Dr. Joyvina Evans is an Assistant Professor at Howard University in Washington D.C., a self-care advocate, author, speaker, Founder of Advocating for My Uterus (non-profit), and Creator of Confidence Academy. Dr. Evans earned a Ph.D. in Public Health, M.S. in Public Health, and M.S. in Administration. She completed the Women in Education Leadership Program through Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, Higher Education Teaching and Learning certificate online through Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, and earned the Executive Leadership and High-Performance Leadership Certificates from Cornell University’s E-learning platform.
Are you ok? This question is simple; however, it can significantly impact someone’s day. The impact of stress can have devastating effects on students and faculty. The effects can range from mental breakdown to participation in destructive behaviors or involve injury and loss of life. The physical health implications can range from cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, stroke, and potential death. Dealing with traumatic events and stressors can cause irrational behaviors and thoughts.
Many of us have felt the brunt and bruising of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19, coupled with significant changes to people’s social environments, including loss of work, housing and food insecurity, death of loved ones and friends, political unrest, changes to work and school, and increased household stress that may have led to increases in mental stress. COVID-19 significantly impacted students and faculty. Many college students and faculty experienced moderate psychological stress and required emotional services or care post-pandemic. Common themes are the “emotional rollercoaster,” “new normal,” and growth under pressure. These themes occur in spaces like the “real space” or physical, “wished space” or desired, and “virtual space or bridge between physical and desired.
We can remove COVID-19 from the equation and think about life in general. With the rigors of working in academia, creating engaging lectures, grading, research, and service, many faculty feel that there need to be more hours in the day. Couple this with universities still modifying instructional delivery, creating strategies to keep students and faculty safe, and developing policies that facilitate student success.
We have to take mental health and self-care seriously. There is a need for empathetic and compassionate environments that advocate for burnout prevention. Below are three free, simple, yet powerful solutions for students, faculty, and administration:
1. Ask questions: How are you doing? How was your day? Are you ok? These are simple yet powerful questions. However, here is a caveat. Do not just ask the questions; mean it. Genuinely care about them and their well-being. Let people know that you genuinely care about their well-being. Empathy and compassion go a long way.
2. Create a culture for self-care: Ensure that students and faculty are taking time to rest and reset. Hold each other accountable for self-care. For instance, for faculty, make a pact and agree to not work on the weekend. Then ensure that there is no sending, reading, or responding to emails on the weekends. There is an opportunity to help students and faculty develop a time management plan and incorporate self-care into their routines.
3. Host free or low-cost wellness workshops: There is an opportunity to provide meditation workshops and even yoga for faculty and students. Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga all have research that supports positive effects on mental health. If this does not work, then consider starting walking groups and other activities known to decrease stress and increase relaxation.