Sept. 29, the University of Wisconsin released a message titled, “October events focus on self-care and community well-being.” This message comes right in time for the month of October, a month otherwise known as Mental Health Awareness Month.
The message offers students information on what UW is calling the CommUNITY Well-Being Month — a month dedicated to 31 days of virtual learning and discussion that will include presentations, resources, and suggested activities.
These virtual learning programs and discussions will center around the topics of mindfulness, environment, health, safety, connections and meaning — along with specific sessions focused on COVID-19 and a “Racial Healing & Transformation Series.” The “Racial Healing & Transformation Series” will be dedicated to focusing on the intersection of racism, health and well-being.
While these sessions and discussions offer UW students 31 days dedicated to self-care and community well-being, it is important to recognize that there is much more to be done as the seasons change and while COVID-19 is still prevalent. After a summer that offered students a slight relief of outdoor lunches enjoyed near the Capital, Union Terrace study dates, lakeshore walks and evenings outdoors — the month of October offers new challenges not yet experienced.
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October asks us not only how to bring awareness to mental health, but also how to cope with mental health in cold weather with a pandemic. Already, a plunge in temperature has led to an end of many outdoor activities previously enjoyed by students around the UW campus.
In an article published by The New York Times, mental health experts Kim Gorgens, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver, and Bethany Teachman, a University of Virginia psychologist specialized in anxiety, acknowledged that the impending pandemic fall is going to “be brutal … it’s unprecedented on every scale.” But, Gorgens and Teachman have recommended a three-step approach of strategies to cope with mental health and the upcoming pandemic fall — acknowledge, find alternatives and make a plan. So, how can UW students adopt Gorgens and Teachman’s three-step approach?
Well, the first step is to acknowledge. To recognize the reality and allow oneself to “grieve what has been lost” as it is “crucial for emotional regulation.”
While this may mean crying with friends over lost Union Terrace time or reminiscing on Saturdays previously spent at Camp Randall Stadium, Gorgens and Teachman assured that acknowledgment is necessary to nursing one’s mental health. Students must first acknowledge that this fall and winter will look different compared to past years on campus as community safety must be prioritized over all else.
But, this doesn’t mean that one’s mental health should be sacrificed to make way for the pandemic. Instead, once acknowledgment has taken place, it is important to find alternatives, as Teachman emphasized the importance of “plan[ning] now before it gets cold” as “having a plan is an antidote for uncertainty.”
So, what are good alternatives for UW students to enjoy in a pandemic-ridden fall?
- Go to the newly renovated Nicholas Recreation Center
- Hold a movie marathon with roommates or COVID-free dorm friends
- Hold small, COVID-free Badger football watch parties
- Go on a long walk or hike — the Madison bike path offers beautiful scenery of fall colors and lake views
- Host small potlucks with friends full of good food and drinks — Wisconsin-themed food and drinks could include beer cheese, cheese curds and Sprecher Root Beer
- Go to the Chazen Art Museum — open by appointment only
- Take a well-deserved nap after hours of online school
After finding good alternatives, Gorgens and Teachmen explained the importance of the third part of their three-step strategy — make a plan. If planning to participate in any of the above activities, UW students should first and foremost make sure COVID-19 regulations are being followed. Teachman said that to lower stress levels of the impending pandemic fall, “some kind of system” is vital so that “it doesn’t overwhelm” you and others every time an alternative is suggested.
This means that UW-students should:
- Check the daily rate of positive COVID results within both the UW campus and the Dane County area
- Make decisions based on the positivity test rate
- Use an online risk calculator in order to identify the possible risk of various scenarios
While Gorgens and Teachmen acknowledged both the current limitations the pandemic is causing and the mental strain it’s placing on students — especially during Mental Health Awareness Month — they also acknowledged that “we cannot change the pandemic.” But, we can commit to supporting one another through the process of acknowledging, finding alternatives and making a plan when it comes to self-care and community well-being while UW students, like everyone else, navigate through a pandemic fall.
Kayla Bell ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.