Most of us were not actually expecting the new year to magically fix everything that happened in 2020, but we definitely wanted a break from the insanity. Unfortunately, 2021 is starting off just as jacked up as 2020, and it is taking a toll on us. Students are not doing well right now, especially mentally. Perhaps that has something to do with the world falling apart around us, almost entirely out of our control.
What happened at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6 was definitely a tipping point. Witnessing an attempted fascist coup as domestic terrorists vandalized our Capitol instilled anxiety and fear in all of us. This, weighing down on the trauma that has been building for the past four years, and accelerated especially in 2020, was much more than any of us can handle right now.
A study by the American Psychological Association published in October found that more than two-thirds of Americans experienced significant stress in relation to the 2020 Presidential election. The study cited that the “election, the global pandemic, and social unrest are all adding to a sense of uncertainty in our lives.” No, it is not just students experiencing these high levels of stress.
Following just one life-altering or otherwise stressful event, an individual may experience a number of negative symptoms. Physically, one may become exhausted, weak, develop frequent headaches, have an elevated blood pressure, and more; cognitively, response to trauma could mean confusion, poor concentration, troubled thoughts, short-term memory disturbance, and more. As students, these symptoms are ones that have seriously affected how we learn, especially with the clumsy shift to an online platform. We have not had many resources readily available to us to help cope with the extensive, traumatic news we have been consuming non-stop for over a year now.
To start, 24-hour emotional support is available through the National Disaster Distress Helpline by either calling 1.800.985.5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746. This resource will connect you with a trained crisis counselor who specializes in assisting anyone experiencing emotional distress.
If your case is not quite this urgent, there are a number of coping mechanisms out there that can help you manage your stress. This is extremely important to do; otherwise, the build-up and internalization of trauma can lead to permanent physical and psychological damage, including the way you process and cope with trauma in the future. “Chronic stress can lead to serious health problems;” learning how to cope is essential.
Under the “Coping” tab of the “Coronavirus disease” search results on Google, the following advice is listed as informational methods of coping: pause and breathe, take breaks from upsetting content, take care of your body, reach out and stay connected, and seek help in overwhelming or unsafe situations. Of course, these are simple, baseline things, but they are the first steps to leading a healthy life along the lines of stress management. Try, every day, to eat a few meals, move your body, and talk to someone about anything. Consistency with these things will most likely improve your ability to manage stressful stimuli.
Psychology Today provides some more advice, based around the chaos of the pandemic, regarding how to be resilient in the face of stress. These include setting small, personal goals for yourself that will keep you grounded and help you feel accomplished, incorporate meaningful activities into your day-to-day, and doing things that make you happy, or will improve your mood. The article also suggests taking time to savor happy moments, no matter how big or small, and to practice relaxation techniques that suit your needs and comfort levels.
The APA study mentioned above listed recommendations in an attempt to alleviate political-related stress. One of these recommendations includes avoiding dwelling on things you can’t control by replacing those thought patterns with focusing on the things you can control. This can be done by taking a break from the news, and instead involving yourself in activities that feel engaging or useful, such as finding ways to be politically active from home. In terms of Wednesday’s events, this could look like writing letters to your Congressional representatives or creating art inspired by your anxieties. Other important methods of care include staying socially connected, and staying active to release the negative energy created by stress.
There are plenty more resources with coping tips and stress management advice out there, including a list from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and one from WebMD. There are also more hotlines to turn to, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255, or the Crisis Text Line, which you can reach by texting HOME to 741741. Vice President & Dean of Students Bruce Smith sent out an email on Jan. 7 providing a few Whitter College-specific resources, such as the Counseling Center (available at 562.907.4239, or at firstname.lastname@example.org), a few staff emails, like the Dean of Students Office (email@example.com) and Associate Dean for Campus Life Deanna Merino-Contino (Dmerinoc@whittier.edu), and more. (For WC students: if you would like to see more resources from the Dean, look for the email he sent on Jan. 7 titled ‘Message from Dean of Students Bruce Smith.’) The most important thing to remember is to take care of you and your loved ones first. The world can wait.
Featured Image: Courtesy of self.com