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CUNY SPS Counseling Services Offers Tips for Mental Health Awareness Month
This May is Mental Health Awareness Month and, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important for all of us in the CUNY SPS community to recognize how we need to take care of ourselves during this unprecedented time. Students in particular may find they are facing many different kinds of physical and psychological challenges at this time. Even though the School’s online classes have continued without interruption this semester, students may also be grappling with the threat of their own illness, or that of a loved one, along with child care and employment disruptions, and other life emergencies.
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Erin Jeanette, a clinical psychologist and the Counseling Services staff person at CUNY SPS, has been working tirelessly to provide mental health support to students. In her interactions, she has noticed how many are struggling to balance work, family, and school under this extremely stressful set of circumstances. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, and of all the difficulties so many are experiencing this Spring, Erin offers some suggestions on what students may do to help themselves cope better.
- Learn to Tolerate Your Own Imperfection
Erin notes that many students are suffering from expectations that they should be able to manage all their responsibilities expertly during this time, and are judging themselves harshly when they can’t do this as well as they used to.
For those of us with this mentality, Erin has a simple message: “Just recognize that none of us are going to be able to operate at 100% capacity, and that right now you’re not going to be perfect at everything.”
There are two main reasons why we are all struggling. First, our physical routines have been massively disrupted by the crisis and we may suddenly have a lot more work to do. This is particularly true for students who are working parents and now have to manage childcare on a full-time basis, along with their job and classwork.
Second, as we all try to manage the anxiety, fear, and stress triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, students may find it’s literally more difficult to think straight and carry out other tasks as effectively as they used to. Erin compares our minds to a computer. She observes, “When a computer runs a huge application, its other applications just naturally slow down so the system can process. Right now our minds are working to process all these strong emotions, so cognitively we’re not able to run at full speed.”
- Be Kind to Yourself
Given the fact that no one is going to be able to manage their responsibilities perfectly right now, Erin encourages students to be kind to themselves and practice self-compassion.
“Be a lot more forgiving of yourself with impossible tasks,” Erin urges. One way to do this, she noted, is to imagine that you are discussing your situation right now with a very good, loving, and empathetic friend. If you explained what you are going through, how would your friend treat you? What would they encourage you to do?
Thinking this way might help students lower their expectations and treat themselves far more gently than they might otherwise.
- Practice ‘Creative Trimming’
Finally, Erin suggests that students practice what she calls ‘creative trimming’, in which they temporarily quit or cut down on less important activities in their daily life in order to give themselves a little more space and time to process.
“Do what you can to make life a little easier for you right now,” Erin says.
For example, she prompts students to ask themselves, “What changes can I make to my daily routine right now to help give me some more space?” This could involve anything from rescheduling a work meeting for a less-urgent project or easing up on a daily cleaning schedule.
One way to practice creative trimming might be to take advantage of new CUNY policies offered in response to the pandemic. For example, the university system is now allowing all students to take their classes as pass/fail this semester. Erin notes that, if this option works for students, this is something they could choose to give themselves a break. (To learn more about these policies, visit the CUNY SPS and CUNY Continuity for Students pages.)
On a larger level, Erin offers these tips in hopes that students learn healthier ways to think and act that will help ease some of their stress.
As she explains, “I want to invite students to be thoughtful about what they need—and don’t need—during this difficult time.”
For resources, referrals, or other help related to the emotional demands of COVID-19, visit the CUNY SPS Counseling Services Resources for Students page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
New York City and New York State also offers mental health support. To learn more, please contact:
NYC Well - phone/text/chat mental health hotline
Text WELL to 65173
New York State COVID-19 Emotional Support Hotline
About the CUNY School of Professional Studies
For over 15 years, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) has been leading online education in New York. Offering the most fully online Bachelor’s and Master’s degree options at the City University of New York, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who are looking to finish a bachelor’s degree, advance from an associate’s degree, earn a master’s degree or certificate in a specialized field, and progress in the workplace or change careers.
The School’s growth has been remarkable, with twenty-three degrees launched since 2006. Enrollment has risen by more than 30% in the last four years to over 3,700 students in the credit-bearing programs and thousands more who are enrolled in non-degree and grant-funded workforce development programs. In addition, the School has an active Alumni network and has established the CUNY SPS Foundation, which offers multiple scholarship opportunities to current students.
CUNY SPS has been ranked in the nation’s top 5% by U.S. News & World Report for the past six years, most recently in its list of the 2020 Best Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs, making CUNY SPS the highest nationally listed program in New York State and New York City.
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