Staying physically, mentally healthy on campus
MARQUETTE — Now that the holiday season has wrapped up, life is starting to get back to normal. Or at least, as normal as we can hope for during the historic times we are living in.
With all of the upheaval and challenges presented by the pandemic, finding any modicum of normalcy in unprecedented times can be play a vital role in keeping you healthy, both physically and mentally.
As we get back to real life, our normal responsibilities return. For some, that means getting back to business as everyone returns to the office after weeks of voicemails and automated emails explaining that whoever you are looking for is “out of the office” for the foreseeable future. For many of us, this means that school is back in session.
COVID-19 has forced all of us to adapt. This is particularly true on college campuses all across the country. College students of all ages have been forced to maintain a level of flexibility and willingness to change their day-to-day lives on the drop of a dime. Classes can go from in-person to online in a moment’s notice. Many college students are also missing out on the classic college experience with many activities where socializing is encouraged being scrapped due to safety protocols.
It’s no surprise that a study by the National Institute of Health found that 71% of college students have admitted to increased stress and anxiety due to COVID-19.
Neil Baumgartner, director of Student Success and Wellness at Northern Michigan University, has been working hard to try and alleviate some of that stress.
Once a week, Baumgartner sends out a university-wide email which aims to promote the physical and mental well-being of both students and faculty. He does this by providing tips and exercises that encourage the NMU community to take action towards keeping their school life in balance with their mental and physical health, as well as providing information about the resources that the campus offers to help.
“COVID is dominating the whole spectrum of health. It’s having an impact on our mental health and our physical health, whether it’s people who are getting sick or people who are feeling anxious about the constant uncertainty,” Baumgartner said. “We’ve been doing this for nearly two years now and were still not sure about how this is going to play out. That constant uncertainty and low-level anxiety, or for some, even high-level anxiety, it’s a kind of an undercurrent which effects everyday life.”
It’s not a secret that pandemic life can be difficult. Personally, professionally and academically, coronavirus is making life challenging. The NMU campus is no different.
“If you look nationally, research study after research study is coming out and pointing to the fact that mental health is a prominent concern on multiple college campuses,” Baumgartner said. “From what I’ve heard from our students it is also a concern. We are trying to find ways to help address mental health concerns and provide students with resources.”
Luckily for Northern students, the campus offers plenty of resources to help combat the virus and all of the problems that surround it.
Northern provides free counseling services for any enrolled students who need them. They offer professional, confidential licensed counseling for students who are struggling with stress and anxiety, not only the anxieties produced by the pandemic, but for any of the many types of struggles brought about by academic life, whether it be personal issues or burnout from a heavy class schedule.
Another resource that Baumgartner points to is Therapy Assistance Online, or TAO, which the university describes as “An online library of engaging, interactive programs to learn life skills and to help you bounce back from disappointments or stumbling blocks in life.”
“It (TAO) has strategies for developing mental health behaviors. Some of it is about how to tackle stress or helpful relationship advice,” Baumgartner said. “But a lot of it is about optimizing. It’s about how to find flow, it’s about how to find your best self. It’s not just about how to find help if your struggling.”
While times are hard all over, NMU students and faculty should feel lucky to have someone like Baumgartner, who was hired to the role in 2021 and immediately started a discussion about how to keep in a good physical and mental state by providing tips and resources for everyone. His most recent email suggests an exercise which can be helpful for anyone, not only college students.
For the next week, take 10 minutes each night to identify three good things you experienced that day.
If possible, this exercise works best if it is not just a mental exercise, and you document your thoughts in some way.
Many people choose to write out their thoughts, but you could also approach this in a different way that works better for you like drawing pictures or creating a short video if you’re so inclined.
Describe in detail what each thing was, why you consider it to be a good thing, who else was involved, and how you felt when you experienced it.
Allow the ideas to flow and experience the positive emotions that come with recalling your three good things without worrying about structure or how it looks. This is just for you.
When you’ve finished capturing your three good things, review what you’ve come up with and relive those positive moments. This will help to recreate the same positive emotions and further imprint the experiences in your brain.