When California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) students were sent home last spring for a few weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, many believed they would be back on campus to finish the semester. However, six months has passed and students remain at home with no guarantee that they will be back on campus anytime soon. Students and staff are facing a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety due to the change to online work and school. Additionally, the pandemic created fear and division within our country and isolated people in a time when they needed the support of others most.
Ana Gomez Salvatierra is a third-year student at CSUMB and the President of Active Minds, a club dedicated to supporting mental health awareness. She said, “staying at home due to COVID has impacted my mental health. Like many other students, I returned back home in the middle of the semester hoping this would all be over soon. Unfortunately, it was not.”
Salvatierra felt the emotional burden of her increased self isolation while separated from her friends and partner for long periods of time. “It created a lot of anxiety in my life,“ she said.
Many other individuals are feeling isolated right now, which leads to the creation of extra doubts and worries. Jessica Lopez, who has been a counselor at CSUMB’s Personal Growth and Counseling Center (PGCC) for ten years said, “common unhelpful thinking styles include all or nothing thinking – ‘either I do it right or not at all,’ statements or saying ‘I should be more productive,’ and jumping to conclusions like ‘they aren’t going to like me,’ or overgeneralizing – ‘everything about 2020 is awful.’ These thinking patterns can be harmful and negatively impact how we feel and what we do.”
These statements also tend to reinforce themselves because people filter the information they are receiving to fit the criteria of those negative affirmations. Lopez suggested students and staff to challenge these thoughts by asking, “is this helpful? Is this thought true 100 percent of the time? Am I looking at the big picture? Would I say this to a friend?” She also encouraged those who are experiencing mental health issues to make a counseling appointment at the PGCC in order to, “begin exploring their thoughts and beliefs with a counselor who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.”
Even though students and staff now mainly work and study from home this does not mean they are less distracted. Sandra Garcia is a second-year transfer student who works and attends school full time. She has no WiFi access at home and joins many of her classes during her shifts. “My coworkers like to walk by and see how virtual classes and work are, so it’s hard to concentrate at times.” She, like many other students, has little time in the day to check in with herself and take a moment to refocus.
Simply breaking up the pattern of moving straight from one activity to another and instead focusing on your own needs and feelings can be helpful in easing your mind. Salvatierra said, “if you are feeling very overwhelmed, take a break. It is okay to be unproductive. Allow yourself to take some time to do something you enjoy or do a mindfulness activity … practice positive self-talk- it is important to validate your own feelings and reassure yourself.”
Lopez echoed these suggestions offering some simple ways to be mindful. “You can practice being mindful when you wash your hands by paying attention to the way the cool water feels on your body. You can [also] take three deep breaths every time you sit down,” she said.
Hearing that others struggle with the same issues and worries can help alleviate stress and the sense of isolation. Joining a club is a great way to find a like minded community. Salvatierra’s club Active Minds helps people find time for self care, while breaking the stigmas surrounding mental health issues. The first general club meeting will take place on Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. via Zoom. To join, email [email protected] to be added to the emailing list.
CSUMB students and staff are adapting to these difficult times but should know their emotions are valid when reaching out for help, whether that be from the PGCC, a campus community member or a friend or family member. Lopez said she believes, “people are resilient. I’m hopeful that CSUMB students and staff will manage these difficult times, grow, and become a healthier and more united campus community as a result.”