Social distancing has significantly altered the way we work, live and communicate. Navigating all the lifestyle changes we have to make now may seem difficult or overwhelming.
That’s why the ISSS virtual community is organizing Thoughtful Thursdays, a series of events open to international students and scholars, periodically hosted in the UT International Students Facebook Group.
Thoughtful Thursdays are designed to help listeners exercise and broaden their minds as they transition to staying home. Programming includes discussions about how to manage mental health and features guest speakers from around campus who offer advice on wellness, lead viewers on virtual museum tours and more.
Mike Andorka, a counselor at UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, spoke at the first Thoughtful Thursday session. He encourages students and scholars to take advantage of the sessions and learn more about the mental health resources available.
“Thoughtful Thursdays creates a unique and easy way for students to learn about mental health and wellness outside traditional therapy services,” he explained. “For some of us, our cultural communities may not believe or endorse traditional therapy services. Therefore, going to a Wellness Workshop or Thoughtful Thursday is a great way to learn about mental health in more culturally-appropriate ways.”
During the session, Andorka offered the following advice for those staying home.
Creating and sticking to a routine can help you stay focused and foster a sense of normalcy. Common routines include what you do in the morning, like getting up and getting dressed, or what you do in the evening, like a skincare routine before bed. Simple activities and habits can include making your bed every day, working out for an hour three times a week, or even doing laundry at a certain time. By performing such tasks, you tend to be more energized overall instead of spiraling down into a slump.
Schedule Social Gatherings
With more space between us now, we all have to be increasingly intentional about socializing. Casually bumping into people and making social plans on the spot isn’t an option. Make the effort and reach out to the people you care about. Texting and calling your friends and family regularly is an effective way to keep the negative feelings of quarantine and self-isolation at bay. Schedule some fun activities with them, like playing games, watching a movie or chatting over coffee. Despite the distance, several in-person activities can be modified by video-calling or using online multi-user services.
Set Boundaries around the News
The news can tend to feel especially overwhelming and upsetting. While it is important to stay informed and updated, it is also important to take care of yourself and your mental health. One way of regulating how the news affects you is by setting up simple boundaries. It is unhealthy to stay glued to the news all day, so before you tune in, ask yourself, ‘Will consuming the news be helpful? Or would it be better for my mental health to do something else?’ If your answer to the second question is yes, then do anything else you feel is more deserving of your time and energy.
Balancing Anxieties and Feelings of Control
During a crisis, there are many things out of our control. It is easy to succumb to anxieties and feelings of helplessness. This is common, and if you are experiencing these thoughts, you are definitely not alone in doing so. However, it is crucial that we remind ourselves constantly of the things we are in charge of, like our routines, work and social interactions. Focus on the things that you can control and less on those you cannot. By focusing on ourselves and what we can do, we become more forgiving and gentle with ourselves as well as with others. A positive attitude is a key component to preserving mental health.
To learn more about how to support yourself emotionally, check out UT associate professor Kristin Neff’s advice on UT News.
Anchor Yourself by Practicing Mindfulness
Being more open, aware and focused forms greater states of peace and acceptance. Today’s world is quite chaotic; being grounded can help create a sense of order, balance and control. Andorka recommends checking out mindfulness workshops by psychotherapist Russ Harris. Harris has created a set of activities that include podcasts, workbooks and other resources for learning mindfulness.
Visit Harris’s website to access his materials on mindfulness and well-being.
Members of the UT community are encouraged to take advantage of CMHC’s extensive resources. Scholars can take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program, which offers various forms of counseling, including video sessions. Students can book a teleconferencing appointment with a licensed counselor or psychiatrist by calling CMHC’s main line at 512-471-3515. If you are experiencing a crisis, please call the CMHC crisis line at (512)-471-2255, available 24/7.
For more information about these tips or the CMHC’s services, email Mike Andorka. Be sure to check in to the next Thoughtful Thursday session on April 30, posted in the UT International Students Facebook Group.