Wellness advice and resources for challenging times

Although the college has switched to remote learning due to COVID-19, Director of Counseling and Health Services, Valerie Tobia ’07 is still working to support students on and off campus.

by Valerie Tobia ’07 LICSW, MPH
Director, Counseling and Health Services

By the time you read this, your college student will have been away from campus for about a month. The world has changed. Wheaton has moved to remote educational and programming platforms, and continues to engage students, and our community, in new and innovative ways. Many of you and your loved ones are managing health and the coronavirus, being essential employees, changing to remote work, juggling changes in employment; financial, food, toilet paper, or housing insecurity; and on top of that, trying to figure out how to support your young adult, home now for an unknown amount of time—in all these new challenges.

I invite you in this moment of overwhelm to take a deep breath with me, and sit with all that you are managing yourselves. Breathing in through your nose to a count of three, holding it for a count of three, and then releasing that breath through your mouth, to a count of three. If you feel so inclined, I invite you to repeat this a few times, and give yourself some grace and recognition for the large load you are carrying for your loved ones, your college students, and yourself. This is not an easy time for anyone, and it is important to give yourself even temporary moments of recognition and support amidst the noise.

While this adjustment and the many uncertainties accompanying it have certainly thrown our worlds upside down, there are things we can do to help ourselves, and our loved ones, cope and manage. I aim to give you a few suggestions for supporting your students, and also make sure you know the resources they have received from me in the past few weeks. It is true that this situation will affect all of us differently, and our needs will be different—but we’re all in this together as a Wheaton community and as a world. Even though we are physically separated, the way we will get through this is by relying on and supporting one another when we need it.

As we are now a month into this current reality, the feelings, emotions and responses to the current state are likely changing. While the first week of this may have felt like a small vacation, there are likely feelings of being cooped up, lowered motivation for schoolwork, increased anxiety and depression regarding expectations and missed experiences, and maybe even some fear. I have a few suggestions of where to start in supporting your student.

  • Be honest with your student about your feelings and remind them that everyone is struggling right now. It is OK, normal, and expected to have a wide variety of feelings—even some that seem to contradict one another.
  • Listen and encourage your student to verbalize how they are feeling. Giving space and recognition for the emotions and thoughts they are holding is important.
  • Normalize their feelings of grief and loss associated with not being on campus. It is normal to be upset and angry that graduation, spring weekend, and classes are being missed or experienced in a different way.
  • Discuss with household members all of your needs regarding work/school. Come up with a schedule for use of the computer / wi-fi / work space. Encourage each member to carve out a small space just for themselves if possible. Be flexible and gentle with yourselves, it might not be possible to fit everything in.
  • Help your student focus on things they can control—how much social media they are taking in, taking their prescribed medications, completing academic work, and engaging in classes, etc.—instead of things they cannot control.
  • Check in on your student’s hygiene—one of the first things to often go when we’re feeling depressed or anxious—encourage daily showering, changing to a new pair of pajamas, brushing teeth, drinking enough water, eating food and looking out a window, or going outside for some fresh air and sunshine when possible.
  • Encourage your student to utilize the below resources, websites, hotlines, and myriad of free and new content for managing mental health during the coronavirus available online, through Wheaton and their networks.
  • Follow, and encourage your student to follow, the Counseling Center on our Facebook page (@WC.CC.HS) and Instagram (@WheatonMA.Counseling). We are posting daily on these social media platforms (more frequently on Instagram) meditations, grounding activities, self-care suggestions, fun animal videos, resources, and other great ways to engage in activities that support mental wellness during this time.

As members of our community, and families of our students, it is also crucial for you to know the resources students have received from me, and be able to reinforce them, or use them yourself. Listed below are some of the most important resources your students have been given.

During this unpredictable and unprecedented time, I am sending you and all of your loved ones, health, safety, and calmness during this storm. We are still here and we care deeply about your students and you as integral members of our community. The Wheaton community is a strong and steadfast network of individuals that are innovative, resilient and brave. Thank you for being a part of this wonderful community, and joining us in supporting your students.

In wellness and care,
Valerie Tobia ’07 LICSW, MPH
Director, Counseling and Health Services

Student and family resources
  • Mental Health phone support is available to any Wheaton student, 24/7 no matter where they are in the world. This support is accessed by calling the Counseling Center at 508-286-3905 and following voicemail prompts to be connected to a clinician (press 1).
  • On March 30, your students received an email from me with a step-by-step guide to finding mental health services. Many providers in your home state/country may be providing tele-therapy, and many health insurance companies are waiving co-pays for therapy at this point. If you or your student might benefit from therapeutic supports during this time, I encourage you to review this document for where to start and what steps to take.
  • Many wonderful resources that are normally subscription based are free right now:
    • TAO (providing mindfulness exercises in English and French)
  • Many resources have also been created just for this current pandemic:
  • U.S. based Hotlines to know of:
  • International mental health resources, recommended by JED: Befrienders Worldwide