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Louisiana Tech turns to tele-counseling during outbreak

Friday, April 3, 2020

Editor’s note: This is the final article in a series featuring Louisiana Tech University health faculty promoting physical, mental and dietary health during the coronavirus outbreak.

Louisiana Tech University is wrapping up its third week of online-only instruction in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, with no definite return date.

As mitigation efforts continue to alter the daily lives of students, faculty and the surrounding community, a trio of Tech health experts are offering tips on how to adapt to the changes and incorporate good habits for physical, mental and dietary health, even while social distancing.

The third of these experts is Ron Cathey, Tech’s director of Counseling and Career Services, which has changed its session format to tele-counseling to comply with Gov. Edwards’ stay-at-home order.

Cathey said as of Thursday Counseling Services had completed 229 appointments in the past two weeks, which is comparable to the volume when students are on campus.

He shared the following suggestions to help combat isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression in a time of uncertainty and disruptions to daily life.

Check on others

Social distancing is not the same as social disengagement or social isolation, Cathey said.

“Social communication platforms can be a great resource for this time,” he said. “As we practice social distancing, the use of email and our phones helps us to stay in touch with friends and family and, in the university community, students, faculty and staff.”

In addition to simply checking in with loved ones, Cathy recommends getting creative in communicatingwellbeing, gratefulness, humor and hope.

“Positivepsychology has been defined as ‘the scientific study of what makes life most worth living,” he said. “We can use our time to examine and promote to others what makes life most worth living.”

Consider some social media distancing

While connecting to loved ones through digital platforms is encouraged, too-frequent exposure to coronavirus-related coverage and discussion is not. Cathey said constant content consumption leads to a communication overdose that can trigger anxiety, depression and loneliness over time.

“Do we need to be informed? Of course,” he said. “Do we need hours and hours of the same information?”

The American PsychologicalAssociation recommends choosing one or two trusted sources — the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization, for example — for information to stay abreast of critical updates.

The APA also encourages limiting repetitious exposure to media stories and being wary of reports on social media that have not been fact-checked.

“Read a classic,” Cathey said, listing stress-relieving alternatives to news overexposure. “Go for a walk. Learn something new.”

Practice good hygiene

Despite the disruption of normal schedules for many during this time, Cathey suggests continuing to set routines that include the same hygiene practices one would take before going to work.

“Something as simple as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, washing your hands and changing into a clean pair of clothes that complement you and make you feel comfortable can make a world of difference,” he said. “Cleanliness leads to confidence.”

Work attire may not be needed, but changing out of sleep clothes will signal to the body and mind that the day is beginning.

“Approach every work or school day as if it were normal times,” Cathey said. “I encourage keeping your schedule as normal as possible for you and those you live with.”

Seek out counseling

If someone becomes stuck in an abnormal pattern of thinking or behavior, Cathey said the first option should be to talk with a friend or accountability partner to help get back on track.

“It can be powerful and influential to confide to someone what you are experiencing and who might be dealing with the same issues and changes,” he said.

If this does not help, professional counseling may be a good option, and it is still available during this time. Mental health professionals are deemed essential under the governor’s stay-at-home order. Tech students can schedule an appointment or be referred to other resources by calling 257-2488.