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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Kim

Stressed over 2020? Explore UMSL’s Counseling Services

Does the 2020 fall semester seem to be dragging you down? It seems to have us all feeling more stressed than normal. With all the chaos going on, it has been easy to feel overwhelmed. UMSL’s counseling office took notice of this and stepped in to help. Along with offering virtual appointments this semester, they have made a Virtual Relaxation Room and have started a Surviving 2020 Support Group. The goal is to help UMSL students decrease stress during these hectic times and to learn new skills that teach them how to cope with such stress.

The Virtual Relaxation Room features various skills to help with stress and anxiety, included with these are self-help apps and books aimed to cope with life’s issues. The self-help apps are aimed to calm you down or to help cope with various aspects of life. Many of the apps are free, but some of them do cost a few dollars. Unfortunately, upon opening the apps there were several no longer available in the region/country. The books listed are also for self-help and aim to assist with depression, stress, relationships, and more specific issues like drinking or drugs. The authors vary, as well as the type of approach used for the different categories of issues. Most of the books can be bought from Amazon for relatively cheap and a couple can be found online for free.

Though some of the apps and books listed cost, the Virtual Relaxation Room itself is free to access and use. The first activity listed when exploring the virtual room is “Simple Breathing.” It includes a calming animation intended to help you relax and control your breathing. You simply follow the animation, inhaling as it expands and exhaling when it contracts. The drawing expands and contracts at a consistent rate that is very calming to follow. It is also suggested that you pair the animation with music you find relaxing or sounds that you enjoy to further unwind.

The next activity to try is “Progressive Muscle Relaxation.” This section includes a video that is about ten minutes long. In the video, you are asked to tense and release different muscles throughout your body. After releasing all the tension in your body you will feel more relaxed. Doing this helps you to feel the difference between being tense and being at ease. Many of us go about our day with a great amount of tension in our bodies and don’t even notice it until there is an issue. Engaging in an activity such as this will help to decrease that stored tension. The video also features nature scenes that are very calming and help to further relax the mind.

This next activity in the Virtual Relaxation Room I found to be the most calming. There are four videos linked that vary in their lengths of time. The section is “Mindfulness Meditation” and is intended to help you engage with the moment and be fully aware. You should allow your thoughts to come and go, while not judging what comes to mind. The videos guide you through mindfulness and what it is, while helping you to relax in the moment. Like the Progressive Muscle Relaxation video, nature scenes are featured throughout the videos that are calming to watch. Staying present in the moment and allowing thoughts to come and go as you please helps you to completely center yourself. The point is not to ignore intrusive thoughts but to acknowledge each one and let them go. The site encourages you to keep paper and pencil handy so that you can write down these thoughts and let them go easier. Writing thoughts down as they come to mind will allow you to deal with them later, rather than when you are trying to relax.

The last activity listed is “Bob Ross.” I have to admit that I slightly giggled at this section when first visiting the Virtual Relaxation Room, but that’s only because I had never watched a Bob Ross video. The video linked is a very calming 27 minutes of Bob Ross painting a landscape scene. He goes through the different colors you use to make the painting and the various techniques that he uses. This allows you to go through and paint with Ross if you want. Even if you don’t paint, simply watching him do so is relaxing and enjoyable. It helps to focus your attention on one thing, which can be very helpful in stressful or anxious situations. The video uses both visual and auditory relaxation as the painting itself is calming to watch and Ross keeps a very mellow, relaxed tone of voice throughout. When watching the video, I found that it helps me to center myself and my thoughts in order to reach a more peaceful state of mind.

Like the Virtual Relaxation Room, the Surviving 2020 Support Group is free for all UMSL students to access. In order to participate in the group, students just need to log onto the health portal and complete the consent forms for the counseling services, which are the same forms all clients must sign. Dr. Hannah Emery runs the group and says that the forms “provide information about privacy policies and confidentiality which pertains to individual services as well as for groups like Surviving 2020.” After completing the forms an UMSL student is free to participate. The group meets every Tuesday starting at 4 pm and ending at 5 pm, unless it is during a school break, and it is being held through Zoom in order to comply with social distancing requirements. They plan to meet every week until finals weeks. It is designed to be a safe place for students to relate and react to other students about what is going on in their lives and the world. There is no judgment and students can feel free to discuss various topics in an unstructured environment. It is also helpful for students to express their emotions and concerns about the world around them.

Even if the semester has you feeling overwhelmed or down, it’s never too late to reach out for help. UMSL’s counseling services are offering even more help than usual in order to guide students through these chaotic times. Both the Virtual Relaxation Room and Surviving 2020 Support Group are free for all students and intended to assist with any feelings that are causing extra stress. The counseling services encourage students to contact them Monday through Friday about one of these services or to schedule an appointment for teletherapy services. Remember that it’s important to keep up with assignments, but it’s more important to keep up with your well-being and mental health.


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