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Supporting Student and Instructor Wellness

Students and faculty both face many challenges associated with academic life. Learning and teaching can be stressful and emotionally draining in addition to difficulties in personal life. Instructors are in a unique position to balance delivering course content, assessing students, and recognizing and supporting students' needs. Both student and instructor wellness is critical to maintaining a healthy university setting.

You can't pour from an empty cup

Strategies to Recognize and Alleviate Student Stress and Anxiety 

Supporting Students of Concern

The following strategies were developed by UC Merced Student Affairs

The purpose of this information is to help you recognize indicators of student distress and identify appropriate actions and referrals to campus resources.

Academic Indicators

  • Sudden decline in quality of work
  • Frequent absences or requests for extensions
  • Academic content dominated by themes of rage, hopelessness, isolation, or suicidal thoughts –– a “cry for help”
  • Demanding more time or attention on personal affairs over academic affairs

Physical Indicators

  • Sudden changes in physical appearance or behavior
  • Excessive or noticeable fatigue, intoxication, or disorientation
  • Physical violence, assault, or use of a weapon

Psychological Indicators

  • Disclosure of personal problems or distress
  • Excessive emotional, delusional, angry, or apathetic reactions
  • Signs of panic such as sweating, hyperventilation, or shaking
  • Expression of concern about the student from peers

Managing Your Classroom

  • Be consistent with policies and syllabus guidelines
  • Be firm with upholding establishing codes of conduct and expectations
  • Be aware of and empathetic to students’ experiences and feelings
  • Keep track of communication in writing

Actions to Take

  • If a student requires immediate emergency assistance, please call 911.
  • If a student does not pose an immediate threat to themselves or others, refer them to campus resources.


Preparing Your Class to Alleviate Student Anxiety

The following strategies are adapted from Hsu and Goldsmith 2021 –– CBE Life Sciences

Learn and Prepare to Act

  • Become familiar with signs of mental health challenges (see above) and know how to refer students to campus resources.

Connect with Students

  • Use students' names, empathize with their experiences, and find opportunities for appropriate interpersonal connections.

Build an empowering atmosphere in class

  • Explicitly promote equitable classrooms by structuring class time with active learning. Avoid microaggressions, and use language thoughtfully.

Reduce test anxiety

  • Reduce or modify high-stakes testing. Intervene by creating opportunities for students to reflect on their feelings or anxieties.

Promote effective academic skills

  • Create opportunities for metacognitive activities, discussion of effective study habits, and growth mindset.

Tips to Focus and Improve Overall Mental Health and Self-Care.   

The following strategies are adapted from Kinman 2014 -- The Guardian.

Instructors often take time to focus on supporting their students through mental health challenges but often neglect themselves. Here are a few simple tips to remind yourself about your own mental health and well-being. 

Remind yourself of your "Why".

You are here teaching for a reason, what brought you here? What gets you excited about your discipline or research topic? Reflect on this jot it down, and share it with your colleagues and students. 

Do what you love.

Do you get energized by a healthy debate? Do you find peace in having some dedicated writing time? Inject your favorite strategies into your teaching. Your enthusiasm for the strategy will boost your energy as well as your students.

Focus on a growth mindset. 

Burnout is a common force in academia and education. Instructors put pressure on themselves to do as much as possible, whether that is for their classes or for their research. Finding solace in the concept of 'yet' can be a powerful skill. Everyone is learning and growing, Acknowledging your own learning process can help relieve some of the pressure.

Breathe, meditate, and find moments of reflection

The days are endlessly busy and there are never five minutes to spare, but even one minute of closing the eyes or taking some intentional breaths can reduce stress dramatically. Consider downloading the Calm App to guide you through meditation.