Return to campus. This phrase evokes anticipation and excitement; this year, though, many are more worried than joyful. With clothing and electronics and desire to grow, will students also carry COVID19 and traumatic social experiences to campus? How should faculty and staff prepare? You are not alone! Faculty, staff, and students everywhere are all wondering the same thing.
Part of our uncertainty rises from speculation and misinformation, and part rises from ever-changing plans. Planning in a dynamic environment is stressful, by its nature. When there are more questions and less credible information, our brains react to protect us by activating our natural response systems. We can recognize this activation as stress.
Some signs of stress are appetite changes, sleep disruption and daily routines, and increased irritability, confusion, or restlessness. Alternatively, some may react with fatigue, withdrawal and social isolation, and upturns in worry or self-protection.
The problem is that we are unsure of our next steps, which can result in our brain’s protective response sticking in an on position. Consequently, our stress feeds on itself.
We can take steps to recognize and respond to our stress, and that of those around us. By actively managing our tendency to practice worrying, we grow our awareness of our environment. Spiritual and mindful routines increase our ability to control what we can and leave the rest later. The goal is to live in the now, versus the then.
In addition to the 3 Ws (wear a mask, wash your hands, wait 6 feet apart), here are some ways we can maximize our daily mental health.
- Practice healthy stress responses: reduce media exposure, connect with others, stay focused on what you can control.
- Plan for difficult conversations with students: listen without judgment, use “I statements,” provide a safe space. When we validate others, we create an empowering space. One gift we can give to each other is listening.
- Think about the lessons of our time. The ordeal of COVID19-restrictions, the tension of racial recognition, and an uncertain future combine into a generational trauma. While many of us are emotionally raw, we gained a transformational moment. There is a useful metaphor for this Spring: once the rubber band stretches, it never regains its shape. The Pfeiffer community changed. You can engage the future.