As students prepare to re-enter a traditional in-person world after a year of interacting through computer screens, the USF Counseling Center is hoping to assuage some of those anxious feelings in its new summer workshop.
Beginning June 8, “Back to Basics: Support Beyond the Bubble” will take place each Tuesday at 2 p.m. until Aug. 3 on Microsoft Teams, according to Meara Thombre, a postdoctoral fellow at the USF Counseling Center and the workshop’s co-leader. Links to the workshop can be found on the Counseling Center’s website.
Each session will have a duration of about 45 minutes to an hour and will offer tips on managing anxiety, staying mentally healthy and refining socialization skills for the transition to in-person interactions, according to Thombre.
“It will really help just normalize a lot of understandable stress and anxiety of coming back to this new normal,” Thombre said. “I think that it will also give them a lot of helpful skills and frameworks to approach some of that stress and anxiety now and in the future, as well as giving them a space to connect with other students and kind of start getting their feet wet.”
“Back to Basics” will be free to attend on a drop-in basis, and will be led by Jenny Dutil, a staff clinician at the USF Counseling Center. The workshop will consist of one section dedicated to learning and refining skills in preparation for in-person interactions, with the other part being more of an open discussion and focused on support.
“We can teach skills and guide conversation, but we’re also there to support and help people connect over their stresses and anxieties, and just all face this together,” Thombre said.
Helping students recognize there are lots of challenges that come with navigating an uncertain future is the goal of the workshop, according to Thombre, but finding different ways to approach and handle difficult situations will help with the adjustment period.
She said the workshop would be a valuable resource for students who need practice in getting themselves back out into the social world.
“Exposure is really the best medicine,” Thombre said. “By recognizing that, talking with people on campus or in other scenarios when you’re in person will be a little bit easier.”
Amber Wakeman, a staff clinician at the USF Counseling Center, said the workshops will benefit students through validating them and helping them accept their feelings regarding the transition.
“Sometimes when we’re dealing with something heavy, or even light and more of just feeling a little nervous, we might feel like we’re the only ones carrying that, and that’s usually not true,” Wakeman said. “So having this kind of workshop can show that it’s a concern for more than one person.
“I think [the workshops] also offer helpful psychoeducation surrounding the topic, which makes it easier to manage if students can learn certain tips of dealing with different concerns.”
If students are feeling reluctant about reaching out to campus resources, Wakeman said every resource is a safe space, and researching more into each one can help to relieve any uncertainty.
“A lot of times it’s the unexpected that causes fear or anxiety, so looking up information on the workshop can sometimes be helpful and alleviate some anxiety because you can familiarize yourself with it,” she said.
One concern students may have about joining a campus workshop is the pressure of participation and socialization, according to Thombre.
However, with “Back to Basics,” Thombre said students will be able to find solace in advancing at a pace that feels comfortable for them.
“If you’re feeling intimidated to come to a group like this, I would say recognizing that even if you don’t turn on your mic or your video, that’s OK,” she said.
“Even if it’s something where you’re coming in, you’re seeing how everybody else is getting along and you don’t have any plans or intent to be anything but a fly on the wall, that’s still a good first step. I would also add that this is a group where you can come to it multiple times. I think that might be a helpful thing to know in terms of just adjusting [to the workshop].”
As the workshop prepares to kick off its first session, Thombre said seeking help is something that can be beneficial to every student, no matter their situation.
“If you’re wondering whether the counseling center might be a good option to consider, it generally can be,” she said. “It’s not always that you need to wait until you’re in a crisis in order to come see us. We really are there to help you flourish, and not just survive.”