Safeguarding our Mental Health

An Interview with Jennifer McCormick

By Shelley Rathie

End of semester can be a stressful period in the lives of faculty. With exams and term papers to grade, the holiday season to plan for, and getting ready for the next semester and, and, and…and we accept this  as a trade-off for working in a profession we love.   However, 2020 has magnified our level of stress.  For most of us, it feels like we never leave work as the computer is the classroom and that “classroom” is always at the end of our fingertips.  Plus the angst, frustration, and uncertainty felt by our students seems to travel through the internet connections and we physically absorb their emotions even in this remote learning environment.  

With this in mind, on behalf of the MRFA Communications Committee, I reached out to our own Jennifer McCormick (M.Sc., R.Psych. Counsellor/Assistant Professor, Mount Royal University Wellness Services) for some timely, and professional, advice to safeguard our own mental health.  Her top three recommendations are to separate work from home, to practice good mental health habits, and to show yourself some self-compassion.

A year ago, when we were working on campus, it was so much easier to separate work from home.  Today, when our office may be the dining room table, or a desk in a bedroom that separation seems blurry at best.  Jennifer’s advice is simply to make some small visual changes. Look at something different (sit in one direction looking at a picture when you are at work/change the direction of your body and computer and look at something different when you are at your computer for personal enjoyment); sit in one chair for work and a different chair for personal use; and have different times for different activities where you purposefully schedule in non-work activities.  Creating an obvious visual difference/separation between being at the computer for work and being at the computer for pleasure triggers the brain to create the separation between work-life and home-life that so many of used to get from commuting between home and campus. 

Practicing good mental health habits, according to the experts, includes getting enough sleep, physical movement, making social connections and investing in creative pursuits.  These are often easier said than done.  Jennifer suggests combining activities such as participating in a work meeting while on the treadmill or building in some social time with colleagues during those meetings.   The saying “a change is as good as a rest” rings true when we make time for the creative endeavours that bring us joy. 

Don’t forget to show yourself some compassion; the same kind of compassion you would show a colleague, a student or a family member.  Jennifer’s sage advice is that we be honest and responsive to our own needs.  That we admit when things are tougher than previous and that we meet this awareness with honesty and frank conversation.  If we are going to drop a few balls (and let’s face it, we all feel that way right now), let’s plan to drop the plastic balls – the ones that will bounce; rather than the glass balls that will break.  We are so often accepting of others not following through on their commitments, and the best self-compassion we can show is when we are equally compassionate to ourselves.   We are human after all, and no one is expected to have all the answers or do things brilliantly all the time.

These are unique times that we have adjusted to in a haphazard fashion, rather than been acclimated to in the best possible practices of change management.  We are all doing the best we can do, and we need to remind ourselves, and celebrate, of our successes whenever we can. 

As a reminder, our benefits provide all MRFA members with access to an Employee and Family Assistance Program through Homewood Health.  Homewood can be accessed through a link on mymru/employee or by calling 1-866-585-0445.