How to Keep Calm and Carry On: An Interview with Bates CAPS Psychologist Jessica Mayo

During these times of uncertainty it is hard to stay motivated and positive. Many seniors are not only disheartened by the abrupt end COVID-19 has brought to their college career, but are also worried about life after Bates as they enter into an increasingly dismal job market.

 In search of some advice for navigating the last few weeks of this semester, I spoke with Jessica Mayo, Psy.D, a psychologist at Bates CAPS center.

According to the Bates CAPS website, Mayo has done counseling and assessment at Bates since 2011. She specializes in mood and anxiety disorders, personality concerns, autism spectrum disorders, learning differences, and attention problems.

TBS: How do you stay productive at home when you feel little to no motivation or are feeling anxious?

JM: So I have been talking to a lot of students and hearing obviously, I think lack of motivation and concentration has been a really big concern. And obviously, I think that we’re all functioning at a heightened level right now. And stress responses make it harder for us to think and reason and remember. So as far as staying productive, I think it’s really important to try to develop some sort of routine in our daily lives. So having things like certainly a regular sleep schedule, trying to you know, have things that happen on a specific time, for example, like students are watching classes, or like the lectures for classes at the same time that they might normally attend class, having set work hours that you work, and then times that you take breaks, things like that to try to make the days a little bit more normal. I think it’s also really important right now to have self compassion and to understand that we’re not going to be functioning at our same level as we would be when we’re at school or our work normally, so kind of having some self compassion for ourselves understanding that what we’re going through is normal and we’re not going to be as productive as we normally would be.

What are some healthy ways of distressing?

Certainly, first and foremost, I think connecting with friends and family. So if you have good supports at home, connecting with them trying to lose those supports, finding other ways of social connecting while we are physically distancing, so things like obviously like video, there’s different video chat programs, texting or calling a friend playing games with friends, or family members, sending letters or cards, watching movies together, there’s like Netflix party or different screen share programs that allow you to watch movies together, finding new ways to connect with other people. healthy ways of kind of distressing. I think, for a lot of people, it’s kind of hard because some of the things maybe potentially, we feel like we don’t have time to do normally. So finding new hobbies or potentially reconnecting with old hobbies that we’ve had in the past, so things like reading or drawing or something creative… painting, drinking tea. What else do we have a list of things we can offer as well meditating, exercising, painting, playing an instrument, petting a cat or a dog. Checking out a list of recommended movies that you’ve always wanted to watch. Things like that, that might distract us might help us feel more calm.

How do you focus on work when you are in a distracting environment at home?

Absolutely. I want to acknowledge that a lot of people don’t have the privilege of having a quiet workspace, or have even space to be alone to try to do that. I think it’s, it’s definitely a challenge and I don’t have a perfect answer for that but I think if at all possible trying to find a space that you specifically associated with doing work, and then kind of leave that as your workspace I think can kind of be helpful, whether that’s a desk, a space on the floor a space in a specific room, and then hopefully, encouraging family members to be mindful of perhaps like set times that you have that you might be doing work.

What are some good time management strategies?

My answer for this is very different than it would be if we were at school. But I think definitely developing a routine, again, I think, sleep hygiene is very important right now like trying to get regular sleep, trying to keep a regular sleep schedule so that you’re going to bed and getting up around the same times. Certainly eating meals very regularly—just basic self care in there. But then, you know, I think everyone works a little bit differently and finding whatever works for you, is most helpful, but people have already benefited I think from again like finding ways to make things sort of scheduled or routine such as watching classes during the time that you might actually attend class, having set work hours like 9:00 to 12:00 and then taking a break and then 3:00 to 5:00pm or something that you might be dedicating just to work. But certainly, making sure that you’re taking lots of breaks, lots of time for self care much much more than we maybe normally would allow ourselves. Yeah.

How do you stay happy, especially if you’re in an area where you cannot go outside? 

I mean, we have the option of being happy no matter where we are, I think that it is focusing on things that we are grateful for and acknowledging realities of situations and some, like for example if your family as well. Even though it’s very stressful to be confined to your home, kind of acknowledging that you’re grateful to have a home and to have a safe space and for all their family members to be well so kind of focusing on things that we might be grateful for and the reality of situation, and also kind of keeping in mind that even though, as hard as this is, it’s all temporary. And there’ll be an endpoint to this, although we don’t know the endpoint. There will be one.

I think it’s important to engage in activities that are pleasurable for us: so things that we enjoy doing and having those things to look forward to. So, I think, you know, it’s very easy to kind of get in a bit of a slump or to like feel like, you know, it’s harder to get out of bed it’s harder to motivate all of that, so I think having things that you enjoy doing having things that you are looking forward to during the day can also contribute to happiness.

How do you deal with tensions that arise with being quarantined with people?

I think everyone is experiencing this a little bit certainly. And I think partly. I spoke to having self compassion and I think it is also trying to have understanding that everyone is at a heightened state right now and probably kind of stressed and anxious. And if we can kind of remind ourselves of that, it won’t necessarily stop the tension from being there, but perhaps we can, you know, take a step back, take some deep breaths and be able to kind of be more patient with people, understanding. You know your parents or friends whoever may be there may be tension or, people might be snapping at each other, understanding that they’re going through this as well. Yeah, I think you know certainly using things like mindfulness meditation, things that might help you bring calm to your own life will ultimately help you in those relationships as well.

How do you keep up hope, especially when it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight?

There’s so much uncertainty and with uncertainty, inevitably comes anxiety right? That anxiety is about a sense of feeling out of control, and we certainly don’t have control over a lot of this…I think, in my mind, partially like reminding yourself that we’re doing this for a reason, and that it’s as hard as it is that it’s helping the greater good. And also, it is temporary again we don’t know how long but to kind of remind ourselves that it’s okay to feel whatever we’re feeling, and we absolutely should be feeling those things but to kind of remind ourselves we won’t feel this way forever. Okay.

What are some good mental health resources for people to look out for?

Well if you are a student at Bates, CAPS is still open and during consultations with students who have already been seen there so any kind of ongoing clients are able to access our resources, just contact caps or you’re a clinician. If someone hasn’t been seen at CAPS, we’re still happy to help them find a local provider or even for people who have been seen at CAPS we can help them provide a local provider as well. A really good resource for finding a therapist is a site called Psychology Today with a Therapist Finder. And again, we’re also happy to help with that as well. So yeah, potentially finding a local therapist, talking to your natural supports your family or friends. There are. There’s a national suicide hotline if that is needed for anyone the crisis line is also open for Bates students by calling the CAPS number which is 277-866-200 and then pressing zero at the voicemail, and they can still access our crisis line as well.

Are there any other common questions that you’ve been getting that Bates students might want to know?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve been getting a lot of questions around seniors and how to kind of process the grief of losing the rest of your semester and imagined future, and lots of rituals that you expected to take part in potentially, and graduation, and all of that. So I don’t really know what to say about that, but just more like to kind of normalize that and to let yourself grieve that, and certainly talk about it, and it’s going to be an ongoing process, as times come that maybe you should actually be engaging in those events and things. It’s going to be ongoing, but to kind of let yourself feel your feelings and grieve those and certainly hopefully, to be able to get support around that… We’re going to keep updating and putting more information on our CAPS website as well, so there are some different resources on there and different worksheets for anxiety, how to manage stress— things like that that people can utilize as well, or links to different resources like meditations or different exercises and things like that.