Counseling Services offers support as WMU returns to campus

Contact: Erin Flynn
An illustration of a video call with a counselor.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Masks. Social distancing. Modified schedules and modes of instruction. The COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of everyday life, and higher education is no different. While adapting routines for health and academic success is critical, it's also important to keep social and emotional well-being in mind.

"Self-care during this stressful time is paramount," says Dr. Brian Fuller, director of Counseling Services at Western Michigan University's Sindecuse Health Center. "Students should remember that they have never experienced anything like this in their lifetime. It's okay to not have all of the answers and to need extra support."

Techniques to manage pandemic-related anxiety

  • Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Maintain good nutrition and regular meals.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Stay active, and spend time outdoors if possible.
  • Practice yoga, meditation, deep breathing, etc.
  • Stay connected and check in with others regularly.
  • Develop and maintain a routine.
  • Reach out for support if needed.
  • Limit the time you spend taking in COVID-19 news.
  • Monitor local, state and federal health sites for updated and accurate information.

The transition from "normal life" to stay-at-home orders and distance learning was abrupt in March. Simple tasks like shopping for groceries, sharing meals with friends and meeting with colleagues changed drastically to limit contact and mitigate spread of COVID-19. As fall semester approaches, many students indicate they are eager to return to campus and reestablish connections. But leaving the safety net of close family and the controlled bubbles of home could be daunting for some.

"Increased anxiety, depression, fear, feelings of being overwhelmed, inability to focus or concentrate, isolation, boredom, anger and frustration are a few emotions one might experience during this pandemic," Fuller says. "It's important to stay virtually connected with others. Take time during the conversation to discuss your experiences and associated emotions."

As long as proper safety precautions are taken, it's possible to meet in small groups and maintain personal relationships as well as collaborative discussions. Registered student organizations and other groups will still have the ability to connect and hold events in accordance with health and safety regulations. Still, there will be noticeable differences to everyday life on campus.

"It will be important for students to balance a desire to return to campus with realistic expectations of what campus life will allow for during COVID-19. Complying with new health and safety guidelines, such as social distancing, mask wearing, testing and contact tracing, will be an adjustment for everyone," Fuller says.

In addition to health concerns, the pandemic has given way to a financial crisis that has led to upheaval and uncertainty in many families. These stressors can amplify feelings of hopelessness, loneliness and anxiety and lead to unhealthy coping techniques such as impulsive behavior, engaging in risky activities, increased use of tobacco or alcohol, binge eating or oversleeping. Self-monitoring and checking in on those around you are essential to wellness and productivity. Counseling Services has a number of mental health resources available to students, including:

  • Telehealth services for students living in Michigan.
  • Weekly webinars.
  • Crisis appointments (available Monday through Friday).
  • "Let's Talk," a window from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday where students can connect and have drop-in, virtual conversations with a counselor.

Some processes and programs have been modified as a result of the pandemic. Visit the Counseling Services webpage for updated information. Faculty and staff who are interested in personal counseling can access the HelpNet Employee Assistance Program.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.