Q & A: Staying Emotionally/Mentally Healthy in Virtual Academia

  • April 8th, 2020
Sha-Rhonda Green
Dr. Sha-Rhonda Green

The one constant in these changing times is exactly that, change.

And as things continue to shift in a world still reeling from a global pandemic, it is vital to learn how to deal with continuous change, fear, stress, anxiety, distancing and quarantining.

Dr. Sha-Rhonda M. Green, an assistant professor of social work at The University of Alabama and a licensed clinical social worker who’s been a licensed mental health therapist for the last 16 years, has tips about how to cope.

Q: How do people deal with fear and other strong emotions overwhelming them during this pandemic?

A:
People have to increase their emotional intelligence. Any time something traumatic happens it’s not abnormal or something to apologize for when people become overwhelmed. It’s very human to regress to older behaviors that make you feel comfortable or safe.

It’s a normal human response for people to have food or eating challenges, or have intrusive thoughts and other problems. Old wounds are re-opened; you can feel helpless, distressed or depressed … any past trauma for a person can be reactivated.

The first thing to understand is that as you see the news about this pandemic, becoming anxious, angry, overwhelmed, lethargic or unmotivated is normal. It’s a pandemic, which is a crisis, and it affects all of us in different ways. We have to acknowledge the gravity of it.

Second, people are grieving for their hoped-for outcomes. There are students who dreamed about graduating and they’re not going to have the experiences they dreamed about. They’ll still graduate, but it won’t be materialized in the way they thought.

“This can trigger stress flare ups and people with autoimmune diseases can be more apt to inflammation with the release of cortisol.

So emotional intelligence is people realizing they’re grieving, realizing they have to work or go to school, and understanding that they’re having old flare ups. Some people may say suck it up, but that may not work because COVID-19 won’t last for a week.

Q: So, once people raise their emotional intelligence and get a firm grip on what they’re feeling and why, what’s the next thing they should do to successfully move forward?

A: I used to say take it day by day, but now that’s not enough. We have to now take it moment by moment. Create a schedule, because that’s something you can control.

Set what time you wake up, connect with your spirituality or your religion so that you can be grounded, and do whatever else is in your schedule.

Q: Specific to a university setting, how do faculty members cope with transitioning to virtual instruction while dealing with all the other challenges this pandemic comes with?

A: At the University, we’re learning to transition from face-to-face to remote and online learning and we have to remember kindness, gentleness and loads of grace. As professors, we need to have more patience with our students in how we’re doing assignments. There are ways to accommodate.

Also, breathe. When we’re panicked our body goes into fight or flight and breathing becomes more labored. Breathe, drink water, get sleep and rest. Have moments of being still and times when you’re moving, exercising.

When you move your body it is releasing endorphins which make you feel more happy and give you a different response to life.

Q: Other tips?

A: Dance, stretch, exercise, eat as nutritionally dense food as you can. Because when we’re stressed, our bodies are going to crave less nutritionally dense foods — caffeine, sugar.

It’s normal to feel anxious and people want their mom and dad — even adults — or whoever is their caretaker because it’s overwhelming. So the most simple things we can do are to take care of our bodies, minds and thoughts.

Disrupt your thoughts from saying you’re anxious or nervous. Do something where you can enjoy a great moment. “I’m enjoying this glass of water, this will be a great nap and I will be refreshed.”

A way to combat these feelings of intrusive thoughts is gratitude, which is being thankful and willing to show appreciation. If we’re constantly saying we’re overwhelmed, our brains will pull the things that have made us feel overwhelmed. I may not be graduating the way I want, but I’m graduating. I have access to clean water. I have these important people in my life.

So focus on the good stuff, even though you’re aware of the bad stuff.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.