Gerard Bryant, Ph.D., John Jay’s Director of Counseling: Protecting Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Gerard Bryant, Ph.D., John Jay’s Director of Counseling: Protecting Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Gerard Bryant, Ph.D., John Jay’s Director of Counseling: Protecting Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Five Ms to Maintain Your Mental Health

Mindfulness: Whether it's meditation, going to an app you enjoy, or listening to some music, find something to distract you and bring some sense of calm into your life.

Meaningful Engagement: Reconnect with positive people in your life. That could be a family member, your grandparents or other elderly relatives who need checking in on, maybe even an old friend or mentor. Think of people who when you see them, your face lights up. These are people who are going to help you and support you, not drain your energy or pull you down emotionally. Isolation doesn’t mean you have to completely stop connecting with people. It means that you have to physically distance yourself, but not socially distance yourself.

Mastery: Try to learn a new skill. This is a great time to learn how to play chess, learn a new language, or learn how to cook. If you’re a book reader, read a new book that you normally can’t get to because you’re busy reading textbooks. The point is to try something that you’re not used to doing, but will stimulate your mind. Distract yourself with a goal of mastery, so you can also feel a sense of accomplishment.

Movement: Being restricted to one place can be frustrating, but exercising can relieve some of that tension. Luckily, there are exercises that you can do in your home without a lot of equipment or space. Sit-ups, push-ups, or even just stretching can physically get your body going. Now is the time to pull out that old yoga mat and try some poses.

Maintain a Sense of Humor: Humor is healthy, find something to make you laugh. Watch a funny movie; don’t look at dramas that could be sad, we have enough drama in our lives right now. Revisit old TV shows that used to make you laugh as a kid. Talk to friends who are funny. Watch a standup comedy. You also have to be able to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Yes, this pandemic is serious business, but you need moments of levity in your life to get through it.

As our community, our City, and folks around the world are watching the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic unfold, many of us are experiencing feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness. “All of these feelings are normal,” says Gerard Bryant, Ph.D., John Jay's Director of Counseling, “but there are things that we can do to help cope with the situation. We need to be mindful of our own mental health during this very challenging time.”

Bryant, and his team of 25 counselors, are telecommuting and providing counseling services to John Jay students. “First we get an email, it all starts with an email, and then we’re conducting sessions over the phone.” Through the counseling sessions, Bryant and his team have noticed many recurring issues that they regularly advise students on, such as: being isolated with individuals that trigger anxiety; not having enough privacy and technology capabilities; receiving unwanted attention from previous connections; experiencing stress about school; and feeling worried about the pandemic itself. Here’s what Bryant suggests for each of these situations while staying at home.

Being Isolated with Individuals that Trigger Anxiety

The Problem: Yes, our students are practicing isolation, but a lot of our students don’t live alone. They live with their families. And now, they might be in close quarters with some folks that they have conflicts with, and there’s no escape from that. School provided a haven, an oasis to get away from some of those things that were going on at home. Staying at home means that those “problem people” are now facing them every day.

Bryant’s Advice: Do your best to monitor your feelings. Be aware of yourself and what you’re doing. The more you’re sheltering in, the more likely you are to become irritable and anxious. When you’re finding yourself in that mental space, find an area of the house to go to where you can be alone for a few minutes. You have to isolate yourself, even within the isolation. Find some space in the house away from people who trigger you. Practice meditation. Listen to some music. Read an affirmation. Play with your favorite app on your phone. Or, talk to a friend that you trust and you can safely vent a little of your frustration to. Try to disengage from the person who is bringing you into conflict.

Having Enough Privacy and Technology Capabilities

The Problem: When it comes to distance learning, we’re starting to see new problems that our students are facing, other than not having a computer or laptop at home—which is a very real problem. In some cases, being in a Zoom video conference meeting, when you don’t have a private space in your apartment, can lead to embarrassing situations: having other people walking behind the camera, having other people listening in to your conversation, or having small children crave attention at inopportune moments. Some students have one computer in their home, but they have siblings who also need the computer to do their work for elementary or high school. How do you balance that with your own needs to be on the computer?

Bryant’s Advice: Talk to your professor. Ask him or her what the expectations are and explain your limitations. If you don’t get the clear guidance or help that you need, go to the department chairperson. We’ve distributed a list of all the department chairs, and they can help you once you explain what is going on in your situation. It’s a challenging time for everyone, and the faculty understands that.

Receiving Unwanted Attention from Previous Connections

The Problem: This is a time that breeds a lot of angst within folks. When some people feel anxiety, they instinctively reach out to old connections—like a former girlfriend or boyfriend. But if that relationship was difficult, or it ended badly, the unwanted attention from the past partner can make the person on the receiving end relive the trauma of the relationship.

“Right now, people need to take care of themselves. That’s the number one priority. If some stimulus is bothering you, and you can do something to shut it off, shut it off.” —Gerard Bryant

Bryant’s Advice: Do not engage. Maybe, if you’re really inclined to do so, you can write them a brief note, saying, “Thank you for your concern.” And then, don’t respond to anything else. If they keep trying to contact you, go to the extreme of blocking their number or account. Otherwise, you’re giving them the attention that they crave. They might even try to call from another number or email from another account. Just block those too. Right now, people need to take care of themselves. That’s the number one priority. If some stimulus is bothering you, and you can do something to shut it off, shut it off. In behavioral terms there is a phenomenon called extinction. If you do not respond, eventually they stop responding. But the moment you open that window of communication, that tells them that it’s okay to do it again.

Experiencing Stress About School

“Limit looking at the news and going on social media, and whatever you do, do not go to ‘doctor YouTube’ or ‘doctor Google.’” —Gerard Bryant

The Problem: If you’re not used to a distance-learning model, this transition can be stressful. Many students are not used to the technology—be it Zoom, Blackboard, or an online discussion group—and, they’re worried about assignments, workloads, and performing in a virtual class.

Bryant’s Advice: There’s been a lot of change, and when that change occurs, it throws people off. Again, communicate with your professors directly, especially if you’re feeling unsure how to handle the workload. Also, never forget that everybody is in the same boat. Our faculty is experiencing this situation, and our staff is experiencing this situation. We might be experiencing the crisis at different degrees, with different coping methods, skills, resources, and networks, but we’re all in this together. Don’t be afraid to ask your network—other students, friends, or partners—for help. Perhaps the hardest three words to say at the moment are: “I need help.” At this time it is paramount to seek out assistance from trained mental health professionals if you are in crisis or distress. If you are interested in receiving assistance through the John Jay College Counseling Services Center please contact Cory Head, Ph.D., Associate Director of Counseling, at chead@jjay.cuny.edu.

Feeling Worried About the Pandemic Itself

The Problem: After reading the news and watching the pandemic evolve—now acutely throughout our City—feelings of anxiety and even panic are cropping up.

“Isolation doesn’t mean you have to completely stop connecting with people. It means that you have to physically distance yourself, but not socially distance yourself.” —Gerard Bryant

Bryant’s Advice: Limit looking at the news and going on social media, and whatever you do, do not go to “doctor YouTube” or “doctor Google.” Sign up for credible news alerts. You can get messages from New York State, from Governor Cuomo’s office, and official information from CUNY. If you do have an impulse to read the news, try to do it for a limited amount of time. I know it’s easier said than done, but there are just too many fearmongers out there in the media who are disseminating false news, or they’re blowing things out of proportion. Yes, this pandemic is real, there’s no doubt about that. It is creating a lot of anxiety across the world. But, the best thing you can do, is arm yourself with credible information, and not spend your time listening to people who may not have the facts. Keeping it simple is key right now. Try not to add more chaos in the midst of chaos.

Coronavirus Updates

Distance Learning Resources 

The following resources are available to anyone who is experiencing significant changes in mental health: NYC Well and through the New York State Department of Health at the COVID-19 Emotional Support Hotline at 844-863-9314, 800-273-TALK (8255) or text Got5 to 741741 for mental health counseling.