
  • What colors do I tend to surround myself with? 
    • How do these colors affect me (calming, energizing, purifying, etc.)? 
    • Could I alter the color palate in my space to better serve me? 
  • How is the noise level? 
    • Do I feel more comfortable with background noise? Music? Silence? 

Digital space 

  • How much screen time am I having per day? 
    • What is my relationship to social media? 
    • Does it bring joy? Encourage comparisons to others? Reinforce effortless perfection? 
  • How do I present myself online? 
    • Does it feel authentic? Highlight qualities I like most about myself? Highlight qualities I think others will like? 
  • Is my digital workspace organized? 
    • If not, does it cause added stress? Impact my productivity? 

Mental space 

  • How is my self-talk? 
    • What is the tone I use when talking to myself in my head? Is it how I would talk to a friend? 
    • In what areas do I use the most damaging self-talk? Why those areas?  
    • How can I remember to be more gentle with myself? 
  • What is my anxiety level? 
    • What external and internal factors affect this anxiety? How can I attempt to manage or make peace with those factors? 
    • What is my attitude towards anxiety?  
  • How does stress affect me? 
    • What adds or reduces stress in my life?  
  • What have been my dominant emotions today/this week/this year? 
    • What factors might have contributed to those feelings? 
    • What helps me process them (conversations, journaling, meditation, exercise, etc.)?  

Social space 

  • Who do I turn to when I need encouragement/advice/comfort/a laugh? 
    • How can I express gratitude for the people that fill these key roles in my life? 
    • Do I have enough support in each of those areas? 
  • What is my ideal balance between social and personal time? 
  • What types of social spaces make me most comfortable (one-on-one, small group, large group, etc.)? 
  • Do my relationships with friends/family/romantic partners feel reciprocal (each person gives and receives the same amount)? 
    • If not, what effect does that have on me? What steps can I take to create or restore balance? 

If the checklist has revealed areas that you want to work on, check out the tips above for maximizing environmental wellness in your physical space, digital space, mind/attitude, and people/relationships.  

Managing your environmental wellness can be difficult, especially when there are so many environments to consider (physical, digital, mental, social, etc.). To help, here is a quick checklist of things to look for, be aware of, and consider when assessing each of your environments. 

As winter finally warms into spring, it is important to take time to reconnect with the outdoors. Thankfully, there are many ways at Duke to safely enjoy the warming weather. 

  • Study outside.
    • The BC Plaza, McClendon Tower Bridge, and Keohane Quad have plenty of socially-distanced tables for studying. 
    • If laying out a blanket is more your speed, Abele Quad, Keohane Quad, and Baldwin Quad are all perfect for lounging.  
  • Have a picnic.
    • Picnic are a great way to have a cozy physically-distanced meal with friends! 
    • Pack a basket of all your favorite goodies, meet up with friends (maybe on one of the quads listed above), spread out, and enjoy! 
  • Take a walk.
    • Walking is a great way to take a break from studying while getting exercise, too! 
    • Duke’s campus offers many beautiful places for a stroll. Grab a mask and walk around campus, the East Campus Loop, or the Duke Forest or the Al Buehler trail for a more immersive nature experience. 
  • Do a fitness class.
    • Duke Recreation is offering select outdoor fitness and yoga classes. Stay tuned for updates on DuWell’s Wellness Wednesday newsletter! 
    • Also, join a friend or two (physically distanced), grab some mats/towels, and log onto a virtual class together outside!