Mental Health and the Election Season: Part 1, Why Participate?

by Bonnie Vander Wal, Ph.D., CAPS Staff Counselor

This post is the first in a series of three planned posts leading up to Election Day, 2020. CAPS staff counselor Bonnie Vander Wal writes to help the Hope Community navigate the turbulent election season with an eye on maintaining mental health.

It’s that time again… 

The incessant political ads –

this guy is wrong for these reasons, versus

this guy is wrong for those reasons, and

this guy is right because of this, versus

this guy is right because of that.

And oh yeah, they all approve their own messages. 

There’s the social media arguments and outrage did someone I’m related to really just post that? Would you dare say that in person to someone’s face? And yet another text message–at least daily–asking if it’s me, who I will support, and how I will cast that support. Ugh, maybe I will just go for a walk…

But wait! Unless I close my eyes or look straight down at the pavement, I can’t even get fresh air these days without knowing who my neighbors are rooting for now, on November 3rd, and beyond

Each election season or cycle seems to get longer with shorter periods of rest in between. Is there really a “season” or do they just campaign continuously? And if 2020 wasn’t already the pinnacle of distress being in the midst of a pandemic, with on-going racial injustice, economic uncertainty, and a climate in turmoil!

Do we even have any energy left to

cast that vote,

have that conversation, and

spend time caring for ourselves?

Cast that vote!

If you are still here and haven’t exited this page yet you might be thinking, “Shouldn’t a blog post from CAPS aim to reduce my stress rather than elevate it?” Yes, you must be one of the brilliant students who call Hope College home. The answer indeed is YES! There is hope at Hope! If you can spare a few minutes, on three separate occasions, I promise you (oops, sorry, too political), rather, I will offer you some useful information on navigating through a turbulent election period.

The focus in this first part is going to be on actually choosing to vote. If you are registered and able to, this can empower you and I’ll discuss how.

The second part in this series will address difficult dialogues with some strategies to use, should you choose to engage in challenging conversations.

Finally, the third part in this series will bring in the most important aspect in any turbulent time – self compassion and self-care. So please tune in to each part of this series in our effort to bring you something helpful and HOPEful!


November 3, 2020 is Election Day in the United States. If you are able, will you vote? Why might this be important to participate in?

Would you believe for your mental health? 

Empowerment

There are psychological benefits associated with casting your vote. The first is empowerment. When you vote, you give power to your position.

Your voice matters. There are many inequities that exist across the nation right now, and although problems exist related to voter access (which would be a different blog at another time), your actual vote is as equal to anyone else’s one vote. The president of Hope College gets one vote. The Dean of Students? Also just one vote. Your favorite professor? Still just one vote. So if you are able, what will you do with your one vote?

Social well-being

Another benefit to participating in the election process is a sense of social well-being. When we work collectively at something and engage in civic duty, we start to feel like we belong. When we feel like we belong, we feel connected to others and experience social consciousness.

Social consciousness makes us more aware of how interrelated we are and reduces isolation. This brings us closer in our communities where we can feel valued, respected, and loved.

Sense of Purpose

When people unite in support of common concerns, this boosts their stamina, gives them a sense of control, and builds resilience.

The last benefit discussed here is related to political or civic engagement overall. If you aren’t able to literally cast a vote this season, perhaps you are still able to exercise your voice, be present and active, and strengthen your mental health. How? By giving you a sense of purpose and asserting your rights.

When people get involved with what they feel passionate about, they experience joy and satisfaction, even if the work is discouraging at times. This is especially true for people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and those disadvantaged economically. When people unite in support of common concerns, this boosts their stamina, gives them a sense of control, and builds resilience.

Taking action for what you support or oppose, whoever you are, enriches your identity and nurtures your spirit. 


Stay tuned for the second part in this series where we’ll address some strategies to try when having difficult dialogues! 

Does this sound like you, too?

by Aaron Schantz, MA, LLP, CAPS Staff Counselor

In the CAPS office, we have been thinking about an article by Tara Haelle, an infectious disease journalist who, in her professional life survived a 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Peru. She begins her article with a realization that life today is harder for her than surviving that earth-shaking disaster.

How is that possible?

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in Spring 2020, her motivation decreased but she wouldn’t describe herself as simply depressed. In fact, her self diagnosis was as follows:

an “anxiety-tainted depression mixed with ennui that I can’t kick,” along with a complete inability to concentrate

I’m no science journalist, nor am I a mother with two school-aged kids navigating at-home schooling. Something about Haelle’s description, however, just made sense to me. In her article she introduces three concepts and interviews three researchers to glean their suggestions for coping strategies. The three concepts she names are what resonated with me most and seemed all-too-familiar despite our different life situations.

Three concepts you probably “get” intuitively

When she writes about a concept called “surge capacity,” its unique activation in a pandemic, her usual ability to handle crises, and the time-limited effectiveness of her former coping patterns, I get that. Months into this pandemic and its effects, as healthy as I thought I was, I understand.

When she describes “ambiguous grief,” it feels familiar. I know what ambiguity means, and I know grief. There are experiences and opportunities I have lost in this season of life as well. Some are obvious, and some are very personal and painful enough that, to my detriment, I sometimes try to avoid thinking about them.

When she introduces a “resilience bank account,” I realize my previously un-recognized wish that I had a few more self-care resources saved up for days and moments in which I might draw on them. I jump right to planning and action: maybe now is a good time to learn to play the ukulele?

Upon laying this foundational understanding–establishing our human common ground around surge capacity, ambiguous loss, and resilience bank accounts, Haelle turns to a few implications of our current living situation and these words from one of her experts:

“It’s harder for high achievers,” she* says. “The more accustomed you are to solving problems, to getting things done, to having a routine, the harder it will be on you because none of that is possible right now. You get feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and those aren’t good.”

*Pauline Boss, PhD, family therapist and professor emeritus of social sciences at the University of Minnesota who specializes in “ambiguous loss.”

If it is harder for high achievers to manage some of these seismic shifts, what must it be like for a community like Hope College? How disruptive to a place full of high achievers? How can we better cope with the realities of 2020 life? If Haelle is right when she quotes Dr. Boss, and hopelessness and helplessness are possible outcomes, those are very challenging places to be, indeed!

I won’t itemize Haelle’s recommendations in this post, because I highly recommend her article. Some of the author’s suggestions, however, are changes in our thinking patterns that take practice–not quick fixes. They do not work immediately and overnight, but are useful ways to be both honest about reality and focus on what is within one’s power to change. “Both-and thinking,” as a matter of fact, is a strategy she suggests.

Self-compassion and grace

Haelle would likely agree that when we cultivate some grace or self-compassion on this journey, we can cope better. One of her three experts reassures her:

“Why do you think you should be used to this by now? We’re all beginners at this,” Masten* told me. “This is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s expecting a lot to think we’d be managing this really well.”

*Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child
development at the University of Minnesota, as quoted by Tara Haelle

We may have been down tough paths before, but none quite like this. I have not survived a catastrophic earthquake, but I have had significant challenges–some that lasted longer than I wanted them to. I’m guessing you have, also.

We have all lost things important to us–experiences, opportunities, relationships.

We all sense a need for more ways to regulate our emotions and pursue our interests and live out of our values.

But maybe I’m being presumptuous to assume that Haelle’s experience and everyone else’s is similar. Does it sound like you, too? Haelle gives readers a chance to see ourselves in her particular situation, and draw from our common experience of this pandemic in a way that transcends the oft-repeated phrase “we’re all in this together.”


Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful: Here’s how to pull yourself out of despair and live your life, Tara Haelle, Aug 17, 2020

Read the full article for yourself. The web page says that it’s a 13 minute read.


Looking for additional strategies to help with coping during these challenging times? Check out our other recent blog posts for additional coping skills:

Dear Hope community (a letter from CAPS)

Dear Hope community,

As we return to campus (both physically and virtually) from the summer recess, we join the community in welcoming students back, and look forward to the ways in which we will serve the mental health needs of our campus. We strive to deliver appropriate and effective services to all of our students, even though we are challenged in these unprecedented times.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) recognizes the distress that exists in our world right now for a variety of reasons and specifically, would like to address the racial injustices that plague our nation.

Over the summer we witnessed the tragic and brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among others. The unnecessary loss of Black and Brown lives is a vile and disgraceful reality in our nation’s history. Moreover, we are amidst a pandemic that has further magnified the multitude of inequities in healthcare, stability, safety, and resources that unfairly afflict our communities of color. We are outraged and disgusted by the inhumanity that still exists in our society today.

As mental health professionals, we personally see the painful burden that living in an oppressive, racist, and invalidating environment places on the physical and mental health of our students of color. In particular, our Black and African-American students may be feeling irate, terrified, devastated, dismissed, and exhausted, among other things, from the on-going exposure to racially-induced violence and trauma. These reactions make sense and they are all valid.

CAPS continues to be dedicated to providing culturally-competent and racially-responsive mental health services.

Although we may not fully understand the impact of your experiences, we share in your emotions and grieve with you.

CAPS staff are also mindful that currently, there are no counselors of color in our center. This has not always been the case nor will it always be the case. We believe bringing a counselor of color to work with us at Hope is crucial to serving the mental health needs of our students as we prioritize fostering understanding, belonging, and grace within the campus community.

We invite and encourage students to consider reaching out for support and/or consultation with any of our counselors. While we are available if you would like to meet with us, we also fully understand that we might not be what you are looking for. Please know that we will support you in finding access to what you do need, whatever that may be. CAPS has a list of resources on our webpage, including resources on how to connect with counselors outside of Hope College.

Finally, we recognize the significant pain this has placed on our Black and African-American students and colleagues in our Hope community. We believe that we are all interconnected in our mission at Hope and thus, when one of us hurts, the health of our whole community is at risk. Although we may not fully understand the impact of your experiences, we share in your emotions and grieve with you.

As members of our Hope community, we are committed to working internally within CAPS, and in connection with campus partners, to engage in and undertake these critical concerns.

Respectfully,

The Staff at CAPS – Jody, Kristen, Bill, KJ, Bonnie, and Aaron

Finding peace through expressive writing: An old method for a new challenge!

by Dr. Bonnie VanderWal, LLP, CAPS Staff Counselor

Journal writing has long been a mode for getting our thoughts and feelings out. It can help relieve emotional pressure and help us to make sense out of what we are experiencing. For some, writing in a journal comes easily. For others, the writing feels like a chore, similar to homework. Although the effects have been shown to be positive, it can often be tough to get started.

What is expressive writing?

Journaling is form of writing that is not new, but many people find helpful. Expressive writing is a specific kind of journaling.

Expressive writing is a bit different. It is a specific type of journal writing. The activity is structured with writing prompts and time limits that make it simple, relaxed, and easy to do. Many studies have shown improvement in mental and physical health by using expressive writing as an outlet for distressing experiences.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, the Regents Centennial Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, studies how groups of people process and cope with widespread trauma. Currently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Pennebaker and his research team have launched The Pandemic Project, a website that offers free resources for dealing with the impact of COVID-19. In particular, the website provides an expressive writing tool, which is anonymous and confidential, to help people learn more about their reactions to the outbreak.

How do I get started?

Check it out! It’s as simple as clicking on this link to The Pandemic Project’s expressive writing page. Choose the prompt you wish to write about, rate how you are feeling, and let loose. You don’t have to worry about grammar, spelling, or language—just write! It’s brief and when you are finished, you will complete a short survey and a computer program analyzes your writing. You receive feedback instantly about your survey and the ways you have written.

Set aside 5-10 minutes in your day and try it for 2-4 days. See if expressive writing makes a difference for you!

Looking for additional strategies to help with coping during these challenging times? Check out our other recent blog posts for additional coping skills:

A Brighter Hope Lies Ahead (Guest Blog with Tim Koberna)

Tim Koberna is the Head Athletic Trainer and an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Hope College. He is passionate about student resiliency and grit, and approached CAPS about ways to collaborate to support all Hope students–in particular, the approximately 600 student-athletes–during this time. In that spirit, he writes the following to the Hope community in his third of three posts this semester.

As we near the end of the semester, it is important to reflect on what we are learning from COVID-19 as Hope College community members.  Each of us has been affected by this pandemic in different ways and to varying degrees.  There are three variables that I believe will stay with us as we continue to navigate through this process. 

  • We as a campus community have been forced to become more agile–more spirited–not only when completing academic work but also with communication.
  • We are learning more about empathy and different ways we express within our relationships.
  • Lastly, we are reminded to be a “people first” family at Hope College. 

Please allow me to briefly elaborate on each of these.

Improving agility

In my day-to-day work as an athletic trainer, I work closely with student-athletes who are continually working on becoming more agile and athletic as it relates to their individual performances.  This involves a number of qualities to master.  Individuals first need the desire and motivation, followed by a support mechanism (coaching), and they need to be tested.  Over the course of the second half of the semester the Hope College community (students, administration, and faculty and staff) has become more agile to battle the COVID-19 outbreak.  Our faith, our GRIT, and our determination are prevailing, the fight is not over, and we will continue to persevere through whatever challenges are ahead of us.

Increasing empathy

Empathy is defined as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else is feeling.”  COVID-19 has forced each of us to accelerate the time and effort it takes to understand the how and why of being empathic. With so much of our communication occurring virtually, we have to go the extra mile to reach out and consider how another person is coping. Author Justin Bariso, author of EQ Applied: The Real- World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, wrote an article for INC.com entitled “There Are Actually 3 Types of Empathy.  Here’s How They Differ—and How You Can Develop Them All.” In his article, he gives descriptions of the types of empathy to remind us how to build stronger and healthier relationships.

Investing in others

The mantra “people first” has been reinforced in schools, businesses and churches all over the world in the wake of the pandemic. To think that we, as a college community, will come out of this adversity with stronger communication, and a deeper appreciation for one another and the campus, should be one element of hopefulness to COVID-19.  Dawn Delgado, LMFT, CEDS-S, EMDR is the author of an article in Psychology Today entitled “In Search of the Silver Lining of COVID-19.”  In it, she discusses the ways we have become better connected with one another, more grounded, and more resilient through all this.  She also discusses the potential for post-traumatic growth beyond our pre-pandemic level of functioning.

Take time to reflect on what we are learning from COVID-19 and be encouraged by what lies ahead for all of us–a brighter Hope.

This pandemic will pass, and our Hope College community will be stronger because of it.  We are improving our agility, increasing in empathy, and investing in others as the days and weeks go by. We work hard at those things because we believe that a brighter Hope lies ahead.

#BeStrongBeTrue

#KeepingHope

Don’t miss the previous two CAPS Guest Blogs by Tim Koberna this semester!

A Time for Mindfulness Meditation

by Dr. Kristen Gray, Licensed Psychologist, Associate Dean for Health and Counseling, Director of CAPS

It seems as though mindfulness meditation is mentioned in almost all recommendations for coping with COVID-19. But just exactly what is mindfulness meditation? Is it right for you? Are you willing to give it a try?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the person who developed this form of meditation, mindfulness meditation is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. And, when we do this, we begin to experience a greater sense of calm and well-being.

mindfulness meditation is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally

But what does that mean?

When we meditate, we train our brains to focus on something specific instead of wandering all over the place. We can choose to focus on the present moment or focus on a particular thought, feeling, or idea without getting distracted. As we develop our ability to keep our attention on what we choose, we experience a greater sense of calm.

One way to meditate is to use the felt sensation of the breath in the body, noticing where you feel the in-breath and where you feel the out-breath. It really is that simple to begin!

Try it out!

Sit in a relaxed (but alert – to avoid falling asleep) position, close your eyes and notice where you feel your breath. It might be in the chest or shoulders or belly, it might be in the throat or the nose. See if you can continue to follow this felt sensation of the breath for a few minutes. If you are flooded with thoughts and ideas and feelings when you first start doing this, no worries, that is a very common experience. Just begin again by focusing back on the breath.

Mindfulness meditation is just like any new skill that we learn. If we practice every day, give ourselves permission to not be super good at it, and practice with gentle humor and an open heart, then over time we get better and better at it. Think of it like doing push-ups: you need to try to do a few every day and over time you get stronger and are able to do more. Over time, we begin to see the benefits to our overall health.

If you are curious and want to learn more about mindfulness meditation,

  • Consider reading The Mindful Christian: Cultivating a Life of Intentionality, Openness, and Faith by Dr. Irene Kraegel.
  • Check out these fabulous YouTube clips! They are worth the 2-3 minutes each!

Mindfulness 101

Why Mindfulness is a Super Power

Ready to give Mindfulness Meditation a try?

CAPS offers a weekly mindfulness meditation group on campus during the academic year!

In the mean time, look into using an app such as

  • Insight Timer
  • Headspace (recently announced a special partnership with the State of Michigan)
  • Calm
  • Stop, Breathe and Think
  • and many others…

just see what works for you. Please note: some have additional features if you set up an account or pay a small fee. YouTube also has lots of free guided meditations if that is helpful to you.

Mindfulness meditation doesn’t require any special clothes, equipment or awkward behaviors such as sitting funny or chanting, it just means taking time each day to sit and breathe in a focused and non-judgmental way. Beginning a mindfulness practice can help both now in the middle of a pandemic, and later as we hope to return to our more recognizable routines of academic and community life.

Looking for additional strategies to help with coping during these challenging times? Check out our other recent blog posts for additional coping skills:

and watch for an upcoming post on Expressive Writing.

Coping with the Anxiety of Living in a COVID-19 World? Try this!

By Dr. Bill Russner, Licensed Psychologist, CAPS Clinical Coordinator

During these extraordinary times that we are all experiencing, uncertainty, stress, and anxiety are likely familiar companions for many of us. While we can understand that these reactions are normal given the current circumstances, none of us enjoys feeling stressed and anxious, and we might often feel that there is nothing we can do to escape these unpleasant feelings.

Fortunately, there are mental health resources available to help us better understand and cope with anxiety and stress.  The Wellness Society has developed the Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook, which presents sound mental health principles and proven behavioral health techniques in an easy-to-read and understand self-help format. The workbook guides us through understanding the emotional, mental, and physical effects of living under chronic stress, and then provides an easy-to-follow structure for adding helpful coping strategies to our every day routines.

As with any self-help resource, to actually experience improvement it is critical to complete the exercises as directed in the workbook!

The workbook is copyright-free and available in PDF format.

Looking for additional strategies to help with coping during these challenging times? Check out our other recent blog posts for additional coping skills:

and watch for upcoming posts on Mindfulness Meditation and Expressive Writing.

Mind, Body & Spirit Wellness during COVID-19 (Guest Blog with Tim Koberna)

Tim Koberna is the Head Athletic Trainer and an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Hope College. He is passionate about student resiliency and grit, and approached CAPS about ways to collaborate to support all Hope students–in particular, the approximately 600 student-athletes–during this time. In that spirit, he writes the following to the Hope community in his second of a series of posts.

We continue to see change daily with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in our state, communities and personal lives.  In order to deal with these changes effectively, having a wellness plan for your mind, body and spirit is essential.  Below are 10 tips to help you with continued wellness during these changing times. Each of the following tips can be associated with maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit.

1.  Find a routine and stick to it

  • Have your day planned and stick to it; eat breakfast, attend classes, and engage in physical activity, social time, reflection time etc.  Consistency is important. If you attended chapel in the past, watch the video posts each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:30 a.m. Even now. If your course lectures are recorded, “attend” class at the time you normally would as much as possible. (Take notes on the things you would have asked in class or sorted out with a classmate in the hallway after class.)

2. Dress for the day you want 

  • Plan your dress for the day.  It is easy to stay in comfy clothes, but if you are remotely attending class, meetings etc., it is still important to dress for success. Your dress will likely still affect each day’s outcomes. Rep your Hope College apparel if that helps you both stay comfortable and get into the college mindset when your environment tells you otherwise. (Order something online from the Bookstore if that helps!)

3.  Move for at least 30 minutes

  • Make it a point to exercise, walk the dog, go for a walk with music (Hope College Concert Series has a Spotify playlist) or a podcast (here’s a good one from Tony Dungy), or work outside in the yard.  Are there any tulips blooming where you live? However you choose, find some time each day to be active whether you do so alone or shared with others (with appropriate social distance, of course). 

4.  Reach out to others

  • Yes, use social media to connect with friends, connect with distant family, mentors, or those who could use a personal lift.  Also, a phone call to check in, say “hello,” or ask if they need anything, can mean a great deal to individuals. Sharing scripture, especially in this Easter season, is also a great way to connect and maintain spiritual health.

5.  Limit media conversations about COVID-19

  • It is important to be informed, but take information and updates in small amounts rather than being consumed with media coverage and the negative opinions of others.  One of the local Grand Rapids news stations has a thorough update at the same time each day–that’s one way we are staying informed!

6.  Notice good in your community

Stop and take notice of what your neighbors, churches, schools, and businesses are doing for the good.  Have gratitude for, and be inspired by their contributions, and feel hopeful for the future.

  • Even in difficult times there is good to be found.  Stop and take notice of what your neighbors, churches, schools, and businesses are doing for the good.  Have gratitude for, and be inspired by their contributions, and feel hopeful for the future. Mr. Rogers encouraged children to “look for the helpers.” For more info about this classic figure in American culture, a Hope alumna has written a book about his life!

7.  Serve

  • If an opportunity presents itself, which you feel is safe, then go ahead, roll up your sleeves, and get involved in helping to make a difference.  This will likely contribute greatly to your own sense of health and well-being.  Not sure where to get started? If you are part of a local church (in Holland or at home) perhaps they can find you a place to serve. If not, check with Volunteer Services at Hope.

8.  Eat well, stay hydrated and sleep

  • Think back to all of the lessons you learned in Health Dynamics: maintain good eating and hydration habits during these stressful times as well.  Avoid unnecessary snacking and choose beverages wisely; if you’re feeling more anxious lately, be mindful of your caffeine intake. Proper nutrition and hydration will serve you better in your academic endeavors and fuel your body for your desired physical activity.  Additionally, proper nutrition and hydration contribute overall to better sleep.  Set goals for water intake, sleep duration, and number of healthy foods you can fit in a day. Hope’s national health survey results historically show that Hope students are better than the national average at eating their veggies!

9.  Find something you can control by being creative

  • Make time for things that you enjoy.  Whether your hobby is exercising, reading, listening to music, or doing puzzles, include it in your daily plan. Block out other distractions and enjoy this time for yourself. These activities are what people mean when they talk about self-care.

10.   Living in isolation while not isolated

  • Live your life one moment at a time knowing that you are not alone.  Remember, we are all in this together, and we will get through this together.  Seek wellness through connections–body, mind, and spirit–as best as you can. Know there are people of Hope who care for you and who are ready to help you move forward to live your best life.  Have HOPE!

#BeStrongBeTrue

#KeepingHOPE

If you would like to connect with someone in CAPS, call our office at 616.395.7945 during our office hours.

Are you following CAPS on social media? We have a Twitter and Instagram account with links, healthy reminders, and other good stuff.

Try “Distant Socializing” vs. Social Distancing: Honor our human nature of connection while physically apart

Review by Bonnie VanderWal, Ph.D., LLP, CAPS Staff Counselor

–Article by Melissa DeWitt:  https://news.stanford.edu/2020/03/19/try-distant-socializing-instead/

This short article (linked above) lists strategies for staying connected, a basic human need, while we stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki suggests changing our language about being together while remaining apart, and ways to combat loneliness by digitally hanging out. He also recommends looking at acts of human kindness and compassion, which are more representative of our human instincts in the face of disaster. He reminds us that choosing to be apart is an incredible act of kindness, something we can all do to protect those most vulnerable.

Special thanks to Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown for pointing out this article in her campus-wide e-mail on April 9!

The Pain of Loss (Guest Blog with Tim Koberna)

Tim Koberna is the Head Athletic Trainer and an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Hope College. He is passionate about student resiliency and grit, and approached CAPS about ways to collaborate to support all Hope students–in particular, the approximately 600 student-athletes–during this time. In that spirit, he writes the following to the Hope community in the first of a series of posts.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow throughout the United States, all of us in the Hope College community are dealing with loss. In some ways, our losses are unique to our own situations, and in other ways, we share some similar disruptions. The magnitude of loss is certainly different for each of us, but for all of us, the effect of these hardships can never be quantified. 

Here at Hope, our losses range from the halting of sports seasons, to the cancellation of the SEED sports evangelism trips, from the virtual shift of the traditional student and faculty collaborative research symposium, to the postponement of theater and art performances and other academic showcases.

Embrace that for which you grieve; name the loss and the feelings you experience, and by doing so you take back the power to continue.

The experts remind us that it is OK and expected to have a host of emotions because of these disruptions, because we recognize that each person has their own way of dealing with grieving.  When we feel the pain of loss, it is a reminder of what we have loved and lost. The experience of anger, sadness, anxiety and all of their different combinations in grief are evidence that we are longing for and missing the things we love.

There is no “right way” to grieve, but the experts agree that we stay healthiest if we let it occur and unfold over time. There may be a temptation for some of us to never show an emotional response as we experience loss, but with the right support and to the right people in our lives we can move through the loss when we take the opportunity to be appropriately vulnerable. Grief becomes most problematic when we either 1) never allow ourselves to feel and express the emotions that arise from the loss, or 2) become unwilling or unable to continue moving forward in life because of the loss.

If there is no right way to grieve, what might someone see in themselves and others during this time? Dr. Jennifer Carter, a sports psychologist from Ohio State shares the following:

Common emotional reactions to grief:

  • Shock/ denial/ numbness/ a sense of unreality
  • Anxiety and fear, which may relate to insomnia and a feeling on edge
  • Second guessing ourselves (If only I’d…”)
  • Sadness and loss
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Questions about why this happened1

Dr. Carter also has some suggested responses you can try as you navigate the pain of loss:

How do we take care of ourselves in times like this?

  • Practice deep cleansing belly breaths to decrease stress and help sleep
  • Engage in your routine, class, exercise or practice, drawing or coloring, listening to music…etc.
  • Seek support from your friends, teammates and family
  • Try to get regular sleep and nutrition
  • Reach out to a counselor, spiritual advisor, peer, friend, teammate, coach or athletic trainer1
  • also, try some of the skills in CAPS’ Discussions with Dash blog posts

On March 25, President Scogin gave a virtual chapel message based on the text of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NRSV) “…so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  He encouraged the campus to not grieve without hope, which he called “mourning,” because that would have a lasting, harmful effect on oneself.  Instead, he said to “marinate” your negative emotions in hope.

In this midst of this loss, President Scogin pointed toward where to find this hope by paraphrasing Romans 8:28: “God will work all things together for good in the end.” The Christian faith asserts that all will be worked out in the end with God’s goodness as we keep our hope.  

Hope students and student-athletes, embrace that for which you grieve; name the loss and the feelings you experience, and by doing so you can take back the power to continue. With Hope. #BeStrongBeTrue #KeepingHope

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, renowned expert on grief 2

If you would like to connect with someone in CAPS, call our office at 616.395.7945 during our office hours.

Are you following CAPS on social media? We have a Twitter and Instagram account with links, healthy reminders, and other good stuff.

Looking to learn more about grief, the grief process, or the pain of loss? You can find more about grief and loss on the CAPS web page by clicking on the Find Resources to Help You Grieve button. Other information about Counseling and Psychological Services can be found at hope.edu/caps.

If you have heard about “stages” of grief, the most famous grief and researchers and writers are Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. More information about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is available at ekrfoundation.org. A link to the page for David Kessler can be found at grief.com.

1 Carter, Jennifer, PhD.: The Ohio State University Scarlet and Grit Blog, Dec. 2014 https://u.osu.edu/sportpsychology/2014/12/

2 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation: https://www.ekrfoundation.org/elisabeth-kubler-ross/quotes/