During the COVID-19 pandemic, students at the University of New Mexico have experienced a great deal of loss, whether the loss of a loved one, a relationship, loss of social life or activities, or even the loss of university life when they graduate and move on.
In order to help students cope with these losses, Dr. Stephanie McIver, a clinical psychologist and counseling director at UNM’s Student Health and Counseling, recently hosted a workshop called “Coping With Endings.”
The workshop aimed to help students understand the myriad of losses and endings they may experience and teach coping strategies to make a healthy transition to the next phase of their lives.
“One of the things that we as human beings do most poorly is cope with endings,” McIver said. “There are athletes who have lost full seasons and performers who have lost their stage — there are lots of losses.”
McIver explained how the brain’s response to loss affects individuals both emotionally and physically.
“Hormones are at play when we are connected to other people, so when we lose them there is a tremendous physiological disruption. That in part explains why it is so painful,” McIver said.
Throughout the workshop, McIver encouraged students to share their experiences and talk extensively about loss as a stress response that demands action.
“The loss of something that has stabilized us, created routine or comfort, that's a threat. That’s where that stress reaction comes in,” McIver said.
To combat stress and help yourself recover from loss, McIver emphasized forming intentional new positive associations and doing things that feel rewarding. She also recommended being indulgent and kind to yourself during the painful period right after a loss.
“I would like everything you choose during that time to be pleasurable,” McIver said. “So, when taking a shower, what is the most beautiful fragrance you can use? What is the best and most comforting temperature you can use? What is the softest and fluffiest towel you can use?”
While these self care strategies can help students recover from the immediate pain of loss, achieving a full recovery is not a quick or easy process. It often takes an entire year to form new associations without the person or thing that you lost.
McIver also made it clear that everyone experiences loss differently and copes in their own ways, but that people should feel free to seek help or talk to a counselor if their symptoms of grief persist.
Student Health and Counseling is offering virtual health and counseling appointments for students at this time, and the Agora Crisis Center is also available to provide support over the phone and online.
Prestin Nikolai is a freelance photographer and reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo