Social distancing is a term that has become a part of our daily vocabulary the past couple of weeks. Many of us are staying home and working remotely. Our many team members needed on campus are following safety protocols while continuing to serve the essential needs of the campus community.
We are all working in different and new ways, stretching how we interact with one another, and can expect to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. All the news coverage and daily updates on COVID-19 can become overwhelming and lead to feelings of anxiety, stress and isolation. To say this experience is strange, eerie, disconcerting, or any number of other appropriate terms is an understatement. We are all working hard, and I want to acknowledge the impact of the dramatic changes of the past weeks on how we are each feeling and coping.
In times like these, our greatest sources of strength are our families, our friends and each other. Here at Vanderbilt, we have an opportunity as a result of this public health emergency to become stronger and more connected to each other. I’ve heard so many stories of people checking in on elderly neighbors, folks out on walks smiling and waving while maintaining the proper distance, people acknowledging the beauty of a Nashville spring as it unfolds against the backdrop of COVID-19. I was up early last week one morning and noticed a beautiful white-tailed hawk perched in a tree outside my window. I’m thrilled the raptor seems to have chosen to take up residency in an old magnolia in my front yard, and realize that perhaps I’m now more than ever, attuned to such moments of natural beauty and their ability to fill one with hope and joy.
I want to encourage each of you to stay well and stay healthy to the best of your ability, and not just by practicing social distancing. We must keep mental health and wellbeing front of mind as well. Finding new ways, and deepening our efforts, to stay connected to colleagues and loved ones during this stressful time is one way to retain balance. My wife, son and I face-timed my father in law last evening to see how’s he’s doing in St. Augustine, Florida. He told us he’d be doing much worse if the golf courses were closed; apparently that is one sport where social distancing is possible. My wife, son and I also skyped last evening with my wife’s elderly aunt who lives in Mumbai, India, an incredibly dense city within a huge country that is on lock down. She is doing fine, but the situation is scary. That latter conversation in particular emphasized how truly fortunate we all remain.
I’d like to share a few tips that may help alleviate negative feelings, as well as stay connected.
- Try to find a rhythm to your workday as much as possible, if you are working remotely, this allows you to still have your “home” time or “family” time. If you are an essential staff member coming to campus, take time to unwind when you get home and check-in with loved ones.
- If you are homeschooling your children during this time too, remember to try not to stress. It won’t always be easy and children will be coping with the changes as well. Find what works for your family, and consider ways to keep your entire family active, whether exercises together at home or in your backyard or just enjoying each other’s company. The CDC also has resources for talking with children during this hectic time.
- Routinely practice strategies to reduce your own stress and anxiety. This may look different for each person, but find items that work for you.
- Create a playlist with music that you enjoy and listen to it while you work if you are able to concentrate or during breaks.
- Check in with your colleagues to see how they are doing. Use conferencing tools like Zoom and Skype to set up short check-ins or breaks. You can even eat lunch together virtually!
- Take breaks throughout the day to stretch or go outside to take a walk or bike ride (you can still go outside, but ensure that you are maintaining the recommended 6 feet away from others). Find ways to unplug.
- Outside of work, set up virtual check-ins with friends and family using FaceTime or other tools. Make it fun – watch a TV show together, eat dinner, etc.
- Work on something creative – music, art, photography, etc.
- Think of a mantra that keeps you motivated or helps you when you are stressed like “We’re all in this together” or “This too shall pass.” When a negative thought crosses your mind, try replacing it with a positive thought.
- Practice gratitude. Think of things you are thankful for (family, friends, a home, health, education, etc.), even during this time.
- The CDC also has recommendations on things you can do to support yourself during this time.
I’d also like to highlight some stories we received from the OCGA team. Members of the costing team, under Cathy Snyder, check in via Zoom or Skype daily. Many of them who used to eat lunch together on campus committed to eating together over Zoom or Skype, allowing them to chat and interact with each other even though they are in different physical locations. They also started a group playlist, sharing with each other their 4 favorite songs which they accumulated into a playlist they can all enjoy during the day.
We can also be great examples for each other. Several of our teams that continue to work on campus have already shown us what it means to be dedicated to the campus community. Recent stories in myVU highlighted staff in Facilities and Campus Dining that have continued to serve our community during this time, helping to keep us safe, nourished and in good spirits.
I am very grateful for the work you each do. Let’s continue to be there for each other and strive for excellence in how we serve the community and further the university’s mission.
We are starting to receive stories, pictures and videos from you that capture the undaunted spirit and work ethic of our team. I encourage you to continue to submit these stories with my office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will share with you in the future.
We are all in this together.
Vice Chancellor for Administration