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Managing Student Stress as Courses Move Online

TCNJ Health and Wellness Unit, Spring 2020

You and your students are facing significant change. Across the world, students are transitioning to online education, socially distancing from peer groups and most likely hunkering down in their family homes. We know that change creates stress, but we also know that stress is a normal and even necessary part of life. As everyone makes this new journey through life, greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, here are some ideas for how to help students (and yourself) with the transition:

Most importantly, know that your calm and sure presence will set the course for students to also remain calm. Seeing someone who is calm will induce calmness in others.  

As courses transition to online:

  • Consider addressing the normal stress of this transition right from the start.  
    • “Last week was a trying week for all of us. We have all been through a lot as we move our classes online, but I am here to reassure you that we will be OK.”
  • Remind students what is at stake.
    • “We are doing this to flatten the curve and to protect our most vulnerable people.  Thank you for helping with this effort.  I’m proud of all of you.”
  • Be patient with students AND yourself.  
    • “This may take a little time to get all the kinks worked out.”
    • “I don’t know the answer to that but I will email you all later.”
  • Be reassuring and encourage positivity.
    • “I know this seems like a lot right now, but I know that you can do it.”
    • “We will all get the hang of this very soon.”
  • Explain any strategies you have for how to be an online student.
    • “Ensure that you have a private space, free from distraction.”
    • “Let others at home know that you will be busy when courses are taught.”
    • “Work to develop a schedule much like the one you had at TCNJ.”

If the entire class seems to be getting riled up, consider:

  • “Let’s all take a moment and take a few deep breaths.” Count it out: “Inhale, 1, 2, 3, 4 … exhale 1, 2, 3, 4.”
  • “I want everyone to stand up, take a quick walk around the room, and come back.”

If an individual student seems distressed:

  • Find a private time to communicate.
  • Ask how the student is doing or describe what you are observing, e.g., “You have made quite a few comments about your mood being down. Are you struggling yourself?”
  • The student may explain things in a way that leads you to feel no other action is needed, e.g., indicating that he or she is already in treatment or that it just felt good to talk.
  • If you remain concerned, have the student call the Counseling Center to talk to a counselor; contact information can be found below.
  • Follow up later and ask if they got help or need anything else.
  • Any student who mentions suicidal thoughts should contact the Counseling Center immediately.

As courses progress, consider adding stress management tips (found on the Mental Health Services website) during class time and building community online.


Counseling and Prevention Services Resources

Mental Health Services (MHS)

Hours: M–F, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

Services: Individual (phone, email check-in, teletherapy sessions only during remote learning); crisis intervention; case management and referral to community providers. Consultation. Virtual groups being planned. MHS staff will be working from home in support of social distancing. Access services online.  Contact information: mhs@tcnj.edu, 609.771.2247 

Anti-Violence Initiatives (AVI)

Hours: M–F, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

Services: Michelle Lambing (609.771.2272) will be available for consultation and limited teletherapy during regular business hours but will be working from home. Zach Gall (609.771.2233) will also be available for consultation and limited teletherapy but will be working from home. DERC has been cancelled. Sexual Assault Awareness Month has been redesigned to be observed digitally. Social media presence will be increased for the remainder of the semester.

Alcohol and other Drug Education Program (ADEP)

Hours: M–F, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

Services: Joe Hadge (hadgej@tcnj.edu, 609.771.2572) is available for consultation during business hours while working remotely. Arrive Alive has been cancelled, but the Peer Institute is still tentatively scheduled for June 9–11. 

Promote: CampusWell online magazine 

Providing: BASICS, Marijuana 101, CHOICES, Echeck Up, and Individualized Sessions remotely.

Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP)

Hours: M–F, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

Services: Chris Freeman (freemanc@tcnj.edu, 609.771.2134, 732.703.6589) will be available for consultation and limited teletherapy during regular business hours but will be working from home. AA, NA, SMART, and All Recovery support groups can be accessed remotely. Students in need of support can be connected electronically (i.e., email, GroupMe) to other students in the recovery community.

If you are looking for an external mental health provider, use the Referral Database, ask your medical provider, or contact your insurance company.  

Consider using a mental health app for relaxation, mood tracking, sleep, or other issues.

CARE Team

If you are concerned about a student who is not responding to your efforts to help (i.e., who has been referred to Mental Health Services but will not make contact), consider contacting the CARE Team.  Please fill out a referral form online or call 609.771.2780. A CARE Team representative can strategize ways to ensure that the student gets the help he or she needs.   


FAQs

How should I expect my students to adjust to remote instruction when coming from the classroom environment?

This will depend on many factors. Some students have already taken online classes, so for them, the adjustment to remote learning may not be significant. Still, this environment is different, so we can expect students to be initially overwhelmed with moving all of their instruction online and then having to adjust to different instructional styles. Expect students to struggle initially with logging in on time, working the technology, and learning how to meet your expectations now that instruction has moved entirely online. 

Encourage students to find or create a conducive space to get started. For some, it may be their bedrooms, and for others, basements or various areas of their home. Ask that they try and reconfigure a sense of structure to their day, which might mean allocating their former class time for designated work time for that class. It could also require a review of previously effective strategies and finding ways to implement them. Encouraging students to find outlets to break up their days and to simulate the distractions normally found, i.e., utilizing various spaces in their home such as the kitchen for meals, the workspace for work, and other areas for research, reading, notes, etc. Know that there will be a vast array of challenges presented by each student. Some spacing concerns that cannot be controlled for, so looking at timing and creative alternate options is the best support you can offer.

Asynchronous teaching can provide some synchronous opportunities, and certain students will fare better with one format over another. Synchronous learning platforms can give students and instructors a sense of human contact. At the same time, faculty should be wary of giving too much leeway in the form of open-ended or less-than-rigorous assignments. It is important to be able to understand students’ different situations and recognize that you, as an instructor, have some flexibility within the structure but at the same time must hold students accountable for the required work.

How should I address students’ concerns with assignments, exams, papers, and the challenges of working in an all-online environment?

Be patient with your students and with yourself. Expect technology glitches and problems so you aren’t surprised by them. Empathize with students’ frustrations while also providing reassurance that we are all learning together and will get better as time goes on. Be reasonable with your expectations. 

Also helpful is encouraging students to maintain balance in their lives: Computers and devices have been a big part of their recreational lives, and with online learning, technology can take over. Spending the day staring at a computer screen or notes is typically not the most efficient way of learning or retaining material. Ideas for maintaining balance include keeping in touch with family and friends, using technology for connection. Exercising regularly—walking, running, practicing yoga, using home gym equipment, or taking virtual fitness classes—will also help with stress, anxiety, and depression. Frame to students that quarantine can be an opportunity to explore activities they don’t usually have time to pursue, such as board games, crafting, writing, drawing, and leisure reading.

What if a student demonstrates more adjustment problems than I might expect?

This is a crucial concern. If, particularly after an initial period of adjustment, a student seems overly frustrated, overwhelmed, or distressed, take note. Students may have been focused on getting up and running virtually and now are dealing with grief over a lost semester and all that goes with it, grief related to the death of a loved one from COVID-19, extended quarantine, and anxiety related to an uncertain future. Encourage the student to speak with you during online office hours or to seek assistance from other campus resources to resolve technology concerns or frustrations with the online environment. If concerns appear to be more personal in nature (i.e., difficulty setting up an appropriate learning environment from home or personal and financial struggles), suggest that the student check in with the Center for Student Success (609.771.3452) or Mental Health Services

Are support services available to students in the remote learning environment?

All TCNJ student support services are providing services to students remotely.

If a student demonstrates inappropriate classroom behavior during an online learning session, what are my options?

Reach out and invite the student to meet with you during online office hours. Have a conversation and to try to uncover the issues possibly behind the behaviors so you can have a
better idea of an appropriate referral. Give the student direct feedback about the behavior,
not only how it is disruptive to the class but also how it impacts the student’s own ability to be
successful. If this is not productive and/or the behavior is more egregious, please consider filing a CARE Referral. Disruptive behavior that does not meet the threshold of being bias-related but is a possible violation of the college’s Community Standards may be reported to Student Conduct

How is recognizing a student of concern different in an online environment?

In many respects, the same behaviors that concern you in a classroom environment continue to be concerning when learning remotely. Be particularly attuned to changes in behavior during this transition. Is a typically highly engaged student now seemingly disengaged? Are assignments late? Maybe the student has stopped showing up for instruction and is not attempting to engage you during office hours. Does he or she seem overly tired and now not interested in the course material? All of these changes may suggest that concerns are present or may be looming.

What student behaviors are most concerning and may warrant an immediate referral to the CARE Team?

Increasingly withdrawn behaviors, expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness, loss of interest in previously important activities, a drop in academic performance, abrupt changes in mood, indications of increased aggressiveness, and talk (even in a seemingly joking manner) of harming oneself could all be indicators of deeper, more serious concerns. The more behaviors present, the greater the risk to the student. If you have concerns, particularly if the student is unresponsive to outreach attempts from you, complete a CARE Referral.

What if students are concerned about their health or the health of those they are currently living with?

Faculty can refer students to the SHS website for guidelines as well as recommend that a student contact their medical provider.  

In Health and Wellness,

TCNJ Health and Wellness Unit
ADEP – AVI – CRP – MHS – REC – RSL – SHS  

(adapted from Marquette University Counseling Center)

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