Just about everyone these days has been feeling like they are wildly out of control of their lives. Now try being a college student. Our entire lives, including where we will be living and eating, what we will be doing and at times even our income seems to be in the hands of others. On top of that, we are trying to get the most out of our college education in a way that no college student ever has, all while worrying about national concerns (police brutality, wildfires, hurricanes, a presidential election – the list goes on and on).
Especially now that school has started, I have felt like all my responsibilities have come down on me in some massive, never-ending torrential downpour. And it doesn’t make it any easier to do work when you are nervous or scared. Many of my peers have expressed these overwhelming feelings as well. “[With the] sustained effort of adjustment comes increased feelings of stress and burnout as well as anxiety and depression,” Alyssa Baker, a Mental Health Therapist in the Counseling Center, said.
How does one even begin to handle this level of stress and worry? And how can it be addressed if it seems at times that all we receive in support is an email mentioning “these unprecedented times…”? In times of mental stress, it can seem like there is nowhere to turn and no one who is experiencing these same struggles.
But one odd thing that this pandemic has offered us is the almost universal guarantee that people are in a similar mental place that we are.
“[With this onslaught of] uncomfortableness that comes with uncertainty and unexpected changes,” Baker said.
Baker also stressed the importance of self-compassion and checking in with yourself.
“[Self-compassion is] recognizing that suffering, hardships, and pain are part of the human experience… Self-compassion helps you get to a place of understanding and acceptance and anchors your awareness in the present moment, the only moment you have control over,” Baker said.
Reverend Maggie Falenschek, Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministries also emphasized the importance of recognizing that we are all in this together. Falenschek said that
“I think many of us are experiencing grief ‒ grieving the way things were and lost opportunities in addition to the grief we experience by witnessing the murder of our black and brown neighbors in the media,” Falenschek said.
Falenschek said that the best thing that we can do is to recognize that grief is normal.
“The best thing we can do is acknowledge it and allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling…we are typically not very successful when we try to handle everything on our own. I’d suggest that students lean on their support systems,” Falenschek said.
This point is one that I also encourage wholeheartedly. I have even gone so far as to verbally or through writing establish with my friends, family or whoever it may be that they are part of my support system and talk about what that means.
“Your support system can range from friends, family, a therapist, religious leader or chaplain, mentor, health professional‒anyone that you have a level of trust and comfort with,” Falenschek said.
Oftentimes, we don’t know where to turn for help unless it is put right in front of our faces.
We need to dispel the myth that we all have to struggle silently, or that the college isn’t doing much to help us (which I have sadly heard more of than I would like).
While some of the things that the Gustavus community and administration do may seem small, cheesy, or insignificant, I feel like too many students miss opportunities to find support and compassion out of a superiority complex or a simple fear of joining up.
Both Baker and Falenschek shared services that their respective offices offer to aid students in their journey at Gustavus. Checking in even if you think you might not need it can never hurt, and you may gain valuable relationships by reaching out to the people on campus that are there to help you and connect with you.
“In a nutshell the Chaplain’s Office offers opportunities for students to connect with others, receive care and support, and develop skills in spiritual wellbeing and leadership. Siri and I (GAC Chaplains) are available to meet with students for a variety of reasons,” Falenschek said.
“The Counseling Center is offering individual counseling as well as support groups and workshops on various topics this year,” Baker said.
Utilizing our resources, support groups, and the Gustavus community as a whole will go a long way towards helping us get through this difficult time and have the best year that we can. You’ve got this Gusties.