Published: Tuesday, 30 June 2020
If COVID-19 wasn’t enough, recent headlines should prove that we’re living in historic times. For many of us, anger and frustration fill our hearts, fueled by rampant unemployment, a raging pandemic and perhaps the most heated social issues and widespread civil unrest since the 1960s. These issues come during a boiling point of American tensions – a time when polarization is at a high, and mutual understanding seems to have had its day.
At times like these, the importance of building bridges cannot be understated. But with stress filling the air, how can we possibly make this happen? I spoke with Dr. Bongjoo Hwang, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Long Beach State University for guidance.
Step 1 – Personal Wellness
“Feeling grounded is key to staying mentally well,” Dr. Hwang said. “Being home for all this time has created large amounts of uncertainty, but we can reverse these effects by taking several approaches to bring certainly back into our lives.”
“First, set up a schedule based on your needs. Include the necessities like three meals a day, exercise, and of course, healthy recreation to break up your day,” he explained. “Especially during the summer, we all need something meaningful to work on. Aside from rounding out our schedules, work can help provide a sense of purpose.”
When times are tough, Dr. Hwang recommends we utilize our social support systems by staying connected with friends and family. Other support systems, such as religion and spiritual, can also be beneficial for our mental health, according to Dr. Hwang.
“Students should also know that, despite classes being online, CAPS is still fully functional and available to you,” Hwang explained. “If you need assistance, our staff is able to provide your free counseling sessions online."
Information on signing up for counseling sessions can be found here.
Step 2 – Personal and Community Reflection
When discussing mental health in contemporary times, current social issues must be addressed. With the added frustrations of injustice filling our minds, how can we possibly stay healthy while injustice surrounds us? Once you’ve established a wellness routine, Dr. Hwang recommends obtaining clear understanding of your role in these important issues.
As he explained, “Depending on your background, these issues will affect you differently. The communities we associate with also have an impact on how we respond to social issues.” For example, one with deep ties to the Black community may exhibit a stronger emotional reaction to these issues than one without such ties.
No matter which community you belong to, your in-group will exhibit their own perspectives that might impact you in ways they might not realize. Dr. Hwang explained that self-reflection is key to understanding ourselves and our biases.
“You have to understand not just where others are coming from, but where you are coming from,” he suggested. “We all have our own prejudices that we have a duty to accept.”
Acceptance is the first step toward understanding – it is imperative in this process.
Step 3 – Establishing Community/Reaching Out to Others
With your routine taken care of, and self-reflection fresh in your mind, you can begin to focus your energy on others. Dr. Hwang emphasizes the importance of joining and building communities in which you can work toward a positive goal with others.
“This community can be large or small, on-campus or off-campus,” he said. “The important part is that you use it as platform to connect with others and explore what actions you can take together.”
By connecting people within your spaces, you can build bridges across ethnic and political lines. But first, you must take it upon yourself to bring social issues to the forefront of your peers’ minds.
“We must accept that anti-Blackness has a long history in our country and in many of our communities – George Floyd is just the most recent victim,” he explained. “At the individual level, we must acknowledge how systemic racism has dramatically shaped the experiences of others in our community.” That insight also goes for those within your community who long for social healing.
Having a socially aware community that fights for positive change is not just good for society – it's good for our own mental health as well, according to Dr. Hwang. “The importance of respecting others and being respected cannot be understated,” he explained. “But you must start by respecting others. Take the initiative to improve our system and our society from the inside.”
But where to even begin? In your own neighborhood.
“The best place to impact change is at the local level,” he claimed. “Avoid news sources that dramatize stories happening on the other side of the country and focus on those around you. That is where your efforts will be felt the most.”
Many of us want to be compassionate toward others, but oftentimes, our own personal wellness takes precedent. If you take one idea away from this article, it’s that personal wellness and social activism should not be mutually exclusive – in fact, they function on the same path toward overall wellness. Take care of yourself, but don’t exclude those that are hurting within your community – you might just have the same problem, and therefore, the same solution.
For more information on Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), click here. Remember, CAPS is still here for you!