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Taking care of your mental health and well-being while social distancing

For many PLNU students, this time of social distancing and being away from friends and normal class routines is disorienting and scary. The Point reached out to Wellness Center counselors Laurie Floren, Varinia Peridon, Josee D’Amore, Grayson Wallen and Kim Bogan who collaborated on answers to questions about how to care for yourself and others during this time. The answers are a written collaboration and are attributed to each of the counselors listed.

The Point: What are ways students can protect their mental health during a time of social distancing, especially when feeling lonely?

Wellness Center counselors: Social distancing isn’t the same thing as isolating. It calls for creatively connecting to our loved ones. Without human interaction, our mental health suffers and maladaptive tendencies can begin to surface. 

Be honest about how you are feeling. Please don’t underestimate the power of regularly having vulnerable and transparent conversations with a trusted friend or professional.

Using technology in redemptive ways is a great way to pass time and connect with others. Think about activities you would normally do with a friend, family member or boyfriend/girlfriend and ask yourself, “How can I duplicate that experience via a video call?” 

As an example: do you tend to cook with this person? If so, cook the same recipe together at the same time via video chat. Do you normally study together, do a Bible study together, have morning coffee, etc.? Those can still be done via a video chat.  

The Point: Some students may be returning home to difficult living environments or difficult relationships with family members. Do you have tips as to how someone can take care of themselves in these environments?

WC counselors: Family can be challenging indeed. This is a great opportunity to work on those relationships with the hope of some level of improvement. While it’s not necessarily the time to delve into past wounds, it is an opportunity to work through current daily issues. 

You can’t change others, but you can make changes in yourself. Develop a listening ear.

Use this time at home to ground yourself and work on improving areas of your character that will better yourself and your relationships. Think of what boundaries you may need for yourself and try to establish ways of setting them. 

If this is not possible because someone in your home is not safe, doesn’t know how to respect [your boundaries] or is stuck in their own dysfunction, remind yourself that you have a right to your boundaries.

Taking breaks, practicing self-soothing and not letting small fights turn into big ones can help facilitate opportunities for resolution. Remember, only own what is yours in the conflict—you do not need to own other people’s stress.

Self-care is vital for all of us right now and even more so when family life is challenging. Do your best to have time on your own away from your family so you can breathe and re-group. If you have your own bedroom, make your room a safe space for yourself that you can find encouragement and be uplifted.

If you don’t have a bedroom, is there a space in the home or in the backyard that you can make your own?  If so, what do you need to create a relaxing space there? 

Perhaps [create] a safety box or journal. [Fill this] with whatever remind[s] you of who you are and what you’re living for.

The Point: What can students do if they feel hopeless or anxious about the news?

WC counselors: It is important to be informed while not being consumed by the news. Limiting exposure to the news is for everyone’s benefit. 

We don’t have control over what is happening in the world. However, we do have control over how much we hear and what we choose to focus on. There is a lot of good news out there [too]. Stories of how individuals are helping each other, and the recovery of so many, including the elderly. (For example, a man who is 100 years old recovered from COVID-19!

Creating a schedule for each day will help avoid constantly watching the news. It can also be good to journal [about] answered prayers and blessings during this time. 

The Point: What are some at-home self-care tips or activities that you recommend?

WC counselors: Some self-care activities to consider are taking a long shower, going for a long walk (in your neighborhood), playing soothing music, taking deep slow breaths, eating meals slowly, engaging in creative writing or art, fixing something in the house, smiling, dancing, filling your room with a relaxing scent, watching the clouds or stars, reading a relaxing book, listening to a podcast, turning off electronics, playing board games with family, redecorating a room, decluttering and many more possibilities.

How we start and end our day, and what we do in the middle of the day, are important. One thing we can learn from Daniel in the Bible is that he set aside time to pray three times a day. Similarly, we can structure our day to do some self-care in the morning, in the middle of the day and at night. 

A reflection exercise:

These questions spell out GLAD: What am I Grateful for? What did I Learn? What did I Achieve? What did I Delight in today? At the end of each day, you can feel GLAD that, no matter how the day went, you successfully lived another day.

Taking care of our physical body matters. Showering daily is an easy way of lifting our mood. Wearing clean clothes, even if you “just sat on the couch,” is important for maintaining a healthy view of yourself. Try out some at-home workouts. Remember to get enough sunlight each day. Keep a regular sleep routine. Eat veggies and good protein.

The Point:  What can a student do if they find out one of their friends is struggling with their mental health? How can they help?

WC counselors: There are many ways to support a friend who is struggling even if you aren’t with them physically.

Here are 3 good questions to ask loved ones: 1) How are you making sense of COVID-19? 2) How are you being displaced by COVID-19? 3) How can I support you during this time? 

Initiating those conversations helps process and reduce uncomfortable feelings. You are not responsible for fixing your friend, but you can be a help and a support. 

The Point: What advice would you give to students who are upset about not having in-person classes and are missing the human connection? Or are struggling to create a routine for online classes?

WC counselors: The change from in-person classes to online classes is huge, not only from a technological and logistical perspective, but from a socializing viewpoint. 

Creating a routine, not only for the online classes, but for the entire day is beneficial. It gives structure to the day which leads to productivity. One way of creating a routine is to keep the same schedule when you were on-campus, including class time and study time. Online classes are typically more work than an in-person class, so, allow for more time in your schedule.

Studying with your friends via a video call will allow for that human connection in a creative way. 

In order to create a routine, repetition is required. Resist feeling like you have to perfect your routine in week one or two of online classes. While this is tough, resist allowing perfectionism to creep in and tell you that “you are a bad student” or “this is too hard.” Step in to the next 8 weeks with optimism and keep doing what you can each day.

The Point: What advice would you give to seniors who are sad or angry about their time at PLNU ending this way?

WC counselors: It is indeed a huge loss of anticipated significant events and mile markers. It’s important to grieve the loss of all the hoped-for events of these weeks. Our seniors have worked hard all of these years. We mourn with you.  

Grieving pertains to any loss, including the final eight weeks of one’s senior year of college. Listen to yourself and what you need to do to express the grief, which can include many emotions such as anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration, loss, unfairness and even as if something important is being stolen from you.  

Acknowledge each emotion and give each one its own way of expression. Anger tends to [be expressed] physically. As long as it doesn’t hurt you, anyone else or damage any property, it’s usually good to do. Perhaps punching a pillow or pulling weeds or doing push-ups might help.   

Allow this to shape and mould who you are. All things can influence us. The prospect of graduation is what pulled you through difficult study sessions and excruciating semesters in your classes… but at the end of your program, you completed a degree, not for a moment of applause at your graduation ceremony, but so that you can go forward in your career. 

So, while it is tough that the graduation ceremony will be delayed (currently scheduled for Aug. 21 and 22), you will be a diploma-carrying graduate.

The Point: Is the Wellness Center staff available during this time? How can students reach the wellness center if needed?

WC counselors: Medical and counseling staff are available during normal business hours in the Wellness Center (M-F 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) for assistance by phone to assist students to get the help they need during this season of change and transition.

The Wellness Center is available to connect with students by calling 619-849-2574 during normal business hours or emailing SDWellnesscenter@pointloma.edu. If a student feels that they are experiencing a medical or mental health emergency, they should call 9-1-1.

The Point: Are there other resources students can tap into if they are struggling?

WC counselors: WellTrack is a self-help interactive psychoeducational tool that was purchased for undergraduate students by the 2018-2019 ASB Board. PLNU students can download the app or login to welltrack.com to get started.   

The Wellness Center webpage also has a list of resources: https://www.pointloma.edu/offices/wellness-center/counseling-servicesThe CDC webpage also has resources: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fcoping.html

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