Noelle Harris, Ph.D., Director of Bryant's Counseling Services, shares tips for coping with the losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finding ways to thrive in the midst of the pandemic  
Apr 05, 2020, by Staff Writer

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is struggling with an enormous amount of loss, says Noelle Harris, Ph.D., Director of Bryant University’s Counseling Services. “Let’s just call that grief. That’s what grief is - when you have so many complicated layers, but the main cornerstone is a lot of loss," she says. "There’s anger. There’s denial. A lot of folks are really struggling with this overwhelming sense of grief.

There’s a lot of research out there that says if you can name what you are experiencing, if you can label it, you can control it a little bit more.”

“We all are really managing this loss of normalcy, a lot of fear, and a lot of loss of connection," Harris notes in a Sound Advice podcast interview with Bryant’s Web Content and Video Specialist Jonathan Fonseca. "We’re doing the best with can with teleconferencing zoom and phone,” she says, but, the truth is we’re at “a loss for some real human connection with this situation.”

Own that loss, she advises, and “know that this is what sadness feels like. This is what fear feels like. This is what anger feels like." And when we can acknowledge it and accept it, Harris says, "we’re more able to allow those feelings to move through our lives and we can become more empowered."

Focus on what you can control

During the pandemic, many things are beyond our control. Harris reminds us to remain as balanced in our thinking as possible; to stay present, and to stay focused on what is in our control.

“Sometimes this means we have to stock up on our compassion. We spend a lot of time being self-absorbed and experiencing things from our own point of view. When we can open our vision and we can be more optimistic and less catastrophizing about the future that we don’t know about, and more compassionate,” she says, “I think it puts us in a place of control and personal power.”

One of the things that feels so overwhelming about this pandemic, Harris explains, “is the uncertainty of it all.” It’s important to remember that it is temporary., she stresses. “This too will pass.” 

10 ways to cope that can shore up our resilience

  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Put yourself on a news diet and limit social media
  • Use this extra time at home to have fun, start or revisit a hobby, and read
  • Move your body for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Spend time in nature
  • Establish structure and routine for your day
  • Connect with people – while observing physical distancing
  • Follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and your governor
  • Show kindness and exhibit grace
  • Demonstrate gratitude  

Counseling transitions to offering services students virtually

As the pandemic led to a shift to distance learning, Counseling Services transitioned to offer remote and virtual services to Bryant students. The staff is working with students via Zoom Health and over the phone. Harris notes that her team is able to get people in same day or the next day.

The department also provides counseling to students in states that allow the Bryant staff to cross over in jurisdiction. “So, we can offer services to a fair number of students,” she says. In situations where state and federal laws don’t allow the staff to provide services, the team can offer consultative or referral services to students.

Most of Counseling Services’ programming is now available virtually, including the popular Chat and Chew sessions that offer discussions about mental health, cultural issues, and current events. For example, Bryant student-athletes can now participate in a Chat and Chew program designed specifically for them. For those whose seasons have been interrupted – or cancelled - by the pandemic, Harris notes, this might be a good way to connect with their team.  

The Chat and Chew sessions that were held at the PwC Center for Diversity and Inclusion are now virtual sessions with Counselor Ammy Sena, who is interacting with both domestic and international students, Harris notes.

Student support network training also has moved to an online platform. And, some of the department’s contemplative programs, including Meditation, are now being delivered to the Bryant community virtually.

Listen to Sound Advice to hear the full interview with Noelle Harris, Ph.D., Director of Counseling Services, and Jonathan Fonseca, Web Content and Video Specialist for Bryant University.


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