Updated: Jul 21
As a part of Be Well With Hillel, we have introduced a Dear Abbie style question and answer series called Counselor Queries. Students submit questions to our Be Well counselor, Susan Fishman, where an answer will be posted every Wellness Wednesday on Hillel's social media. As we continue to get new submissions, this page will be updated, so come back for future Queries!
Want to submit a query of your own? Click HERE.
Q: I was excited to hang out with my best friend from high school this summer, but she's been really down since she's been home and seems more and more isolated, which is not like her. I'm not sure what to do or how to approach her.
A: It sounds like you're tuned into your best friend and really care about her well-being. She may be going through a temporary rough patch, or is having a hard time adjusting to life at home after the challenging year we've all had. A low mood and increasing isolation can be signs that she is struggling with her mental health. But if you're not sure, here are some other signs to look for:
Impulsive behaviors or being more irritated than usual
Not functioning like her usual self (i.e., change in habits, general appearance, eating or sleeping)
Talking about feelings of loneliness or despair
If you have concerns, one of the best things you can do is reach out to your friend and start a conversation. It's preferable to do this in person where you can read her facial expressions and body language. But if you can only reach her by text, start with a simple opener like:
"Hey, we haven't talked in a while. What's going on?"
"Are you okay? You don't seem like yourself lately."
"Seems like something's up. Do you wanna talk about it?"
Overall, trust your gut. You know your friend, and your instincts are probably good ones. You can build on any momentum by encouraging her to reach out for her from a parent, counselor, or someone she trusts. But your willingness to talk, listen, and just be present helps more than you may know.
Q: I got vaccinated, and now my friends keep telling me to take off my mask. But I'm just not ready yet. It makes me feel naked. What should I tell them?
A: After all this time we've spent donning a mask, it makes sense you'd feel naked without it. And you're not the only vaccinated person who may be hesitant about ditching the mask. Some people are choosing to continue wearing their mask for many reasons, including wanting to protect others from infections and finding relief from social anxiety.
It's possible your friends may not agree with your decision based on their own beliefs about mask wearing. Or perhaps they are basing it on current CDC guidelines, which state that "you can resume activities without wearing a mask or distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance."
Still, peer pressure can be tough. But it's important to remember that choosing to wear, or not wear, a mask is a personal choice based on one's own circumstances and individual comfort level. And we all adjust at our own pace.
Whatever your reason, you can let your friends know in a way that is respectful of their choice, but values your own, as well. For example, "I can understand (or appreciate) the decision not to wear one. But for me, I still like the idea of having that extra layer of protection." Or "I just don't trust that others are fully vaccinated," or "I enjoy the privacy it gives me." You get the idea.
Q: Ever since Covid restrictions have been lifted, I've been feeling anxious in crowds and more awkward in social situations. How can I get back to feeling "normal" again?
A: These days, a lot of people are feeling what been termed "re-entry anxiety." I've also heard it called "FONO" (like FOMO), Fear of Normal, or "FOGO," Fear of Getting Out. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association reports that almost 50% of Americans feel anxious about returning to in-person interactions.
For many of us, anxiety during quarantine served as a protetive factor to help keep us safe (wearing masks, washing hands, etc) But now that it's safe to re-enter the world, it's making it harder to engage and get back to the activities that will help lift us out of that anxious, or depressed, state. After 16 months of reduced connection, it also makes sense that our bodies and minds would be telling us "no" or "beware" in social situations. Our social skills have atrophied. When your brain puts things in deep storage for a while, you start to lose them. The good news is, once you pull them out and start using them, they can begin to come back.
The best response to what our brains are telling us ("no") is to reduce avoidance. To engage in the very activities that make us anxious. Because the more we practice tolerating uncertainty or distress, eventually we find we can handle it and that our fears won't actually come true.
This doesn't mean you have to run out to a huge concert or festival every chance you get. Take it slowly. Start with a walk or dinner outside with a friend. Then you can work your way up to, say, a shopping trip, or a social event. Maybe bring along a partner for moral support. We're all finding our way back to "normal" together, so chances are, they could use the support, too.
Above all, try to give yourself patience and a little grace as you ease back in. Think of what you would tell a friend about their anxiety...and be as kind to yourself as you would be to your friend.
Q: I’m excited about getting back to campus this year, but I’m really nervous about living with new roommates, especially after more than a year at home with just my parents. Any advice?
A: Having a college roommate can be a great experience, but it can also present challenges, especially when you’re just getting to know one another and adjusting to new personalities and habits. You don’t have to be best friends, but you can get things off on the right foot and make cohabitating a lot smoother by discussing some things up front.
For example, as you’re learning about your roommate’s social circle, it may be a good time to bring up how to handle visitors. What’s the time limit? Are overnight guests ok? What about talking on the phone? Should these conversations be kept to a bedroom rather than a common area where others may be studying? Having the conversation ahead of any issues can prevent potential feelings of blame or resentment.
You and your roommates will also likely have different ideas about what’s considered neat and clean. This can be a major source of roommate conflict, so it’s a good idea to come up with a cleaning schedule to determine who will do what and how often. Break it down into tasks like washing dishes, sweeping, taking out the trash, etc., and choose a time that works with everyone’s schedules.
Remember, communication is key, but so is compromise. You may not get everything you want, but the idea is for everyone to get some of the things they want. And to make room for adjustments as your schedules and needs change throughout the year.