Self-care is vital to be able to help others

Stressful time

In a American Psychological Association report, eight out of 10 Americans said the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. Seven out of 10 said they have experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic.

Faculty and staff not only are using new teaching methods with the shift to virtual instruction and hybrid classes, but they also are helping students cope during a difficult time. And that's on top of managing their own well-being during a pandemic, something that isn't always a priority.

Student counseling services director Christopher Hanes believes self-care in support of others is vital at the university.

"Self-care and self-compassion is not selfish, it's necessary," Hanes said. "We are in a pandemic. It is a chronic stressor, and over time we are going to need to refuel ourselves. I think it helps us be more ready and capable of supporting others by filling our own well."

Enduring a pandemic can lead to responses of fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, irritability, depression and boredom. Any of those responses are normal, but when they linger it may be time to think about seeking help.

"Ask yourself, 'How am I doing in my daily work?' or 'What is my level of fulfillment in my work?'" Hanes said. "It is natural for those to go down a little bit when we feel overwhelmed. When it takes a lot more energy to accomplish the goals you usually do or is a lot more tiring, those are indicators that you may need to recharge yourself." 

Working together

Hanes points out several ways faculty and staff can promote a healthy community for their students and themselves:

  • Be aware. Know the signs of distress and support available on campus and in the community.
  • Make a statement. Acknowledge the stress everyone feels now, recognize that it is normal to struggle, and promote engagement and positive messages around mental health support.
  • Set a routine. Create a workable schedule for balance and stick to it.
  • Connect. Find a connection in your community and be open to new ways of connecting.
  • Set limits. Limit your time with news, social media and other outlets. Control what you can control.
  • Be kind to yourself. Accept your thoughts and feelings and embrace your struggles.
  • Promote efficacy. Identify ways to accomplish tasks and goals in daily life.

The student counseling staff has a pair of presentations that are especially useful during the pandemic. "Creating a Community of Care in the Era of COVID-19" and "Don't Set Yourself on Fire to Keep Others Warm: Self-Compassion and Mindfulness for Everyone" are available to classes, groups and organizations through online request.

Hanes said his staff typically provide two or three presentations a week to colleges and departments.

"Our university, faculty and staff really want to support students, and they recognize the importance of the holistic approach to health and wellness," he said. "After I do the presentations, it isn't uncommon for me to see someone who was in the audience with a student in our lobby. It means they know we were here and they know how to connect with us."

Employee resources

Student counseling staff consult with faculty and staff on student support, but there are other resources available to Iowa State employees who may need help themselves:

The Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) allows employees and their families to call a 24/7 phone number and connect with mental health counseling services. EAP also provides life coaching, financial and legal support services, and elder care consultation. All EAP counseling services are free and confidential.

Therapy Assistance Online is an online self-help app for faculty, staff and students with an "" email address.

"It is evidenced-based self-help for mental health concerns," Hanes said. "Anxiety, depression, pain management, recovery, resilience, anger management are all things it covers."

The Adventure2 program provides opportunities to connect with the ISU community, and the Family and Medical Leave Act also is a resource. If an employee is eligible, it provides job-protected leave for care of a serious health condition, including many mental health conditions.