The start of a new academic year, whether you’re a new or returning CNA employee, can be filled with a myriad of emotions. You might have come into this year feeling mentally refreshed from summer break and excited about welcoming the newest students. Or, you may have been anxious about changes to your workload and found yourself quickly overwhelmed by the flurry of activity and responsibilities that comes with every September. Each of us feels something different and how we experience this is also impacted by whatever is going on in our lives at any given moment.
Every new or returning CNA student is also wading through their own sea of emotions, and you’d be hard pressed to read any research in the field of adult education that doesn’t speak to the rising concern about mental health issues among post-secondary students.
And let’s not forget we are past the three-year mark of living through/with a pandemic. We are seeing high school students who suffered educational disruptions that left them less prepared to enter post-secondary studies, and the impact of this is even more evident for disadvantaged groups of youth (Mahboubi & Higazy, 2022).
Instructors were hit with rapid changes to program delivery models and the need to quickly adapt new technology. Student services staff navigated unchartered waters attempting to apply policy, procedure and systems in completely new ways. I can’t even fathom a guess at how our IT support people got through this. I am seriously in awe of those people! Every single CNA community member had massive change thrust upon them. It was stressful. And we got tired.
The World Health Organization defines stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation… a natural human response… everyone experiences…” (World Health Organization, 2023). So, along with the excitement you may be feeling about the new year, if you’re feeling some stress right now, you’ve earned it. And while I don’t like the word “normal,” recognize that any stress you are feeling after all of this is perfectly normal or, as I’d prefer to describe it: psychologically expected. My mother would have said it this way: “my dear, if you’re NOT stressed now, there’s something wrong with you.” This is equally true for our students.
Take-away #1: Whatever you’re feeling… it’s perfectly okay!
Despite all of this, human beings are inherently resilient. We are surviving… evolving, and in some cases, really thriving! We’ve learned a lot along the way. And while the past couple of years took a heavy toll, we are stronger and wiser than we ever knew we could be. All these experiences and their resulting emotions sit inside us as we embrace the 2023/2024 academic year.
Take-away #2: We will get through this!
CNA has a new emphasis on, and an evolving understanding of, the need for self-care. The strain of navigating all that is challenging about postsecondary work throughout a pandemic forced us to pay more attention. We started addressing this need with weekly sessions and a defined wellness hour. We now know it’s so much bigger than that.
Looking after ourselves is the key to looking after our students. It’s the donning of your own oxygen mask before you help someone else with theirs scenario or, as Richard Branson likes to say: “if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” (“Richard Branson: Quotes,” n.d.)
Take-away #3: Make a personal commitment to take care of yourself.
This means more than attending a wellness event for an hour on Wednesday morning. It doesn’t mean having to spend outrageous amounts of money on gym memberships and clothing. It simply means truly prioritizing your wellness every day in ways you can manage, using the resources you have available. Take your lunch hour. No, really… take your lunch hour! Take the stairs. Get up from your desk and go outside whenever possible. Ask me about mindfulness sessions.
The responsibility for our wellness is shared with our organization. CNA is exploring ways to better support us. They’ve built flexibility into the wellness hour. Jenn Wicks and her team at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Innovation are developing Adult Learning and Teaching Innovation (ALTI) courses and a wide range of resources to support faculty to flourish. Simone Mercer, Manager of Organizational Culture and Engagement, is identifying ways to respond to employee needs that are coming out of the employee satisfaction survey. Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) advisory committee is studying the concerns of marginalized groups within our college community. Student services and the provincial wellness committee will continue to offer wellness opportunities. And the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great resource. This is just some of what is happening.
Take-away #4: Reach out for help.
CNA will be sharing information and resources about what’s going on for wellness at your campus, online or in your community. Reach out to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you want to avail of some counselling! Our human resources are our most valuable resources. Let’s take care of us.
Nadine Humber is a provincial Guidance Counsellor located in St. John’s. She can be reached at Nadine.Humber@cna.nl.ca.
Mahoubi, P., & Higazy, A. (2022). Lives put on hold: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canada’s youth (Commentary No. 624). C. D. Howe Institute. https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/
Richard Branson: quotes: quotable quote (n.d.). Goodreads. Retrieved September 18, 2023 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7356284-clients-do-not-come-first-employees-come-first-if-you
World Health Organization. (2023, February 21). Stress. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/stress