Category : PROspective

The Fall 2020 semester has already brought new challenges and new successes. Students, staff, and faculty have implemented and improved new modes of learning and communication, all without the respite of a fall break or holiday, and all without the usual means of interpersonal social support. There is room to do better, and we are all working towards that, but it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate how well we have done overall.

Planning for the home stretch

The last part of the Fall 2020 semester overlaps with the US election season, and we ought to plan accordingly. Our department community is engaged in the voting season, and we are especially grateful to student leadership to promote civic engagement. The voting season ends November 3, but that may not be the end of the election season. November may bring longer than normal waits for election results, and then these results may be contested in courts and legislatures. This waiting will likely stoke anxieties and distract us from the classroom, at exactly the time that we are all working to finish a difficult semester. Each of us needs to have a plan.

What’s your strategy?

Your plan may profit from the strategy called compartmentalization. Compartmentalization is a defense mechanism used to prevent mental discomfort and anxiety caused by having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, and demands. Compartmentalization is not about being in denial; it’s about putting things where they belong and not letting them get in the way of the rest of your life. As described in today’s reading,

“Compartmentalizing is one of the most important strategies for setting healthy boundaries. It allows us to establish mental barriers between one priority and another so that we can direct all of our energy into what’s right in front of us.”

In this week’s article, the author outlines five steps to become better at compartmentalizing. TL;DR, the main points are to:

  1. recognize the conflicting emotional and structural demands on your mental energy, and
  2. give all of them their own individual space in your day.

Compartmentalization in practice

There is a 24/7 news cycle these days, but election news is unlikely to change much minute to minute. Schedule the times that you will check in on the news, and then work on the semester at other times. You may choose to exercise your right to peaceful protest (while taking care to protect yourself by following pandemic protocols). Schedule the preparation and protest time as a compartment, and keep that time separate from the time you spend following the news and the time you spend on finishing the semester.

The Road Ahead

We are all hoping for a just and swift election result. If there is uncertainty, the period of uncertainty will overlap with the end of our semester. Spend some time in October planning for how you will react and how you will assure that all of the demands on your mental energy and time will be met, and your mental and physical wellbeing will be preserved.

The Fall 2020 semester is unlikely to be the last time that the sum of your personal, social, and professional lives demand more attention than you can deliver. Honing the skills needed to meet these challenges will serve you well later.



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