APA webinar gives students tips to cope with social distancing

by Karina Aguilar / Staff Reporter

The American Psychological Association logo.

The American Psychological Association hosted a Webinar led by Dr. Lynn Bufka and Dr. Valie Wright called “Coping in an era of coronavirus: A webinar for students.”

Along with plenty of other professors in the psychology department, assistant professor Dr. Jessica Paxton recommended this webinar to her Roosevelt students.

“My hope is that the webinar will provide students with a sense that they are not alone,” said Paxton. “I hope they know that the American Psychological Association — which leads the field of psychology — as well as their university and professors value them and recognize that this is a stressful time for them.”

When discussing the difficulties students may face with online schooling, Dr. Bufka and Dr. Wright emphasized the importance of keeping realistic expectations and practicing self care for success in class. 

“It might just be really hard to focus on something in class right now. We all need to give ourselves a little bit of a break,” said Dr. Wright. “Recognize that this is hard and then do the best that you can to engage in good coping. Maintain good self care so that we can keep our emotional reserves up and we can focus as much as possible.”

The presenters also provided students with some tips to stay focused on school work.

“If you can, carve out a working area that is as free from distractions as possible. Try really hard to have a routine,” said Dr. Wright. “Try to get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, and have dedicated time to work. If you don’t maintain your self care there is no way you are going to be an effective worker.”

Aside from that, the doctors made some additional recommendations specific to classes that are held via zoom. 

Dr. Lynn Bufka.

“When you’re having meetings, it may be a little uncomfortable to be on the screen, but it really helps you connect to see the other people and who is talking,” said Dr. Bufka. “I really encourage everybody to use that function to help connect to other people and feel like you’re not isolated or alone”

When an audience member asked about coping with missing out on experiences because of social distancing, the speakers addressed how to go about dealing with these disappointments.

“The reality is we have lost some of the experiences that, particularly seniors, were looking forward to this year. Whether that’s graduating, going on internships or whatever it is that people were looking forward to that have been altered, it is tough to deal with,” said Dr. Wright. “It is going to require a little bit of grieving and a little bit of reframing how we think about celebrations. We are going to have to think about different ways we can honor the amazing work that you’ve done after all of this.”

The doctors talked about a lot more than just schooling. They also shared advice for staying healthy. 

“Really you have to go back to the foundation always, and that means: how do I get decent sleep, how do I get some regular activity, can I have decent nutrition and have social support,” said Dr. Bufka. “That’s your foundation for staying healthy and well.”

There is plenty more that goes into health other than just maintaining physical health. As the American Psychological Association, they explained other strategies for staying in the best possible mental health throughout these dark times. 

“There’s nothing to like about this situation at all, but we have to try and accept this is our reality for a while. Let yourself feel your feelings — even if they are negative ones — they serve a purpose,” explained Dr. Wright. “They remind us of the things that are important in our lives. Try to refocus on what is in your control.”

A lot of students in the webinar expressed that they were struggling with anxiety and loneliness while being stuck inside. The speakers, of course, had a lot of advice and coping mechanisms to provide students with in these scenarios.

Dr. Valie Wright.

“It is important to separate feeling lonely from being alone. It has to be an active thing you do to reach out to others,” advised Dr. Wright. “A lot of coping skills are individualized so it’s important to have a lot of them. I use a toolbox as my analogy for this. A hammer is great for hanging up a picture, but it’s not going to put a chair together. Coping skills are the same. You need a variety of them in case one stops working or you don’t have access to it. Be really active, be creative, figure out what works best for you, it might not be the same thing that works for your friends. Identify the things that make you able to take a breath and let those shoulders drop.”

Dr. Bufka addressed the reality of dealing with depression during social distancing, or as they called it, physical distancing. 

“It’s so hard to reach out. The thing you need the most is contact with others, yet you have the least motivation to do so when you’re feeling depressed,” said Dr. Bufka. “If you have had therapy before, reach out to that therapist again. Think about the things that have helped you previously in times of depression and figure out if there is a way to do them differently. Give yourself credit for the things you have done well and the small victories.”

As far as keeping up with the news, the doctors advised that students set limits on how much they are reading the news. They expressed the importance of trying to find more positive articles to balance out with the negative ones. 

“It’s important to stay informed particularly around local issues in your community and state, but put some boundaries around how much media you’re taking in general,” explained Dr. Wright. “It often feeds anxiety rather than reduces it and so if you know that that is something that happens for you, take a break. Walk away and put the device down.”

Overall, this seminar seems like it is a great resource for students that are struggling with social distancing. Dr. Bufka and Wright provide students with excellent advice and coping skills to make it through this process in the best way possible.

“Everyone is going through a crazy transition right now, and yes it is very overwhelming but now is the time for self care and to make sure those around you (loved ones, family ,and friends) are staying inside, healthy and safe,” said Maggie Vasha, a junior psychology major. “You are not alone and if you are in need of any help, reach out to professors, friends and family — we are all in this together.”

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