University of Toronto Scarborough researcher creates free online course to manage stress during COVID-19

A new online course launched by a psychology professor at the University of Toronto at Scarborough aims to help people manage their mental health during COVID-19.

The course, Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During Covid-19, is available for free via Coursera.

“I am constantly asked for strategies on how to manage mental health given the current circumstances,” says Steve Joordenswho is also the director of the Advanced Learning Technologies lab, where various educational technologies are designed and created.

“This course is designed to help people learn some skills to avoid much of the anxiety they face and how they can find ways to better control it.”

The course is divided into three main sections. The first deals with understanding the mechanics behind anxiety – what it is and some strategies for dealing with it. The second examines ways to eliminate stressors and sources of anxiety by offering tips and advice on how to distract yourself mentally. The third section focuses on the effects of isolation, with strategies to make it more tolerable and advice on how to stay socially connected during physical distancing.

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 fuel anxiety.

He says finding positive ways to fill the day can provide a good mental distraction, whether it’s laughing or singing, exercising, learning or practicing a skill, or connecting socially. with others through technology. Maintaining a regular schedule through healthy eating, exercise and sleep are also key to helping us manage our mental health and shouldn’t be ignored, he adds.

In the course, Joordens also reviews something called “guided relaxation,” which are techniques that can help people relax their bodies so they can better deal with anxiety.

“Research has shown that constant stress and anxiety can deplete our immune system, and the last thing we probably need right now is a weakened immune system,” notes Joordens.

There is also a section at the end of the course on the importance of being aware of depression.

“What’s really dangerous is when anxiety turns into depression. Throughout the course there are reminders to be aware of feelings of helplessness and to make sure you find ways to have control of your life because control is key,” he says.

Joordens, who is an educational technology expert, notes that the course has flexible timeframes so anyone can take it at their convenience, and it can be completed in around 10 hours.

He says one of the big takeaways when it comes to managing your mental health during the pandemic is that people are trying to achieve a sense of accomplishment. Whether it’s learning a new skill, honing an existing one, or upgrading credentials, he says there are countless online platforms people can use.

“Filling your day with a positive routine or ritual is a really good mental distraction,” he says.

“You can also join an online community of learners who share a common interest. It can be a sort of replacement for some of the social interactions we’re losing right now.