By Sarah Leonard (Co-Head of Layout and Design, ‘23)
As most of our connections and activities moved online last year, many aspects of normal day-to-day school life were left behind. Assemblies and classes were held over Zoom, leaving us without many of the previously taken-for-granted smaller greetings and conversations that make up so much of the school day, Without this casual way to communicate with students, the FCS counseling team had to find new ways to keep in touch, resulting in the creation of their counseling podcast!
The pandemic and virtual school both had a considerable impact on our collective mental health, and many were left to adapt by themselves. One of the Upper School guidance counselors, Heather Tomes, said,“We as the counseling team were kind of struggling on how to connect with students when we weren’t here presently. We mostly started the podcast as a way to reach all of our students when they’re not here in person, and share self-care tips and strategies for times of angst or anxiety or stress.” Understanding the events going on in the larger world at this time was a practically impossible task; similarly, adjusting ourselves and our routines to life perpetually at home felt almost as challenging. The aim of the counselors’ podcast was mainly to be an ally to students struggling and to provide guidance in such chaotic times, while also helping students realize that their struggles were understandable. Mental health issues are normal all of the time, and deserve all the support and empathy they need, but especially during the pandemic as it created isolation for an extended period of time leaving technology as one of the only ways to interact.
As for the transition back to in-person school, the counselor’s have noticed students struggling with academics as well as social interactions. “Students' social skills have decreased, and there’s lessened communication with peers, because we’ve been in our rooms studying alone with minimum connection. We’ve noticed less chit chat conversations,” Heather observed. She also spoke about the schedule changes that came with on-campus learning, saying that many are missing the longer breaks between classes we had last year, which were helpful to decompress during the day. Overall, people have so much less time due to commuting and extracurricular activities, all while dealing with a steadily increasing workload. Heather advised, “It’s very important to allow yourself time for a break, but also to leave a couple hours open for school work. One technique I often recommend to students is getting down to work for twenty minutes, followed by a five to ten minute break. It’s called the Pomodoro effect.” Other strategies like planning for the week ahead and taking into consideration longer assignments and test weeks can help ease stress levels and burn-out.
Another effect of the lessened leisure time is the sacrifice of self-care and mindful habits, which are often pushed aside when homework and other things get out of control. In the beginning of the pandemic, many found more time to look after their mental and physical health and do things they love but don’t usually have time for. These have been disregarded as old obligations reappear. However, Heather emphasizes the importance of looking after yourself, which only becomes more important as we regain larger responsibilities: “Self care is often really about making sure you have everything you need, and can be something as simple as 10 minutes to yourself, away from stressors. Now that our lives have gotten busier again, I feel like this has been the first thing to go to the side. Things like mindfulness, exercise, adequate sleep and food are much harder with less time, but help to sustain you.” Implementing self care back into our routines will allow us all to build healthy habits as we go into the in-person school year.
Though the podcast is still not as well known among students, Heather says that they’ve noticed listeners from all sorts of places, including the UK. She announced, “While our community might not have really known about it, people in other states were listening, and while it was really geared towards our FCS community, it was nice to know that other people were connecting to it!” If you want to listen, you can find the FCS Student Wellness: Strategies, Techniques, & Tips Podcast on Spotify, Anchor, or RadioPublic. Also, you can follow @fcs_counselingandwellness on Instagram.