Students enrolled in PSYCH 243 Introduction to Well-Being and Positive Psychology at Penn State Abington are learning to integrate the content into their daily lives to help them manage the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I discuss ways to acknowledge the challenges of our current events and incorporate positive strategies to promote well-being into our class,” Diane Rosenbaum, assistant professor of clinical psychology, said.
Among the concepts she is covering with her students:
- Resilience: Research suggests that humans are surprisingly good at bouncing back from adversity. Even though things might be tough now, the future may still bode well.
- Social connection: Research on happiness indicates that social connection is closely tied to well-being, but the emotional closeness of these relationships is just as, if not more, important than physical closeness. Rosenbaum and her students discussed ways to maintain social connection while practicing physical distancing to reduce the negative impact on the current quality of life.
- Perceived control: Having a sense of being able to make a difference in the outcome of life events is tied to better physical and mental health. Although there are many aspects of life that we can’t control right now, there are still some domains in which we have a say, she said. One is our ability to maintain self-care and how to respond to our emotions.
- Positive thinking and optimism: It’s possible to have hope for the future and recognize the legitimacy of our world problems. Optimism and gratitude are highly correlated with happiness, so it’s important to find ways to express these given our current situation.
Rosenbaum’s course includes many applied elements where students try out strategies linked to happiness and well-being in their own lives like keeping a gratitude journal. Those course components have been emphasized and expanded in light of students’ expressed desire to focus on positive coping skills.
“In my courses more broadly, I’ve discussed the powerful mind-body connection that we study in psychology, and how stress can increase our susceptibility to physical and psychological health problems. The other side of this is that positive emotions have been linked to improved immune functioning,” she said.
This led to a conversation about building up resistance by nurturing themselves through self-care practices.
"I’ve validated that there’s going to be a range of both positive and negative emotional responses coming up not just across students, but also perhaps within students themselves. It’s important to focus on noticing the emotions that are coming up for them without judgement."
-- Diane Rosenbaum, assistant professor, clinical psychology
“One point that I’ve made to all my classes is to normalize and validate whatever emotional response that they’re having in regard to this situation. We all have different backgrounds, experiences, challenges, and coping styles. I’ve validated that there’s going to be a range of both positive and negative emotional responses coming up not just across students, but also perhaps within students themselves. It’s important to focus on noticing the emotions that are coming up for them without judgement,” she said.
Rosenbaum said the switch to remote learning has been largely about balancing the dynamic interactivity that she strives for in her in-person classroom environment with the nature of the virtual environment.
“I’m also aware that there is a great deal of variability for students in terms of the environments that they’re working from, the resources they have at their disposal, and their comfort with and access to technology. Additionally, many students are faced with the need to juggle multiple responsibilities and face a variety of stressors in terms of social, psychological, and economic issues,” she said.
“I’ve aimed to be as flexible as possible with my teaching practices and courses in order to meet students where they are during this crisis. At the same time, I’m also committed to delivering high-quality learning opportunities for students informed by solid pedagogy practices. In a time where many things feel unstable, having predictability and stability in their courses can provide a welcome sense of familiarity for students.”
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With about 3,700 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 21 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more.