Center for Student Health and Counseling sign. Justin Grinnell/PSU Vanguard

Amid pandemic, SHAC helps students manage stress

As the pandemic continues to affect the Portland State community, the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) is offering an event called “Managing Emotions” to help students.


The goal of this event is to “validate the difficulties the past academic year has been for students while also providing resources about how to manage and cope with these difficulties,” said Amanda Ramirez, SHAC psychologist and outreach coordinator.


“Managing Emotions” is a collaborative series by SHAC and the Transfer and Returning Student Resource Center. The two groups have worked together to create a series centered around student mental health. While hosted by professionals at SHAC, the partnership with the Transfer and Returning Student Resource Center ensures student minds are at the forefront of presentation. 


“The event is split into three segments, each lasting 20–25 minutes,” Ramirez said. “The first segment addresses the concept of stress. The goal is to gain a basic understanding of what stress is and how it might manifest in our lives, physically, behaviorally, emotionally and cognitively. The first segment also consists of identifying current stressors in student’s lives while also exploring what stress might be telling students.”


After completing the first segment, students will then meet with a facilitator where, together, they will do an exercise in grounding or mindfulness. Following this, students will take a five-minute break to rest their eyes, stretch, grab a snack or whatever else they may need. 


Next, students will come back together with the presenter and facilitator to discuss the exercise, answering questions about what students noticed and what was helpful or unhelpful. This will lead the group into a discussion about practical strategies to use in response to stress. 


SHAC uses the acronym used is called “FACE COVID,” “FACE” meaning “Focus on what you can control,” “Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings,” “Come back into your body” and “Engage in what you are doing.” Together, students will talk about each one of these stages means, how stress looks under each stage and how to apply them to situations. Then, they will do another mindfulness activity and another five minute break. 


When everyone returns, the presentation breaks down the second part of the acronym. Here, “COVID” stands for: “Committed action,” “Open up,” “Values,” “Identify resources” and “Disinfect and distance.” Just like the previous segment, this part of the presentation will address each of the categories and how to implement them in the practice of managing and responding to stress. Since this is the last activity, the group will open up to any questions and comments they may have to conclude the event. 


“I believe students will get a space to connect around similar difficulties and [leave with] an understanding that they are not alone,” Ramirez said. 


Although this is the first one of its kind during this term, SHAC has hosted similar events in the past. “The series has also acknowledged the length of the pandemic and how that has impacted student experiences at college,” Ramirez said. “As the pandemic continues, the series shifted to be increasingly interactional to counteract Zoom fatigue that students have identified in classes.” 


The presentation team has also adapted the series to reflect student feedback on aspects such as the effectiveness of the exercises, as well as the implementation of more pressing concepts and themes related to student experiences. 


According to the presentation team, student turnout has been consistent throughout the series as most leave with helpful tactics to address stress and other COVID-19-related issues. Students are given the opportunity to communicate with peers and counselors about their feelings and shared experiences. This also provides students with a chance to work out and share any methods they use and have learned about both inside and outside of the session to deal with stress. 


Outside of this series, SHAC offers individual and group therapy, workshops and drop-in groups. Organizations and groups on campus are encouraged to work with SHAC to do outreach presentations to address mental health on campus. These organizations often do so, allowing for the center to present to classrooms. In the wake of the pandemic, SHAC has reinforced these programs to provide students with more resources to combat the emotions that go along with continuing life during this time. 


As the pandemic continues, SHAC plans to continue with the “Managing Emotions” series as well as other programs. Working with other on campus groups and organizations, the team will continue to address student needs and find ways to help the PSU community. 


“Managing Emotions” is scheduled for Tuesday, April 20 from 12–1:30 p.m. Students can register for the event  as well as check out any future events and programs on SHAC’s website.