Letters to Loyola: Take Care of Your Mental Health
October 7, 2021
To state the overwhelmingly obvious, this has been a tough couple of months for all of us – actually, a tough couple of years. Each of us has handled the anxiety and uncertainty in different ways. Whether you are stoic to the point of denial, or feeling particularly fragile right now, I hope that you pay close attention to taking care of yourself.
I say that not to offer trite platitudes, but as the daughter of a clinical psychologist who talked a lot about work at the dinner table. My dad taught me that we don’t begin to understand the power of our minds and emotions to affect our physical health. (That’s why placebos actually work so well – because we believe they will.) From sleep, to concentration, to stomach problems, we’ve all gotten a crash course in the ways that stress has affected not just our mood, but our bodies.
But the connections between mind and body also go the other direction. Exercise (to my great annoyance) really does make you feel better. Stretching, breathing, praying, eating well – all of it works. I wish that drinking, eating Popeyes and binge-watching television could snap you out of anxiety and depression, but sadly I find that it does not. Taking care of yourself does.
My dad also taught me that all of us need counseling – formal and informal. We need it at moments of distress, trauma and grief. But it is also incredibly helpful to finding real happiness in life. In so many ways, the point of growing up (our whole lives) is to know ourselves – to discover the wounds that afflict us and find a way to heal – to realize our own strengths and forgive our flaws.
My dad was both a psychologist and a former Jesuit, and he talked a lot about the Jesuit insights (going back centuries) into the connectedness of mind, body and spirit. With the Examen, we stop each night and think first about what we’re proud of, what we’re grateful for, where we acted as the person we hope to be. We pay attention to how that felt, in our hearts and in our guts. And then we remember what didn’t feel very good. We pick up the moments of anxiety in our day and look at them – what are the lessons we might learn from that feeling? What’s causing it? How do we approach tomorrow a little differently? Not with shame, but with growth.
For any of you feeling acute distress, or suffering from the kind of mental health issues that require treatment and medication (like any serious health issues), use these moments of contemplation to realize that you should reach out for help. Students can reach the UCC counselor on-call 24/7, 365 days a year by dialing 504.865.3835 and pressing 1 after the prompt. And for faculty and staff, the EAP is an excellent resource.
For all of us – at this moment when we are feeling overwhelmed, when our moments of joy have been curtailed and our normal comforts denied – I hope that we’ll all take a moment to breathe. I hope that we look out for each other, and in that generosity find reassurance for ourselves. I hope that we’ll find gratitude in the very breaths we take, in the support we find, in the love we have for each other.
Correction – I wrote last week about The Maroon, and the difference between publishing online today versus the lifespan of older print editions. I was thrilled to be told that we have digitized almost a century of The Maroon, thanks to its generous alumni, and it is available in the Louisiana Digital Library.
Prayers and blessings,