Mental and Spiritual Wellness for College Students Navigating a New Normal – APU Articles
by Anna Cayot ’20 and Evelyn Allen, MS ’19
As a student, you adapted to a completely new situation during your studies. You may benefit from taking steps to protect your mental and emotional wellbeing this season.
Leah Fortson, Ph.D., M.Div., Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at Azusa Pacific University, specializes in integrating psychology and belief. We sought her recommendations on how college students can maintain their sanity and wellbeing in a time of uncertainty and new challenges. Here is what she shared.
Know that what you are feeling is normal
Fortson said that as she guides her own students, her initial focus is on normalizing her experiences with the pandemic. In fact, many students are grappling with the realities of coronavirus on top of the stressors that were already present in their lives, she notes.
“We’re all experiencing a reality we’ve never seen before,” she explains. “There is no clue, and there is no pre-existing framework to help us understand our lives in the moment. It is okay to feel what you are feeling.”
Pick your anchors
When difficult feelings arise, having an outlet for them helps, and Fortson encourages students to identify and seek out people and practices that anchor them. “Anchors are so important when life is disoriented because they allow us to feel grounded,” she said.
Your anchors in life can be your beliefs, family, an instrument you play, exercise, journaling, or some other source of strength. Lean into these pillars to strengthen your sense of normalcy and focus on what is important to you.
In response to the physical disconnection we are all experiencing, Fortson said that virtual connections are more important than ever.
“This season we’re learning how useful virtual connections can be,” said Fortson. “I encourage students to not only send SMS or direct messages to friends and family via social media platforms, but also video chat. Allow yourself to be seen and allow yourself to see others. “
Restore your spiritual practices
Furthermore, major questions of faith can arise in times of crisis, but Fortson assures students that spiritual wrestling is okay. “It is normal and you are expected to ask questions and engage in your beliefs,” she said.
In fact, there are many ways to continue searching for God and getting closer to him now. Some important spiritual practices include reading scriptures or faith-inspired books, praying, listening to worship music, or watching a live streaming service – even better if you can watch with a friend, Fortson says.
In Azusa Pacific, the Office of Spiritual Life hosted a livestream called Weekly Rhythms every Wednesday at 10:30 am. The recordings are also posted on YouTube. “Watching these videos is a great way to build your faith and keep in touch with the APU community,” said Fortson.
Recognize signs to adjust to your mental health
Dealing with stress is not always easy, and it can indicate the time to focus on yourself and your sanity again. Fortson says to watch out for any thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are unusual for you or that cause you some degree of distress.
If you have mood swings, excessive or deprived of sleep, excessive or loss of appetite, inability to get out of bed, missed tasks, or engage in unhealthy behaviors and relationships, contact a mentally ill health advisor as soon as possible. If you are an APU student having thoughts of hopelessness or suicide, speak to a counselor right away at (626) 815-2109.
College students can look out for these signs not only in themselves but also in their friends, Fortson says. “Sometimes it is difficult to see ourselves and we may need the help of others to see when we are not doing well,” she said.
Wellness resources for APU students
“It is extremely important that students speak to each safe person and let them know how they are dealing with everything that is going on in their life,” says Fortson. “And students should know how much faculty, staff, and administrators are praying for and helping them in any way they can.”
The university counseling center offers free teletherapy sessions for APU students. Call (626) 815-2109 to schedule an appointment.
The campus ministry office also offers pastoral care for students. Email the office at [email protected] to schedule an appointment.
General wellness strategies from Dr. Fortson
- Make a schedule for yourself to keep your days productive.
- Make sure you get enough sleep.
- Dress like you’re going to class or work in person.
- Do your best to eat well-balanced meals.
- Take a walk and soak up the sun if restrictions in your area allow.
- Try stretching or practicing yoga at home to get your body moving.
- Make sure you take prescription medication regularly.
Posted: April 28, 2020