After reading through the Moodle forum on Monday, I had an idea. What if instead of coming together online to debate, we could come together to create new student support groups? For instance, several students mentioned their current struggles with anxiety in the forum. To address the needs of those with mental health problems, who currently lack adequate resources, we could create video discussion groups to share our stories and to support one another.
This could be valuable because some students—including me—have more experience fighting through a Carleton term while coping with intense anxiety, and could, therefore, support students who are facing this for the first time. If we came together to share our struggles and coping strategies, it could help individuals in need, and foster a feeling of campus unity.
My Experience with COVID-19 and Anxiety
Right now, I am at home in Easton, Pennsylvania. My county is under a “stay-at-home” order from Governor Tom Wolf. When I go out to walk or buy groceries, the streets are eerily quiet, and the stores downtown are dark and empty. I try to stay busy and help people when I can; otherwise, I am stuck thinking about reality, and my anxiety becomes overwhelming. My family is OK. My friends are OK. I am OK. But the world is not OK, and there is very little I can do to change that.
Anxiety is not a new experience for me. I have lived through three of my eight Carleton terms obsessively submerging myself in work while struggling to eat or sleep. And my anxiety tends to come with depression, making existence even more fun! My depression tears away my passion for learning, leaving my anxiety as my sole source of motivation. Mental health problems suck. Feeling alone sucks. So I am writing this to try to help.
Resources for Mental Health: SHAC, Exercise, Connection
I want to share some ideas and resources, which I have found useful in the past. I would like to note that SHAC is currently offering phone or video counseling only to students on-campus for spring break (I am not sure how this will change moving forward). However, SHAC staff are willing to provide brief consultations to help students off-campus find local providers. Because we have limited access to in-person therapy, online resources can prove helpful, such as Yale’s free “Science of Wellbeing” course, the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, and anxiety reduction videos from SHAC.
I have two additional, moderately effective coping strategies for anxiety. First, exercise a lot. Last fall, when my anxiety was bad, I would wake up around 6 am, bike to the Rec, and jog on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Usually, when I am mentally-well, I do not exercise in the morning. I certainly do not jog. But when I was waking up mid-panic-attack, morning jogs became a necessity. Exercise does all sorts of good things for your body and mind. In Pennsylvania, we are having glorious 50-degree days, which I take advantage of by walking or biking in my neighborhood. If this is not an option for you, there are lots of websites and YouTube videos with guided indoor workouts.
My second coping strategy is to rely on my support network. I am lucky to have friends and family who help me through hard times. They can’t fix things, but having someone to talk openly with is so valuable. Even though the stigma surrounding mental health is fading, I rarely share my problems with other people at Carleton. If I fail to complete a group project because I can’t concentrate well enough to write a single paragraph, I tell my partners I had the flu. If I seem so vacant in class that my professor asks me what’s wrong, I say I didn’t sleep well. In this context, having someone I feel OK being open with is essential.
How to Support Students with Mental Health Issues?
This brings me back to my fledgling idea. How can Carleton students come together online to support one another at this exceptionally challenging moment? I know many students are having a hard time right now, for a variety of reasons. Mental health is one issue I can speak to personally, but of course, this pandemic brings with it a multitude of other challenges. In this time of need, instead of posting critical and divisive comments online, perhaps we could build something better. I am not sure what, or how, but I hope we can create groups of empathetic people—people with shared experiences—who can exchange stories and provide support to one another during the uncertain months ahead.