Terry (Eleftherios) Saftis teaches Psychology of Crisis at DIS. In this letter, he shares tips for current students on how to process this time of transition as well as self-quarantine now that you are back home:
Dear DIS Students,
I write to you from Copenhagen where I am taking a break from reimagining my course plan for the rest of the semester which we will undertake by distance learning in a few weeks’ time with some of you who know me as your faculty. For those of you who don’t know me, I am a faculty member in the Psychology Department and wanted to share some advice with you today on how you can stay resilient and mentally healthy at this difficult time.
As the coronavirus situation evolves, we are all experiencing uncertainty in relation to what is happening around us. Our lives are changing drastically by the day and it is normal to feel a loss of control. You may have just started to feel at home in Scandinavia before your study abroad experience was cut short, and I understand how disappointed you might feel. Now that you are home, you are likely practicing social distancing or self-quarantining. We each experience a unique psychological response to these changes. In this post, I would like to highlight what we can do to best protect ourselves psychologically and process this time of transition. You should not see my suggestions as instructions for how to behave, but as tools for that can aid you in managing wellbeing.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is undoubtedly a stressful experience for many. It is an enemy we cannot see, touch, smell, hear, or taste. It is an invisible threat to our health and psychological wellbeing. For some, such an event can lead to the experience of strong emotions, including ones that have never been felt before. Others might feel completely detached from what is happening around them, as if they are watching a movie.
Such reactions are completely normal responses to a very abnormal situation. They are common for individuals experiencing an abrupt change in their lives which they have never prepared for, or even imagined.
How we experience quarantine is completely subjective and each individual will experience it in a different way. Factors that may influence our reaction include:
• the magnitude of the stressor
• previous mental health conditions
• preparedness for the event
• quality of the immediate and short-term responses
• how supportive our environment is
Creating a sense of normalcy and fostering an environment that avoids high emotional responses are essential building blocks towards keeping a healthy mental state. On the other hand, breaking routines, being absorbed by the news, and letting emotions guide you are potential risks towards keeping mentally healthy.
If you are feeling stressed or anxious, communicating your emotional state to those around you can be a helpful mechanism of managing wellbeing – whereas keeping your emotions to yourself can lead to further feelings of isolation. I suggest that you surround yourself (even virtually) with loved ones such as family, friends, and people that can help you create a supportive community. Create spaces where you can share your feelings openly with one another.
I suggest that you surround yourself (even virtually) with loved ones such as family, friends, and people that can help you create a supportive community.
I also recommend that you build a daily routine with activities you can do at home to help you relax, such as finding ways to exercise, or through hobbies like reading, meditation, yoga, etc. Find fun ways to connect with friends you made abroad – try setting up a virtual ‘coffee date’ where you share hygge or mys by video-chatting with a friend while you both enjoy a warm drink. Check in with others that are finding this experience more difficult to cope with, and explore creative ways to be ‘alone together.’
And once DIS remote learning begins, you can build your routines to incorporate your course work.
Keep yourself and those around you well informed. General education about COVID-19, rationale for quarantine, and public health information can reduce anxiety and the development of psychological symptoms later on. A theme that runs across psychological literature is the power of stigmatization. Ensure that you do not self-stigmatize or that you do not stigmatize others. We all share a collective responsibility towards each other in these times.
We are here for you through these difficult times. While we are now connected only virtually, we are all in this together, and my DIS colleagues will do everything they can to support you and work to minimize disruption to your wellbeing and your studies, considering the circumstances. We need to continue as much as possible with some level of normality in our lives and work through the uncertainty. Maybe we are also given a new window to look at humanity through. Crisis is a period in which innovation takes place, and the endurance of the human soul is tested and its resilience prevails.
Terry (Eleftherios) Saftis is a DIS Copenhagen Semester & DIS Summer Faculty. Before joining DIS, he worked as the Clinical Director of Community Housing and Therapy, a leading UK charity running therapeutic community households for adults with mental health diagnoses. Terry has managed therapeutic community projects, worked as a psychologist in the Greek Army, and co-authored journal articles on post-traumatic stress disorder. He is certified in psychotherapy and counseling and holds a MS.c. in Health Psychology and BSc. (Hons) in Psychology from City University UK/London.