It’s a new year—a time to return to reality after the glow of the holidays and focus on resolutions and responsibilities. But the new year also brings new opportunities for self-care and wellness—critical components, Fordham faculty and staff say, for health and success.
Below are some tips for maintaining good mental and physical health throughout the year, along with information on some of the services offered on campus and in the New York area.
We’ve all heard it said that practicing self-care is essential. But what does that really mean?
“There’s a lot of discussion right now in popular culture about what constitutes self-care. Is it just about taking bubble baths and petting puppies, or is it more of a mindset and approach to living?” said Jeffrey Ng, Psy.D., Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at Fordham. “I think it’s both, but the latter requires intentionality and practice.” Ng described several ways to practice self-care:
Practice Self-Compassion. When working toward achieving personal or professional goals, concentrate on self-encouragement and growth rather than self-punishment and perfection.
Focus on Gratitude. It’s important to practice being grateful and appreciative to counterbalance the mind’s tendency to focus on the negatives.
Give and Serve with Awareness. Many of us are givers, but it’s important to recognize our limits and boundaries so we don’t become fatigued or overwhelmed.
Engage in a Contemplative Practice. This includes mindfulness and other introspective and spiritual practices, such as the Jesuit Examen.
Combining the Spiritual and the Physical
Programs like Ignatian yoga, which began at Fordham in 2013, allow students and staff members to tap into both their physical and spiritual sides for better self-care.
“It’s practice that integrates Ignatian spirituality with the practice of the asana, the poses of yoga,” said Carol Gibney, an Ignatian yoga teacher and campus minister at Fordham.
Connecting the two allows participants to look inside themselves and find “unconditional love” within, Gibney said. “And you bring that back out into the world, you don’t hold onto it, you share that with others.”
Get Moving and Let it Go
Research has shown that exercise can help reduce anxiety and depression while also improving self-esteem and brain functions. Gibney said movement can help release stress and other feelings of negativity that people hold onto.
“Things get stuck in the body and movement facilitates and assists us to let go and let God really, to not hold onto things,” she said.
At the Rose Hill campus, the Ram Fit Center offers a variety of cardio and weight-lifting machines, as well as classes ranging from pilates to Zumba to yoga. At Lincoln Center, the second floor of McMahon Residence Hall holds treadmills, elliptical machines, and other equipment. Lincoln Center students and staff can also access discounted gym memberships to the Westside YMCA, New York Sports Club, and CrossFit SPOT.
Be Honest and Ask for Help
As students prepare for a new academic semester, Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D., adjunct professor of ethics, emphasizes that students shouldn’t be afraid to ask professors for help. “As someone who dealt with severe anxiety throughout my college career, sometimes even having a few more hours to finish something would have helped, but I was always afraid to ask.”
Now that we’ve gotten to a place where mental health is a little less taboo, she said, students can feel comfortable talking to their professors when they need extra time. They may not always be able to accommodate, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Getting Past Stigma
Christie-Belle Garcia serves as assistant dean for student support and success at Rose Hill. She knows from personal and professional experience that underrepresented minority students often face unique stressors. One is imposter syndrome—a feeling of being deficient despite obvious past success, like getting into Fordham.
“I have to remind students, ‘We accepted you into this college with the expectation that you can succeed,’” said Garcia, who worked for many years with CSTEP and HEOP students.
She said many minority students are reticent to seek help.
“There may be stigma about mental health in some communities and if you feel like you’re an imposter, you may not even want to present with a concern about mental health, because you don’t want to stand out,” she said.
“I encourage students to take a step back and reflect,” she said. “It’s really important to question your own thoughts and say, ‘Yes, this experience is challenging,’ and ‘Yes, I can still be successful.’”
And she encourages them to find the treatment they need, either by seeking counseling directly or reaching out to a trusted staff member, like their adviser, dean, or a CSTEP counselor.
Social Media IRL
While practicing social media self-care is easier said than done, it can be crucial for those who find social media dispiriting.
“Being on social media in the first place is a choice, and you can, at least to some extent, limit your exposure to it. In 2020 it’s not realistic to completely cut social media out of your life, but there are ways to protect yourself,” said Yuko. If it’s unrealistic to unfriend someone who posts triggering opposing political views, she suggests muting or blocking them.
It’s important to remember that social media is “basically a highlight reel of achievements, rather than an accurate reflection of everyday life,” Yuko added. “Sure, you may see a friend of yours hiking in the Catskills on the weekend, appearing as though she’s living her best life, while you’re under several layers of blankets on your couch watching 30 Rock reruns with a block of cheese. Chances are she probably does the same thing but doesn’t post about it.”
Looking for ways to eat better in the new year? The University has several resources available. For starters, free consultations for faculty and staff are available with a registered dietitian twice a month; those interested should email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
Jeanne Malloy, a registered dietician and Fordham’s Wellness Manager, said the consultations, which began in 2018, have proven extremely popular. A partnership with Weight Watchers that Fordham piloted in the fall at the Rose Hill campus was also such a hit, she said, that it will be expanded to the rest of the University this month.
For students, Fordham Dining also features resources on its website, including access to a dietician and a section on how to eat well on the meal plan. For outside resources, Malloy said she routinely consults Eatright.org, the official website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The key to staying true to a vow to eat better? Baby steps, she said.
“You have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other moving toward your goal,” she said. “Just build on it all year long. And be forgiving to yourself.”
‘This Place of Sweetness’
Stories offer another type of nourishment, said Sarah Gambito, an award-winning poet, associate professor, and director of Fordham’s creative writing program. Reading and writing, she said, can help boost mindfulness.
If you’re feeling burnt out, she suggests reading an encouraging quote or poem. When she’s having a bad day, she said, she reads aloud one of her favorite poems, “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. The short poem describes how “loneliness and difficulty are part of what nature teaches us,” said Gambito. “Rather than resist, own what is it to live a three-dimensional life.”
Gambito also shared a self-care piece written by her former student, Anne Marie Ward, FCRH ’19, “The Body Keeps Score: Self-Care at Fordham,” which includes a six-page list of books, multimedia, and local events for students, faculty, and staff.
This spring semester, Gambito plans on assigning the book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala, 2005) to her creative writing capstone class.
“It’s about looking at writing as a haven and as a practice like meditation … It’s this place of sweetness,” Gambito said. “Not like, ‘Wow, I wrote a poem and it was profound and perfect and now I can publish it,’ but I was with myself—I was with the voice within myself.”
Mental Health Resources
Part of self-care is knowing when and how to seek professional help. Eileen Busby, Fordham’s benefits manager, said two mental health resources available to all Fordham employees that are under-utilized are the LifeWorks Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is administered by MetLife, and Health Advocate, both of which can be found on the human resource departments’ Employee Assistance Program and Other Automatic Benefits webpage.
Health Advocate helps employees find therapists and counseling programs that are in their insurance network. EAP includes up to five phone or video consultations with licensed counselors for employees and eligible household members, per issue, per calendar year, for everything from family-related stresses to financial guidance to everyday life challenges like moving or training a new pet.
For students, Fordham Counseling and Psychological Services center offers a variety of wellness resources on its webpage, including six different stress management tools and four recommendations for apps and guided meditations. And of course, the center has offices at the Rose Hill, Lincoln Center, and Westchester campuses. To make an appointment, students can call or simply stop by.
For Law Students
In 2017, the American Bar Association issued a report with recommendations aimed at addressing the growing problem of substance abuse and mental health disorders among lawyers and law students. Last June, Fordham Law created the position of director of professionalism and special projects. Jordana Confino, who assumed the role, said promoting wellness is a key part of her job.
“We provide resources and services to students in need, and we strive to cultivate a positive, affirmative culture of wellness,” she said. “It’s not enough that our students simply avoid crisis. We want them to flourish.”
The stereotype of the overworked, unhappy, successful lawyer has persisted for decades. But Confino said it’s something the legal community should work to dispel. Research shows that if students are happier, “they will be more successful professionally and academically.” In fact, as a speaker in the school’s Professional Responsibility courses, Confino lets students know that it’s an ethical responsibility to maintain their well-being.
Among the initiatives Confino is spearheading are Wellness 101, a required program for all first-year law students, and a Wellness-in-Practice series that will address how law students can fortify themselves against the stresses inherent in law practice. The Law School has also begun assigning first-year students to one of five “houses”—each with its own designated faculty house leader, advisers, and peer and alumni mentors—to foster greater community and inclusion.
Beyond Fordham’s campuses, there are several free or low-cost activities available for those who want to destress and take care of themselves.
City resources are a great place to start for those looking to get out of the house without spending a lot of money. The City of New York website has a list of free attractions like events, museums, and other activities.
There are a number of donation-based exercise studios that have popped up over recent years, such as Hosh Yoga in Brooklyn, where some classes suggest a donation of $10, or Yoga to the People, where all classes are donation-based. Free running groups such as North Brooklyn Runners can also help get those endorphins up.
Meditation can also be immensely helpful. For those who find solo meditation daunting, several apps now exist to help guide you. Headspace and the Mindfulness App both offer short-form guided meditations.
Story by Diana Chan, Taylor Ha, Kelly Kultys, Tom Stoelker, and Patrick Verel