April 9, 2020 | Alumni
Free online course for U of T alumni: learn coping skills for managing your mental health during COVID-19
By Don Campbell
A psychology professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough has launched a free, four-part MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) exclusively for U of T alumni, aiming to help our community members manage their mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.
The course, Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19, is available free through Coursera from April 13 to May 29, 2020.
“I’m constantly being asked for strategies on how to manage mental health given the current circumstances,” says Steve Joordens, who is also the director of the Advanced Learning Technologies lab, where educational technologies are designed and created.
Joordens says that the course is designed to help people learn skills that could help them avoid a lot of the anxiety they’re facing—as well as how to find ways to better control that anxiety.
LEARN TO UNDERSTAND ANXIETY, CROWD OUT STRESSORS, AND TOLERATE ISOLATION
Whatever happens, we're a community. This MOOC is a chance for U of T alumni to come together to discuss a feeling of anxiety that many of us can't shake.
The course is split into four main sections. The first deals with understanding the mechanisms behind anxiety – what it is and some strategies on how to manage it. The second looks at ways of crowding out stressors and sources of anxiety by offering tips and advice on how to mentally distract yourself. The third section focuses on the effects of isolation, with strategies on how to make it more tolerable and advice on how to stay socially connected during physical distancing. The fourth shows how to guard against depression.
You can take the course weekly or choose to learn on your own schedule. As alumni, you also receive exclusive alumni videos to open and close the course, as well as virtual access to a teaching assistant until May 29.
Joordens says important mental health tips covered in the course include limiting the amount of news we consume. While it’s important to stay informed, constantly watching the news can feed anxiety.
He says finding positive ways of filling the day can offer a good mental distraction, whether it’s laughing or singing, exercising, learning or practicing a skill or socially connecting with others through technology. Keeping to a regular schedule through a healthy diet, exercise and sleep are also key to helping us manage our mental health and shouldn’t be ignored, he adds.
“GUIDED RELAXATION” TECHNIQUES CAN HELP RELAX THE BODY TO BETTER MANAGE ANXIETY
In the course, Joordens also goes over something called “guided relaxation,” which are techniques that can help people relax their body so they can better manage anxiety.
“Research has shown that constant stress and anxiety can wear down our immune systems, and the last thing we probably need at the moment is a weakened immune system,” Joordens notes.
There’s also a section at the end of the course on the importance of being aware about depression.
“What’s really dangerous is when anxiety morphs into depression. Throughout the course there are reminders to be aware about feeling a sense of helplessness, and to make sure you are finding ways of having control in your life because control is key,” he says.
TAKING THE COURSE CAN ITSELF HELP, BY CREATING A POSITIVE RITUAL AND A SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT
Joordens, who is an expert on educational technologies, notes the course has flexible deadlines so you can pick it up at your convenience, and it can be completed in about 10 hours.
He says one big takeaway when it comes to managing your mental health during the pandemic is to try to achieve a sense of accomplishment, whether it’s learning a new skill, honing an existing one or upgrading credentials.
“Filling your day with a positive routine or ritual is a really great mental distraction,” he says.
“You also get to join an online community of learners who share a common interest. It can be a kind of replacement for some of the social interactions we're losing at the moment.”
Delivered online by Coursera, this MOOC is one of the many ways U of T keeps you informed, inspired and in touch with alumni all over the world. Stay connected to your U of T community and never stop learning.