July 13, 2020
Emotional wellness and mindfulness sessions close out Summer Wellness Series
Building resilience and compassion are key components of the Summer Wellness Series, presented by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning and the Campus Mental Health Strategy. Whether members of our campus community are looking toward return to campus planning, the fall semester, or sustaining work from home, coping strategies and tools for our mental health continue to be imperative to cultivate and practice.
The series continued in 2020, with session topics that included emotional wellness and mindfulness. Ahead of the sessions, the presenters were interviewed on their subject matter expertise. Watch the recorded webinars below.
Emotional wellness: Learning how to be attentive to both positive and negative feelings
Dr. Jacqueline Smith, PhD (assistant professor, Faculty of Nursing, and director, Mental Health and Wellbeing) is officially an empty-nester — her youngest has just left for college. Instead of diving back into work, she’s decided to take a pause and take care of her own emotional wellness.
“I’ll admit in the past, I would run from feelings of sadness. Now, on a day like today, I’m allowing myself a down day, and for time to think: what do I need to take care of myself?”
Smith’s webinar focused on just this question, as well as addresses principles of emotional wellness.
Emotional wellness is about recognizing the emotional highs and lows in life with the understanding that it’s normal we’re not always happy and energetic. What’s important is to allow for the down days. Take time to think 'I’m a little bit sad today and that’s ok.'
“With COVID-19, most of our emotional struggles have been directly connected to stress (fear of the unknown, separation from family, abrupt changes in activities, lack of human contact, lack of choices, or worries about other people). Emotional wellness is about paying attention and recognizing those feelings. I like the acronym HALT — often my emotions are connected to feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.”
Smith advocates for “using purposeful self-care practices to help ride the emotional waves of everyday life.
“It’s important for me to stick with what’s familiar. Puppy playtime, stretching, exercise, gardening, wellness check-ins with my family, and my Calm app are what I already know work for my stress management.”
In her webinar on July 21, Smith identified principles associated with emotional wellness, shared four practices to support emotional regulation, and explained how neuroplasticity contributes to building emotional wellness at any age.
Mindfulness as a coping strategy in times of crisis
Mindfulness plays an important role in Dr. Linda Carlson, PhD’s life. A professor in the Cumming School of Medicine and co-author of The Art and Science of Mindfulness, Carlson discovered the practice in grad school, and continues to use it today — from 22 years of adapting mindfulness-based interventions in cancer patients, to using the practice to grapple with issues around freedom and control with her children.
“Mindfulness is about present-focused awareness, with an attitude that is kind, accepting and non-judgmental,” explains Carlson. “Mindfulness practice is a scheduled period of time where we sit with whatever thoughts arise and try to understand our relationship to how those thoughts might feed or magnify different anxieties or worries. Over time, we can develop skills to engage with those thoughts differently.”
Carlson explains how mindfulness can be used as a coping strategy in times of crisis. “There’s so much going on in the outside world that’s distressing, and we really have very little control over it. Our minds often worry about the future (or ruminate about the past) — things we largely can’t control. By focusing on the present moment, in the here and now, we can focus on what we can control.”
In her webinar on Aug. 11, Carlson gave participants an introductory understanding of mindfulness — its roots, definition and benefits. She spoke on practical skills, as well as online resources and apps to use for cultivating present moment awareness to build resilience, compassion and empathy.
Past topics covered in Summer Wellness Series webinars include self-care during crisis and tools for resilience. These webinars are available for viewing here. Viewers can learn strategies from UCalgary experts to enhance resilience and develop a self-care plan.
Taking the time to review these skills and reflect on my personal wellness in response to the current challenges in my life has helped me to maintain good mental health. It can be easy to neglect our inner thoughts when things get busy but having these webinars as dedicated self-care time has been very useful.
– Chelsie Hart, Graduate Student in the Department of Psychology