Jesse Varnadoe mostly has kept an optimistic outlook, despite stay-at-home orders and quarantine protocols.
It hasn’t been easy, though.
Besides claiming lives and flattening the economy, the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in a range of reactions — including loneliness, isolation, cabin fever and other responses.
“Being stuck in the house, not being able to go anywhere — I started to get in a funk almost,” said Varnadoe, a student at Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC).
To stave off negative moods, the student said he tries to “make every day mean something.”
Even simple routines help, he said, such as folding laundry or hanging clothes. Staying in regular communication with friends and family helps, too.
His advice to others?
“Every day, make sure that you have something that you want to accomplish, even if it’s not much, and it’ll keep you on the right track, it’ll keep you moving, it’ll help you to not become depressed,” Varnadoe said.
He was one of several speakers on a virtual panel discussion organized by PHSC and designed to offer ways to help people cope through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speakers at the May 11 virtual summit included students, behavioral health experts and representatives from the college.
Panelist Rod Cunningham underscored the vulnerability of people in isolation.
Cunningham, who is the community outreach director with the Drug Enforcement Agency, observed that even vicious criminals are found lying in the fetal position when retrieved from solitary confinement.
“Men are not made to be alone,” Cunningham said.
He advised people to schedule social distancing activities that simply make them “feel better,” whether it’s gardening, reading, playing video games, or even perusing social media.
“It’s important to understand yourself and start to pull your plan together,” Cunningham said.
Panelist Harold Jackson suggested one way to lighten things up is to take a humorous look at certain aspects of the pandemic.
For instance, he joked: “If you need a 144 rolls of toilet paper, you probably needed to see a doctor before COVID-19 hit.”
“There are aspects of this thing that we can laugh about, because we’re not laughing a lot today,” said Jackson, who is a community relations liaison with Tampa Family Health Centers.
He also suggested that people draw on whatever faith-based experiences or readings they have, “to move forward through (the pandemic).”
Dr. Joe Bohn, a professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, recommended using the new-found personal downtime to pick up a new skill or hobby.
He is following his own advice by taking online dance classes.
Amidst the pandemic, it’s been therapeutic, he said.
He’s also passed along what he’s learned about dancing to other professors and students.
“It’s helped them, given them an outlet,” he said. “I think it’s one of these things of having something to do every day.”
Some panelists from the college also offered suggestions on what the college can do to help support PHSC’s large student body during this pandemic.
Dr. Eddie Williams said many students are facing financial issues, technological issues and increased bouts of anxiety.
The assistant professor, who works in human services, called upon faculty and staff to be proactive in “letting students know the resources that are out there.”
He noted it is particularly important to do that because some students are reluctant to ask.
He said he’s personally been reaching out to struggling students who haven’t been quite as active in virtual classes. He think that’s something that more instructors should do.
Even a simple phone call can set them back on the right track, he said.
“They get very surprised and happy, and they feel supported, usually by me just calling,” he said. “I let them know to communicate with me. Let them know what’s out there and let them know you’re supporting them.”
Dr. Micheal Jones, a psychology professor at the college and the men’s basketball coach said faculty must take a leadership role.
During times of crisis, he said, “it’s our due diligence to reach out to the students.”
He advocates for more robust mental health support groups and services on campus, because he believes there will be an influx of students facing issues with anxiety and depression come fall.
“We just have to be prepared to be able to service these students with the issues that they’re dealing with, especially coming back from this pandemic,” Jones said.
“I think this is one of the things that students never really thought could happen, but it happened, so we’ve got to find a way to support them and keep them enrolled, and keep them positive,” he said.
Published May 27, 2020
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