In long assembly on February 3, renowned psychologist, New York Times and CBS News contributor, and author of best-selling books including Untangled and Under Pressure, Dr. Lisa Damour spoke to students, faculty and staff about coping with stress and anxiety during Covid-19. In the evening, she also addressed parents’ related concerns.
Damour prefaced her morning talk by noting facts. “This pandemic is about loss,” she said. “I hope that nobody gives you short shrift …you get to be really sad about [what you are experiencing].” She explained that just because most students’ challenges might seem minor in comparison to those of others, the personal impact remains powerful. “I don’t want to blow past how unbelievably crummy this… Each year of your life is so unique right now.
“I don’t like when grownups tell [young people] these are the best years of your life, and there are few reasons. First is that it seems kind of sad. Like, ‘This is it, you’re peaking already, it’s all downhill from here.’ That’s not true. I also think these are really hard years in your life. I don’t want you to feel like ‘Oh crap, like, now it’s all downhill.’ Definitely, definitely, definitely not. I [also] hope you guys will take stock of how much you’re learning this year and how much you’ve learned and how much you’ve accomplished and how much you’ve grown, even in a pandemic. It’s extraordinary what people are pulling off with the incredible limitations that are placed on them.”
Damour talked about the difference between constructive and destructive stress as well on tips for managing anxiety and maintaining wellness. “When you work really hard, you have a really intense period of producing and stretching and growing. And then you get a chance to kind of recover and get your feet back under you—get some sleep, get some rest, and then come back in for another workout.
“Stress is healthy. Stress is normal,” she said. “Anytime you are pushing and working and growing [that’s good].” Until it isn’t. Damour noted that chronic stress or ongoing stress post-trauma is overwhelming, raising levels of cortisol in the body. Chronic stress can also come from different sources such as a pandemic or chronic bullying, for instance.
One, among many, of the ways to combat stress?
Damour said that psychologists use a term “pleasure scheduling,” which is about making time and scheduling time for things that can bring joy. “It really, really works. And so what this means is, you put something fun on your calendar, and you make it happen. It may be that you and your friends figure out how to play a game online, and you book it for a certain and you do it.”
Damour also talked with students about what kind of therapist could be the right fit (the one you connect with, no boxes needing to be checked other than a strong connection); why pets and snuggling with them can have incredible benefits; and how important sleep, exercise and—sometimes—breathing deeply are.
She also shared perspective on the quality versus quantity of relationships, making clear that students—all people—are healthier when they have someone to tell their worries to; someone to share secrets with; and a group with whom they feel connected and appreciated. “There are people who look like they have big busy social lives, and they can be pretty lonely. There are also people who look like they have less going on who are actually pretty well covered on their social needs,” she said.
“I love my job,” Damour told students. “Here’s why I love my job the most: I will never gain mastery, I will never get to the end of my job.
“Hang in there, guys,” she said.