Keeping a healthy mind amid virtual socialization

Consulting School Psychologist Dr. Michael Reichert and Upper School Counselor Ms. Janet Heed – photo courtesy of Communications

Staying healthy during the coronavirus pandemic is the world’s top priority, but this effort is more than just washing your hands and eating right: it’s also about taking care of your mind.

     Humans thrive on social interaction—it’s hardwired into our psychology. Especially during adolescence, students look those around them to shape identity. As we age, the social aspect matures. Limiting face-to-face interaction is the last thing young adults would want as they struggle to determine their place in the world.

     For strong, close-knit communities like Haverford, quarantine isolation has been impactful. Ours is a community built on brotherhood and trust, one big family constantly resonating with shared emotion. 

“Shutting down one’s ability to talk about their feelings is trapping them in the echo chamber of their own mind. This can magnify or distort the feelings or lead to emotional detachment.”

Dr. Michael Reichert

     Dr. Michael Reichert, the school’s consulting psychiatrist and co-leader of the Peer Counseling program, said, “Shutting down one’s ability to talk about their feelings is trapping them in the echo chamber of their own mind. This can magnify or distort the feelings or lead to emotional detachment.” 

     Without the ability to constantly interact with each other, it can be difficult to maintain such a tight bond.

     Haverford’s solution to this issue has been to develop a virtual learning environment, with a focus on maintaining community.   

     “[Virtual Haverford] started from a focus of community well being … it was organic,” Upper School Counselor Mrs. Heed said. The school set out to create “a feeling of support.” 

Upper School counselor Ms. Janet Heed in an April 8 Google Hangout with Alexander Greer ’20 (inset) – screenshot by Alexander Greer ’20

     Frequent advisory meetings, numerous community events, and plenty of availability to meet with teachers, students, or peers make the virtual hallways as welcoming as the real ones.

     Having regular classes over video helps to mimic some of the essential social interaction students would get throughout a school day. But the experience can feel attenuated. 

     “Even though you’re on the video call,” Sixth Former Pearse Glavin said,  “you don’t feel present.” 

     It takes more than just a person’s face to make an emotional connection. The sensory cues that come with physically meeting help fill out our mental and emotional pictures of each other. 

     Because of this, being social during isolation must be a much more active process. 

     Sixth Former Noah Rubien said, “You have to go out of your way … to interact with people, so naturally, there’s going to be less interaction.” 

     Difficulties arise from scheduling time with friends, finding common digital activities, or even feeling connected to a person separated by a screen. 

     Students ultimately decide how much they take advantage of Haverford’s accessibility. Mrs. Heed recommends maintaining a daily schedule and sleeping well to maintain a sense of well-being and purpose. 

     “The most important thing is to keep the connections,” Mrs. Heed said. “How we feel depends on how closely connected [we are] to other people.” 

     Students have accomplished this in a variety of after-school activities, including multiplayer video games, remote movie viewing sessions, and even virtual double dates.

Students in Upper School Latin teacher Dr. Fenton’s advisory engaged in a March 25 game of Minecraft

     While widespread use of virtual learning is still improving, it still has had a strong impact at Haverford. 

     “It is so fundamentally genuine …  [we are] in pretty good shape,” Mrs. Heed said. 

     “[Haverford] is doing a great job of adapting to the situation,” Rubien said. “It’s the most ideal quarantine I could have asked for.”