It happens each spring and fall when students pour everything they have learned during the semester into measurable assessments. With the pressure to turn in their best academic performance, students often feel anxiety, stress, and worry.
Amy Henning, director of Student Counseling and the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) program, and her team collaborate with Student Health Services and the Office of Student Engagement and New Student Programs to conduct De-Stress Week, five days filled with stress-reducing activities for creativity, relaxation, and renewal before the rigors of final exams. Five focus areas offer a variety of ways to de-stress: animals, arts and crafts, movement, mindfulness, and nature. The planned activities provide opportunities for students to decompress together, take breaks, and have fun. Last year, students de-stressed while interacting with goats and pets, making colorful slime, and enjoying massage therapy. As part of the University’s response to COVID-19, De-Stress Week has gone virtual with resources available online from April 20 to 24.
“We get to do more preventative, holistic, and partnering with other offices to address the heart of the whole person,” explained Henning. “Students get to do things to take care of themselves during stressful times.”
A licensed psychologist with over 25 years of clinical experience, Henning joined the Arcadia community in August 2014. Prior to Arcadia, she spent 18 years at Drexel University as the associate director of Counseling, providing administrative oversight to the on-campus counseling center and direct clinical services to students. She established Drexel’s Counseling Center training program for masters and doctoral candidates and created the peer counseling hotline. Working at Arcadia is a point of pride for Henning, who finds herself inspired by the dedication of faculty and staff and their commitment to students.
Henning's daughter, Lily, helped at the de-stress with slime table in 2019.
“It opened my eyes to what’s possible in connecting with our students in a more personal way within Arcadia’s close-knit community,” she said. “It’s not only what Arcadia is known for, but also what makes it such a special place.”
Throughout the academic year, Henning leads direct service programs to assist students through personal challenges, help them identify problem areas, and find creative solutions. Counseling Services offers individual and group therapy, walk-in appointments, and emergency triage, as well as prevention programs to raise awareness about mental health, including depression, eating disorders, and alcohol and other drug use and abuse.
Declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, COVID-19 has created an unprecedented disruption in higher education. Arcadia made the difficult decision to suspend all Preview travel and spring break Global Field Study travel. Then, Arcadia announced the move to online learning after spring break through the spring semester to ensure academic continuity for its students.
Following Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe’s announcement to close all schools and minimize in-person meetings in Montgomery County, Arcadia’s Counseling and Student Health Services shifted to providing individual counseling through Zoom and by phone based on clinical assessment. Henning and the Counseling Services team reached out to every student who had scheduled appointments and offered them alternative ways to connect. Counselors worked to determine additional student needs, assessed risk, and helped facilitate referrals for off-campus resources. Some students opted to pursue resources near their homes, and others have continued services through the online platform. This flexible approach helped establish continuity of mental health and wellness services while providing students with adaptable methodologies.
“Every act of kindness has an impact and can lift someone’s spirits as well as your own.
- Amy Henning
Counseling Services continues to offer support groups online through Zoom. Students can use the platform to participate in a variety of groups including Queer Space, a safe group for students to discuss LGBTQIA+ related issues; Calm, a group to relax and cultivate compassion; Surviving Grad School, a group to help graduate students; and Coping with COVID, a group to get through the coronavirus health crisis as a community. Henning has also created online resources for guided meditations and tutorials to help students manage anxiety and boost interpersonal effectiveness despite the challenges caused by COVID-19.
“There's a lot of talk about this being the new normal, but I don't agree,” she said. “We are all trying to manage during this difficult time. We have to try and take this one day at a time, maintain structure, and connect with others in creative ways.”
The 24-hour news cycle provides constant updates about COVID-19, but it can cause information overload and additional anxiety. Henning recommends a balance of media with self-imposed limits to stay informed and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Henning suggests that extended periods of social-distancing could trigger increased feelings of anxiety and depression, especially those who have experienced mental health issues before the pandemic. She urges anyone under unchecked stress to stay connected to resources through telehealth appointments, follow up with health care providers to locate mental health professionals, and research apps for relaxation and therapy. Connecting with clinicians is one of the first steps in taking control, as is identifying red flags and knowing personal pressure points before symptoms escalate.
“We are all in this together, so getting your experiences validated is important,” said Henning. “Every act of kindness has an impact and can lift someone’s spirits as well as your own. Keep reaching out to loved ones, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and community members, and let them know that it’s okay, we’re doing a good job, and we’ll continue moving forward together.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released the NAMI COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide to answer frequently asked questions on a variety of topics from managing anxiety and social isolation to accessing health care and medications.
Headspace offers meditations you can listen to anytime on multiple devices. These are part of a larger collection in the Headspace app—free for everyone—called Weathering the storm. It includes meditations, sleep, and movement exercises.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation and to improve the lives of individuals living with mental and substance use disorders, and their families.