New online workshop helps students cope with COVID-19 stress

Coping with COVID is an online semiweekly session for students to discuss how life as a college student has changed during the pandemic.

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

Jiang Li

University of Minnesota Student Counseling Services is holding online educational workshops to help students manage their stress and develop coping methods for struggles related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, SCS created Coping With COVID, an online semiweekly session for students to discuss different topics about how life as a college student has changed in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The topics range from health care, emotion management, social connection and more, with three counseling staff running each session.

Students can learn about mood management strategies, relaxation techniques, general self-care and how to build resilience against adversity. As of April 28, there were 20 students registered for the workshop.

Alexa Fetzer, the staff psychologist and interim groups coordinator for SCS, said that the workshop is a combination of learning and support.

“It’s kind of a mix between creating spaces for dialogue and exchanging experiences and helping students connect with each other,” Fetzer said.

During the workshop, counselors said they found students have struggled in different areas, including struggling with the transition to online classes — especially the lack of motivation. There have also been students who identified themselves as Asian or Asian American who said they have appreciated the discussions about xenophobia and racism during the pandemic, said Rita Sandidge, a Coping With COVID workshop counselor.

Sandidge said part of their goal is to help students validate that “it is really OK not to be OK right now” and help them build self-compassion.

During the workshop, students also learn the importance of community. Counselors help students find ways to serve and support one another. For example, they talk with students on how they can connect with neighbors, Sandidge said.

“We’re all in this huge learning process of managing it,” Sandidge said.

Gabrielle Kaminsky-Bayer, a Coping With COVID workshop counselor, said international students have also been benefiting from the workshop.

“[International students] similarly struggle with how to navigate the stress and cope since they are feeling more isolated,” Kaminsky-Bayer said. “They aren’t able to leave campus. They cannot go home. They have experienced many flights [that] have been canceled or postponed …”

Counselors meet with each other every week to discuss the sessions, including student participation and adjustments for future sessions.

“For example, we had a lot of discussions around connection and feeling isolated, and we really want to make sure that in our week three, that’s a big part of the conversation,” Kaminsky-Bayer said.

Fetzer said they will keep the online format of the counseling service, which is more accessible and convenient, in the future. 

“We want to maintain that accessibility and flexibility as we move forward,” Fetzer said. “So I very much see online workshop series as a continued part of our service provision regardless of whether the pandemic is happening or not.”