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Wise Mind and Re-entry to College

with Drew Zaitsoff

May 18, 2020

Dr. Drew ZaitsoffThe conversation about COVID-19 precautions has shifted towards re-opening. President Daniels has been posting videos about plans for the fall, and Governor Holcomb has been talking up the staged plan to get businesses back on their feet. I feel that same pull to return; I want to go see a movie and eat out. Weirdly, I actually want to be able to go back to work in my office.

Me wanting to get back to normal is a reaction that comes from my emotions. Pretty much every day I’m running through a mix of boredom, frustration, anger, and this vague sadness. Reality is a bit miserable, and I don’t want to feel miserable anymore. So, yeah, I feel the pull to re-open Indiana and re-enter the university and get back to normal. Normal had problems, but at least it wasn’t miserable.

I’m a therapist. Usually I’m telling people that they should be listening to their emotions more closely. Problem is, if we make decisions based only on emotions it can lead to kneejerk reactions. If I’m worried about a test, the immediate reaction is to avoid thinking about it. That leads to not studying, and then really having something to worry about. Decisions based on emotions tend to make sense in the short term, but may be even bigger problems in the long term.

In therapy, there’s the idea of Wise Mind. That’s being aware of when your actions are being driven by either your emotions or your reason, and trying to shift how you think about a situation to consider both. It can be a little hard to separate emotions and reason; after all, it’s pretty reasonable to want to not feel miserable. It’s useful instead to look at your values, which are more enduring than immediate emotional reactions. Consider what your three or four most important values are. Over the next several weeks, we’re all going to have make a lot of decisions about how we want to re-enter college and re-open in general. As you’re making those decisions, take a minute to think about what your quick emotional reactions are telling you to do, and what you would do if you were living by your values. Wisdom is making a choice that’s informed by both.

Drew Zaitsoff, Purdue CAPS Staff Therapist