GGC Psychology Professors Share Mental Health Strategies for coping with the Coronavirus Pandemic

Pic of Michelle Robbins

GGC Associate Professor of Psychology Michelle Robbins

Georgians are dealing with a new normalcy due to the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing, teleworking, stay-at-home orders and health concerns leave many people dealing with unfamiliar situations.  Likewise, Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) students, employees and their families are adjusting after a recent announcement by the University System of Georgia to move all 26 institutions to online instruction for the remainder of the semester.

Dr. Michelle M. Robbins, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Jyotsna “Josi” Kalavar, professor of psychology for human development and aging services, have advice for anyone coping with uncertain times. 

“Each person enters the situation with a different set of experiences and coping mechanisms,” Robbins said. “Some are anxious about the transition, while some are worried about job losses and how they will pay bills. And others enjoy going to school or work in their pajamas. A person’s mindset can dictate how they cope with a traumatic situation.”

“It is important to look at what we can control in times like this,” said Kalavar. “We can control how we spend our time, our thoughts and activities.” 

Pic of Jyotsna Kalavar

GGC Professor of Psychology Jyotsna "Josi" Kalavar

Specific tips include the following:

  • The idea of uncertainty can produce a lot of anxiety. Instead of focusing on the unknown, concentrate on the here and now. 
  • Look at what you can accomplish today, such as self-care, a new hobby or a home improvement project.
  • Rather than worrying about “what-ifs,” find ways to engage in activities that provide meaning, fulfillment and satisfaction within one’s home.   
  • Do what you can for others remotely. Phone a neighbor, write a poem, create an online neighborhood watch over elders in the community, sing and dance or thank loved ones. 
  • Honor your feelings of loss, anxiety, sadness and anger. Acknowledging your emotions gives you control over them and can help you cope better with them.
  • Work to shift negative thoughts to a more positive perspective (e.g., rather than feeling “stuck” at home, recognizing that you are “safe” at home). Even in hard times, people can practice having gratitude for something. There is always something or someone to be grateful for in your life.
  • Savor life, relationships, communication, hugs and heart-to-heart talks. Connect with family and friends who have become disconnected through the busyness of life. Use the time to unwind at home and be thankful for being alive and healthy.
  • It won’t be like this forever. Don’t take for granted the nicer things like spending time with your family and pets. Although you have temporarily lost some privileges, value the blessings that remain.
  • Make every day a day to remember, as you will look back on this period for the rest of your life.

Dr. Michelle Robbins is an associate professor of psychology for the School of Liberal Arts at Georgia Gwinnett College. Robbins is a developmental psychopathologist examining typical and atypical development, whose interests focus on emotional and interpersonal functioning, with a particular emphasis on parenting, early childhood, trauma, and intergenerational transmission of risk (e.g., maternal depression) and resilience (e.g., attachment). Notable experience in the psychology field includes her time as an assistant professor in the psychiatry department at Emory University, where she provided psychological services and conducted research with HIV-positive children, youth and families, and supervised trainees. Robbins holds a Ph.D. in psychology (clinical) from Emory University. She is available to speak to reporters about mental health strategies for coping with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dr. Jyotsna “Josi” Kalavar is a professor of psychology (gerontology) at Georgia Gwinnett College where she is affiliated with GGC’s human development and aging services (HDAS) program. Kalavar’s primary area of research has been to examine the diverse experiences of aging in different societal contexts (immigrant elders, institution-resident elders, homebound seniors, intergenerational relationships, ageism, transnational care of older adults and Tanzania’s Maasai elderly). She has several publications to her credit, many of them being the outcome of collaborative research projects with faculty in New Zealand, United Kingdom, Tanzania and India.

Kalavar holds a master’s degree in applied psychology from State University of New York as well as a master’s degree in Sanskrit from Karnataka State Open University. Kalavar also holds a Ph.D. in human development from the University of Maryland at College Park. She is available to speak to reporters about mental health strategies for coping with the coronavirus pandemic. 

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