Facing the Unknown

During this time of uncertainty as we continue to wait for updates regarding COVID-19, it can be difficult to cope with the lack of control many of us feel over the situation. This situation is not something that any of us could have planned for or predicted, and has certainly affected the plans we have made for ourselves. Heading into summer as the sun begins to shine and the days are getting longer, it can be tempting to go out and enjoy all of the benefits of summer with friends and family. Feeling frustrated or upset that we cannot yet do all of the things we want to do is normal and those feelings are valid.

Allowing yourself to feel those emotions and not ignore them is one of the best things you can do. Acknowledging that while your plans may look different from how you imagined them, feeling sad, angry, or confused about that is okay. Focusing on the things you can control and altering plans so that you can still enjoy the summer while staying in line with the recommended guidelines can be helpful. Give yourself credit for the resiliency you have shown during this time in being flexible and adapting to new schedule and routines. One day, we will all be able to reflect on this time and realize the collective strength and courage it took to get through and feel proud.

For the 2020 graduates who are feeling slighted and upset, this is still your time to celebrate your accomplishments! Do your best to look for ways to honor your achievements; and of course, doing so while remaining safe.

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Here are the facts: according to the CDC, Illinois has over 51,000 cases and over 2,000 deaths as of May 1st. There are also over 1 million people worldwide who have recovered from COVID-19.

People who need extra precautions (CDC):
· older adults
· people with asthma
· people with HIV
· people with underlying health conditions
· people with disabilities
· pregnant and breastfeeding
· homeless population
· racial and ethnic minority groups

According to the CDC, there still needs to be research done to determine best practices to reduce the number of cases. Since we are still in the midst of this pandemic, a lot of information remains unclear. What we do know is that we do not help ourselves or others by panicking or blaming anyone for this pandemic. There are new discovered symptoms each day; the main symptoms the CDC suggests looking out for are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It is advised to continue wearing a face covering when in public and to avoid contact with others who are sick or who might be sick.

Remember, anyone can be affected by COVID-19; no matter your age, race, sex, ethnicity, economic status, or where you live. The CDC and WHO have information we can use to help prevent the spread and protect ourselves as best as we can. Simple ways we can protect ourselves from getting the virus involve washing your hands for at least 20 seconds often, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, cover your cough, and stay home when you are sick.

To the USF community, do your best to create the best summer possible in the midst of this shelter in place – we’re with you, together in solidarity!

Routines are Important

Hello, everyone! My name is Mary Johnson and I am a counseling intern at the USF counseling center. During this time of adjusting to all of the recent changes and transitioning to online school and work, I have made it a point to take time to reflect on my experiences as well as how I am dealing with these changes.

As I am sure many of you can relate, my plans for this spring semester did not unfold as I thought they would. I have experienced many emotions including frustration and confusion due to this. Any emotions you may be experiencing during this time is okay. I have seen other people experiencing anger or grief over the loss of things such as their graduation, time with friends, and freedom to do fun things like go out to restaurants or shopping.  

In terms of how I have been dealing with all of the recent change, although eating chips and watching Netflix all day can seem tempting, I have been doing my best to stick to my usual routine. Waking up and making breakfast before hopping on my computer to get work done sets a good tone for the day, and ensures I will be productive. Setting a daily schedule for yourself with a few tasks you would like to get done can be helpful in giving purpose to each day. If there is a day when you do not stick to your routine or schedule, that is okay! Be kind and gentle with yourself, and try again tomorrow.

Approaching COVID-19 as a Community

When the Coronavirus came to town, everything changed. “COVID” quickly became a term that even six-year-olds started using… “Mommy, when COVID is over, can I play with the neighbors again?” And like every other school, business and family out there, the University of St. Francis also had to make some big adjustments, including moving in-person classes to an online format.

At University of St. Francis, online learning was already taking place in the graduate program arena, so the challenge was to get the undergraduate students, who were used to meeting face-to-face, into the online space. Thankfully, the USF Department of Academic Technology and Information Technology teams were at the ready to provide teachers with the instructions and help needed to make this kind of transition possible, and their quick action and hard work is paying off as our students continue to learn… just from home.

Assistant professor Dr. Bonnie Covelli from the College of Business & Health Administration is proud of how her college has adapted to the changes over the past month.

“Our team has a long history of delivering curriculum online; however, not all courses are designed in this modality. The motion never stopped to support our students in this new reality. Not once did I hear someone say, ‘I can’t do it,’ or ‘it won’t work.’ Those who were more experienced jumped in to help others,” she said.

Audrey Davis in USF’s Social Work Department also felt proud of the way her colleagues helped each other and made the transition an easy one.

“It’s great to be part of department committed to meet the needs of our students during this time of uncertainty, she said. “The swift transition to online course delivery has been an adjustment to both faculty and students, but I’m proud to say that we are adapting well to our present ‘normal.’ Classes have been held in Teams and Zoom, registration has continued as previously scheduled, and some faculty hold virtual office hours using Conference. Students have worked with peers in virtual breakout groups during class and student feedback in these cases are quite inspiring. I am proud to be part of the Social Work Department and to work with such wonderful students!”

Dr. Sudipta Roy, associate professor of finance, has found great success holding class sessions at scheduled times using Canvas Conferences (aka BigBlueButton).

“I would say it’s been a pretty seamless transition, especially since my students were already familiar with BBB from us having used it earlier in the semester. Based on my observation, I think students really like the interactive whiteboard,” she said.

And some classes have been having fun while navigating unknown territory… literally. (Well, in a virtual sense, anyway!) In English professor Karen Duys’ literature class, students used Zoom to go on Google Maps together to get a bird’s eye view of the Old City of Jerusalem. 

Said Duys, “We used Street View to wander through the the city’s souk in the footsteps of Mr. Mani, the protagonist of the Israeli novel by Yehoshua I’m teaching. We ended up on the Temple Mount and went inside the Dome of the Rock where Abraham is said to have almost sacrificed Isaac, a narrative that the novel turns every which way. Although we tend to experience what we read, it is hard to do so when you don’t know the setting. We remedied that problem, soaring over the city and, each one of us with our small screen, and pushing our way through crowded passages, skipping up steps, turning down narrow lanes, passing under graceful arches, and getting deliciously lost.”

Two days later, Duys enthusiastically reported in a follow-up message… “Yeah!  Today we walked down the Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried the cross!”

It’s Okay to be Anxious

“It’s okay to be sad, and if you do feel sad or frustrated or angry, whatever you feel, let yourself feel that way… Don’t beat yourself up for being human.”
– Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker

The #LivingWiseAndWell team will be taking a different approach with content these next few weeks with this quote in mind, as they look to capture the essence of those who may be struggling with grief/loss at this time.

It’s okay to be anxious and worried.

I am not an anxious person. At least, that is how I attempt to appear with others.

Having control is one of the most essential components we look to enforce within our lives. My way of doing so is making my actions seem effortless, and demonstrating little emotional reactivity. When news first spread about the severity of this pandemic, I attempted to rationalize to stop from making the issue a “big deal.”

As more information was shared, there was ample consideration to be made regarding provisions, safety, security, and most importantly, health – the health of students I work with, colleagues, my loved ones, and of course, my own.

That jumpstarted my anxiety in the best/worst way possible.

When I become anxious, my neurotic side comes out – I will overthink every single physical sensation, occurrence, action, and gesture possible. For as logical as I am, it can be overwhelming to face a lack of control in circumstances that become more confusing concerning as time progresses.

There’s solace in that uncertainty, though, in letting go of the things you cannot control and taking ownership of that which you can.

If you are like me and have worries about what we’re going through (I call that part of me Neville, hello to the Harry Potter fans), let it have its space to live – it’s real, it’s genuine, and it’s not going anywhere. Acknowledge and embrace it for what it is: a part of you that is scared and needs affirmation that things will be okay.

No one knows how long this pandemic will last. You can use this time to get certain affairs in order: check-in on your goal list for life, make time to contact friends and family to share and listen, attend to errands, exercise, read, take breaks, sleep and do it over again.

You can choose to take an extended break; set a time limit, let yourself have those worry thoughts, cry if you need to, or max out on streaming music, movies, and/or videos. Once that time is up, take inventory and ask yourself: “What’s something I can do that demonstrates control in my life?

From something as small as brushing your teeth, to something big as volunteering to assist first responders, the more present you become with your feelings, the better off you become.

Content provided by:
Matthew N. Caston, Jr., M.A., LPC
USF Counselor

Boredom: Maintaining Health & Wealth

Boredom: Maintaining Health and Wealth

Imagine this: you’re self-quarantined at home, watching “The Office” for the 25th time (one of Matt’s favorites). The characters and their jokes don’t make you laugh as hard, so you get up and decide to:

a. Find some comfort foods to snack on.
b. Indulge in your favorite alcoholic beverage.
c. Find your vape/light a cigarette and smoke.
d. Go to bed and sleep.

Regardless of your choice, there is a high chance you’ve run into your old friend boredom again.

Like it or not, our lives been placed on an indefinite time-out with no signs of ending anytime soon. Unfortunately, that means: no dates, sports, social gatherings with family and friends, springtime festivals and events – nothing. There are those who are fortunate to work remotely from home, attend to either online class work or household chores, but after that’s done, what’s left?

Boredom is a common response that’s experienced when we’re feeling restless. It makes us feel sluggish, tired, and puts us into this mindset where we need to do something to change our moods and become focused or satisfied. However, it’s also when we attempt turning to ineffective habits to cure ourselves of those experiences; namely, sleep, food and substances like alcohol, smoking or illicit drugs.

While seemingly harmless, it only takes a few instances before it starts to affect your health. Your e-cigarette, drink, or snack, while fun and/or tasty, exposes your lungs, digestive system, kidneys, etc. to harm due to consistent usage and lowered moderation because of boredom. You gain a few pounds, lose muscle tone and strength, your immune system becomes compromised – leading you to possible risk of contracting COVID-19, and who wants that?

Here are some tips to help with curving boredom:

1. Implement time management skills!

Schedule your boredom breaks; how long they’ll be, what you’ll do, and try balancing it with tasks you have to complete.

2. Start new hobbies!

Whether it be learning the basic of a new language, how to cook, new workouts, or how to even practice time management (future entry about this subject coming soon), find something to invest in and commit!

3. Monitor distractions!

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in your favorite vices, but they are vices for a reason – check in with yourself about why you may be indulging in certain distractions; initially, the answer is “Because, I’m bored…” but there may be something underlying that’s not being acknowledged as well.

Effective Health Practices Concerning Nutrition

Ineffective health practices during the COVID-19 quarantine is something many are struggling with at this time. Below are some resources that offer tips and information about why these trends (overeating, alcohol/tobacco/marijuana consumption) occurs, and how to prevent major risks from occurring.

This article and news clip discuss the importance of staying healthy and avoiding overeating while staying home with the ability to snack all day. A clinical dietician was interviewed suggested that setting up a routine or structure to the day, even while at home, can be really beneficial for healthy eating patterns. Giving yourself a moment to breathe and ask if you are really hungry, or just bored or stressed before reaching for something to eat can also be helpful.

This article discusses how stress can affect our eating habits and offers five tips for curbing emotional eating. People often tend to crave foods higher in fat and sugar when stressed, which is why it may be more tempting to reach for a bag of chips than a piece of fruit.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website is a useful resource for staying aware of healthy practices through the Coronavirus pandemic. It has links for nutrition, health, fitness, recipes, and information for staying healthy with kids and general tips in a few different categories. It also has links for social media resources. There is a short article called “How to a Keep Your Immune System Healthy” that points out a few important things to think about, like keeping good hygiene and getting enough nutrients, and lists out nutrients and the foods where we can get those.

Here’s some information linking mental health and nutrition. This site also has some helpful tips when buying food and what people can look for again. It also has some helpful alternatives and information if people want to make easy changes to their diet that will help nutrition.

This article provides information on how unregulated marijuana consumption can affect our immune system. While it is difficult to link marijuana usage to the concerns regarding our body’s ability to maintain its strength and healing, studies have found that both marijuana and tobacco smoke are similar; demonstrating an impairment with respiratory function.

This article shares concerns from health care experts regarding the act of self-medication to ease loneliness, stress and boredom during this pandemic. A must-read to stay informed!

Content provided by:

Matthew N. Caston, Jr., M.A., LPC
Mary Johnson, Counseling Intern
Brooke Kochevar, Counseling Intern

Monitoring Stress

Living Wise and Well: Monitoring Stress

The USF Wellness Center shares information and tips to get through this unprecedented time.

In our current state of affairs with COVID-19, stress will be a large contributing factor with how we adapt to the global predicament moving forward. Stress is how our body attempts to become accustomed to recent changes in our lives! However, not many people are aware of the two different types of stress we face in our daily lives: eustress and distress.

Eustress can be defined as a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being. It’s when we utilize problem-solving skills to address quality of life issues like the decision to find a part-time job to make more money, or calling up a friend when we’re feeling sad.

Distress may be defined as an external and usually temporary cause of great physical or mental strain and stress. The more distress we find ourselves taking on in attempt to make sense of the problem, the more strain it causes on the mind, contributing to symptoms of depression and anxiety (feelings of hopelessness, sadness, agitation; avoidance of responsibilities; changes in appetite/sleep patterns).

If you, or your loved ones, find yourselves struggling with any of these complications, here are some healthy tips to remember:

1. Validate your feelings!

It’s okay to not be okay right now – you don’t need to have the answers just yet to the problems you’re currently facing. Provide yourself with some patience and understanding, and practice implementing positive affirmations (this is only temporary; it’s okay to be worried; I am focused on my well-being and health) to remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.

2. Get active!

Just because you are stuck at home does not mean there are not errands or tasks you can’t complete! Jot down a list of small chores to take on for the time being and after accomplishing those, create a list of larger, long-term goals to work on. The more our minds are active and focused, the more we can accomplish and feel good about!

3. Be flexible!

Presently, there is a lot of information being shared that is either credible and from a trustworthy source, or outright inaccurate. Take a break from your research and do something lighthearted: play a game, read a book, talk to family members and friends, look up funny memes and videos. When we make life stressful, our lives become stressful. Take time to brighten your day as well!

4. Extend kindness!

If you are reading this, you must be experiencing a lot of certainty and worry right now. Imagine how your loved ones are feeling as well; think of their well-being and make sure to check in on them when you can. Even our strongest friends or family members have vulnerable moments, so make sure to let them know they are loved and appreciated.

Resources for Monitoring Stress

The #LivingWiseAndWell team are happy to continue providing more assistance regarding stress management in the midst of COVID-19! Here are some articles and resources with tips and tricks to help manage symptoms of distress. Remember that not all stress is bad, but learning these tips and implementing them when distress does happen is key to coping in a healthy way and living well:

This resource is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The article discusses ways to manage anxiety and stress during stressful events, such as the emergence of COVID-19, as well as what stress can look like for different people.

  • Stress can include changes in eating or sleeping habits, fear and worry about your health and the health of loved ones, or increased use of alcohol or drug use. It is important to remember that stress does not look the same for everyone, and each person is going to have a different stress response.
  • Some of the tips for managing stress include taking breaks from the constant news updates on television and social media, making time to unwind and do an activity that you enjoy, and trying to eat healthy well-balanced meals to take care of your body!

This article focuses on tips for managing COVID-19 anxiety based on population. There are sections in this article for everyone: parents, caregivers, mental health providers, and individuals receiving mental health services. This article stresses the importance of not only taking care of your physical well-being, but also your psychological well-being.

  • Some tips for everyone from this article include: choosing reliable sources and establishing boundaries when checking for news updates. It is important to stay well informed, but it is equally important to be getting that information from trusted and reliable sources so that the information is accurate.
  • Another tip for everyone is to find or create spaces that are not focused on COVID-19, so that your mind has time to focus on other things. This can include calling a friend and discussing a different topic, watching a comforting show or movie, or reading a favorite book.

This article from NBC News discusses populations of people who may respond more strongly to the stress of an event. These groups include people who are at higher risk for COVID-19, children and teens, health care providers or first responders, or people who have mental health conditions. This article also breaks down how to best manage stress and anxiety based on the population, which can be very helpful when searching for tips for a specific person. There are tips for adults, children and teens, as well as people who have been released from quarantine.

Make sure to look out for another post from the Counseling Department’s #LivingWiseAndWell team with specific resources for managing stress!

Content provided by:

 Matthew N. Caston, Jr., M.A., LPC
Mary Johnson, Counseling Intern
Brooke Kochevar, Counseling Intern