Tommy C. Wild, a psychology intern with Texas A&M University Counseling and Psychological Services, shares resources and best practices for dealing with stress and maintaining mental health in stressful times.
Mental health is important. In times of pandemic and unpredictability, like COVID-19, your wellbeing is paramount. But when everything you read and every picture you see is about the coronavirus, how do you cope with things like anxiety, isolation and stress? How do you maintain your mental health in a global health crisis? Welcome to SoundBytes. Last episode on Engineering, Connected, we talked with the Texas A&M University Career Center about what students can be doing to prepare for life in the workforce and how the career center can help. This episode, we’re talking about mental health and the resources Texas A&M has available during these trying times. I’m Hannah Conrad and my co-host Steve Kuhlmann and I are joined by Tommy C. Wild, a Psychology Intern with Counseling and Psychological Services. Take it away, Steve:
Tommy, thanks for joining us. You know, I don't think it's any secret that these are stressful times for all of us. What are some of the resources that are available through the university's counseling and psychological services right now?
Tommy C. Wild: 1:19
So I think that we've really had to hustle to make sure that we could do this because at first we weren't sure what we'd be able to provide for students during this time when they're not physically on campus. Because historically, the vast majority of work that we've done has been in-person individual counseling, in-person group counseling, in-person workshops and so forth and in-person outreaches. So you know, instances like this where we can reach people through Zoom. You know, the helpline is still available during this time, so students are in crisis and can't get a hold of their counselor or a counselor that this is a great time to still reach out to our helpline volunteers after hours. And you know some of the restrictions on doing teletherapy have been lifted, at least within, you know, it's on a state by state basis, sure, but CAPS now, like for students in Texas, they can still access us. You'll get an initial phone consultation and, you know, potentially if it seems like they're a good fit for teletherapy, then we can do appointments over Zoom, and I've been able to do that with the vast majority of my clients throughout the semester. That's been wonderful. What we've done is people that have some started putting some of our workshops about getting unstuck, managing anxiety on YouTube and so things that you know, before we would have had to have these, like, 'Are you gonna show up in this physical space at 1 p.m. on a Thursday?' And people have these scheduling conflicts. Now, these videos are super informative, and people are going to get the same kinds of information that they would if they had to come in person. So these videos being online now we still have access for our students to the Sanvello app. The premium version, so students can, you know, track their moods. They can check in with the app every day to kind of look at how their moves are shifting and what kind of emotions they're feeling and journal what their experiences are. They can still engage in guided meditations, and, you know, have space to do those and track how those are helping them out. So I think CAPS has really come at this quick with a lot of - we try to figure things out really quickly, and it's at the point now where it's pretty smooth, we're accessible. We can meet the demand of the students who want counseling at this time. So I would say those of the chief things. And now, like we're even able to offer some psychiatric services as well, which you know, historically, we've been able to do in-person, but us and student health are still operating for students during this time.
When we're looking at hard times like these when everything's a little uncertain. What are some ways that stress can manifest for people?
Tommy C. Wild: 4:04
So I think, um, there's all sorts of different ways that it manifests. I think one of the things that students and so many people like is just having some structure in their day. And so when the rug is completely pulled out from under you, and so many of the plans that maybe you've laid that have looked like they were going to be consistent, something to look forward to, whether that is like Ring Day, graduation, just spending time with your friends, you know, going out, being social. You know, seeing people in classes, all of those things that people kind of depend on for a degree of normalcy and stability in their lives have gone out. And some people are adapting quite well to those changes, maybe better than they expected under the circumstances, and other people are finding that you know that inconsistency leads to some days being quite manageable and good, maybe not that different from how things would normally be and some days feeling kind of empty and scary and feeling a little bit hopeless about the future, because that sense of control over their destinies has gone out the window. So I think what I've seen is some people feeling more anxious than they've ever felt. And, of course, that is so perfectly understandable in a way that it's never been so understandable because we're all coping with this in some way. So those things that may be invisible to us, like now we all have this added layer of COVID-19, you know, changing our lives in one way or another, some more dire than others.
What are some of the ways that people can take this into their own hands and manage this stress?
Tommy C. Wild: 5:44
Well, I think that it does vary from person to person, but there are some things that most everyone has some degree of control over some level of access to, and obviously, if they don't have those things, that's a completely separate discussion. But certain things that you can control to some degree would be like trying to re-establish that norm that you had before to the largest degree that you can. So I think for some students who have kind of depended on things being steady and stable and predictable and having like alarms on their phone and knowing when they're gonna have to have their physical bodies in different physical spaces, trying to re-establish what they want their routine to look like now. I think in a time that is pretty chaotic and like whether you're a school or whether your work or whether you're just trying to relax, if you're doing that kind of all in the same room, you're kind of gonna always feel like these things are blending together in a way that is almost entirely unpalatable. Most people do not multitask well, even if they think that they do so, so trying to find different ways to say OK, during the week, I would normally get up at 6 a.m. and I'm gonna keep doing that. Even though my commute has gone from 20 minutes to 20 seconds, I'm gonna still go to bed at a consistent time of the evening. Instead of staying up till two or three. I'm going to build some things into my day. They're going to be kind of constant fixtures and not have a lot of flexibility around that. Just so I feel anchored at various points during my day.
We wanted to take a quick break to say we know that everyone is handling the challenges of COVID-19 differently. So we want to hear from you: Let us know how you’re adapting. Send us a short voice clip -- 30 seconds or less -- to email@example.com. That’s bytes with a Y. We’ll be on the lookout and will select a few submissions to feature in an upcoming episode. Now, back to the conversation.
I think anchored is a really good word to use in this situation. I think a lot of people and myself included, feel a little bit untethered as we kind of float through all the responses to COVID-19 and trying to figure out What do we do? What do we not do? One thing that I feel like kind of affects me and makes me untethered is the feeling of isolation and disconnect. And you know, not seeing your friends not being able to go to classes in person. What are some ways that people can work on kind of cutting down that distance and feeling connected and not isolated?
Tommy C. Wild: 8:28
Yeah, I mean, that's really the $1,000,000 question. So in terms of kind of feeling connected, I think it's important to be honest about how we're really feeling and how we're dealing with this. In an age of social media so often, people have their online persona and then they've got, like, their real-life self. And these things are going to just blend more and more as we're becoming more reliant on technology. We can't always put like our best face out there, so it may be a great time. To try to reach out to people who maybe have - we take them for granted a little bit, where they fallen kind of to the wayside. The people that you know we care about. Maybe those relationships have atrophied a bit. And so yes, please do connect and you Facetime or audio. If you're tired of looking at a screen all day, I don't think people are going to go back to writing letters or anything. But just think about the people who maybe you want to reach out to and just checking to see how they're doing. Maybe who are those people, aside from family and friends and significant others that you can check in on, see how they're doing, see what they've been up to and just offer a kind listening ear and hopefully find the same thing in return.
You know, you touched on this briefly just a minute ago, but something that we're all dealing with, whether it's school or a job, is trying to balance that work life and personal life, all in one space. Do you have any tips for how people can try to manage those two sides without letting them bleed too much over into each other?
Tommy C. Wild: 0:00
Yeah, I think this is a time where hopefully people have enough flexibility in their lives that they're allowed to have some firmer boundaries maybe then they would be used to. I mean, usually, if you're already kind of in an office setting or a classroom setting, those things are more or less fixed, based on whatever the nature of your work is. Those kind of old rules are going out the window right now. And so if it's not gonna be incumbent on your employer or your professors or whomever else kind of has a little bit more say about what your day looks like, than you do, then it could be a really great opportunity to be a little bit more assertive about what you need and to say, 'Alright, don't expect to receive an email response for me after 5 p.m. You know, that's when I leave this workspace for the day, and I don't restart things up until you know I'm gonna return the next day unless it's an emergency.' So being firmer about what our boundaries are, and that goes for, like, not just work relationships, but even personal relationships like let the people in your life know that even if you're going to be working from home or taking classes from home, that there are certain times where they're gonna have to be patient and not just think. Well, if you're at home right now, that means that, you know, we're all just kind of chilling. I think this is a great time for people to practice their assertiveness and to say, 'Yeah, I wanna have firmer boundaries right now for my own mental health and so I'm not getting overloaded by all of these requests.' So if the technology is not gonna let us - if the expectation is that, well, if I can be reached by email, then, theoretically, I'm available 24 hours a day to say, 'No, I'm - you can send me an email 24 hours a day, but don't expect a response outside of these hours because that's not fair to me. It creates unfair expectations for not just me, but other people who work in that space.' So it's a good time for solidarity around work.
Well, before we wrap up, is there anything else that you want to make sure that people know?
Tommy C. Wild: 12:15
I would say probably the most important thing is trying to just get yourself a schedule that you feel happy with. I think during this chaotic time. This is a real opportunity to try new things, and that could mean hobbies. That could mean integrating like long walks with social distancing, with few people that you know. It can mean taking up yoga or doing like exercise routines on YouTube or whatever else. But I think just being open with people trying to maintain good social connections, not - just because you're isolated doesn't mean that you have to be isolating yourself emotionally and close yourself off from the world like physically as well as emotionally. So I hope that students still reach out to counselors as we're needed. I hope they're reaching out to friends and family members and that everyone is safe and, you know, right now maybe the goal isn't thriving through all of this, but just kind of surviving, keeping our heads above water and looking out for one another.
Wherever you’re listening from, remember that you have an entire Aggie network beside you. Regardless of distance, you are never disconnected. Join us, again, next episode, when we discuss what Texas A&M Engineering is doing to help support those combatting COVID-19. We will be joined by Dr. Yossef Elabd, associate dean of research in the College of Engineering. Until next time, stay safe and gig ‘em.
Thanks for listening to the Texas A&M Engineering: SoundBytes podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the hosts and guests and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Texas A&M University System.