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Psychological Support

Lupe

Among other things, the current situation is also a tremendous challenge for our psychological wellbeing. And there’s lots of information and advice going around on how to cope with this. The Psychological Counseling team has dug through all this material. Here are what we consider to be the most important tips and tricks.

We also talked to Professor Manzey of TU Berlin, who specializes in space psychology, about the similarities and differences between the current situation and being on board the ISS in outer space. He coaches astronauts during their missions. Below you can find his answers to our questions.

Tips from outer space from Professor Manzey 

(Information about Prof Dr. Manzey and the Chair for Work, Engineering & Organizational Psychology at the Department Psychology and Ergonomics)

How does the current situation resemble time spent in outer space?

-        The analogy to an astronaut is obvious. However, we need to bear in mind that they’ve put themselves in that situation voluntarily, that for them it fulfills the whole purpose of their profession and that this certainly doesn’t apply for students right now.

What are the greatest challenges in outer space?

-        You might imagine that being permanently in close proximity to the other astronauts on the ISS would lead to increased conflicts among them, but in fact it’s rather other things, such as the question of the meaningfulness of putting yourself in such circumstances, of workload or how to deal with routine and boredom.

What helps astronauts to cope with the months-long isolation (together with others on the ISS)?

-        The main elements that help to support astronauts psychologically and that we discuss again and again during coaching are:

1.     Social integration: Regular, personal contact with family, friends – ideally pre-arranged, i.e., at fixed times on fixed days of the week. This helps to keep your network going, not to feel alone and to have something to look forward to.

2.     Structure: Giving your day a regular structure is equally important. The astronauts on the ISS have a consistent work pattern. For example, each morning ground control gives them a daily program to work through. Then they also discuss what they’ve managed to complete or not and what the obstacles were. This helps to set yourself small goals and to achieve them. On free days, which they also have there, they structure their days themselves and then work through their own program. This seems to me to be an important factor. 

3.     Information: Astronauts receive a regular supply of information and news from Earth. Especially the feeling of not knowing what’s going on “down there” can trigger enormous stress. That’s why clear and understandable information is important. Feedback that shows their work is appreciated is also very important for astronauts. 

4.     Attitude: A factor that should not be underestimated is your own attitude to the current situation. If astronauts only think about what is unpleasant and difficult at a given moment, this is overall more stressful than seeing the new opportunities and experiences that they have and are gaining. For the current situation in which we all find ourselves this means: Lots of things aren’t possible, but scope is created for new ideas and activities. It helps not to focus on what’s impossible but instead to look at what we’ve gained.

Thank you, Professor Manzey! We found your insights really fascinating!

What does this now mean for you as a TU student? How can we put this advice into practice on Earth?

 

 

Stay in touch!

Social distancing in fact means physical distancing. Nurturing social contacts is explicitly recommended. Meet your loved ones and those closest to you online. You know best which platform to use, but here’s a little input from us nonetheless: It helps to meet regularly. For example, you can join up online every day for little happenings and tell each other how you’re dealing with the current situation. This works both in a twosome as well as in groups. Perhaps you can also give each other tips and ideas about how to spend your time. Feelings of boredom and senselessness wear us down.

Supporting others can help to find meaning in this situation. Call those members of the older generation who are important to you. Older people often don’t use social networks so much. They’ll be really pleased! Network in your neighborhood – you can find some tips for this here.

Create structure

Structure helps against chaos. It gives us a sense of security and makes us stronger in stress situations. You can create your own structuring routine. Set yourself little goals, e.g., with the help of a weekly plan. To be specific this means: Don’t stay in your pajamas but instead get out of bed as always, get dressed, keep to your usual mealtimes, bedtime, work or studying times (and free time). Adjust your day’s structure to the present situation. It helps to be exact (from 10:00 to 11:00 I’ll go for a run and then I’ll shower) and to stick to your schedule. Tick things off once you’ve done them. It can also help to tell other people what your plans are. “Hi, X, at 10:00 I’m going for a run!” and later report: “My run in the park was really great and I'm really sore now.” A highlight per day is always good, but here too the following helps: Plan concrete “highlight times”: What can I do today that will do me good? What do I really enjoy? Pick an idea and set a time for it. You might not be able to do many of the things you usually do, but there are meanwhile lots of ways to substitute them online. We’ve collected some tips for you on our website.

Sometimes drawing up a plan or keeping to it doesn’t work. That’s okay. Other or unplanned things happen or you’re down in the dumps. Try to take things easy. And try again tomorrow.

News. News. News – Stay informed

In general: At the present time, the news situation in many countries is changing almost by the minute. It can be difficult to keep up and stay calm. Some people also become anxious and worried when circumstances change or new things happen on such a large scale. That’s why we advise: Only read/listen to/watch and share news from trustworthy sources. In addition: Only as much as necessary. Perhaps it helps to set aside special “news times” during the day. 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening, for example.

A page that summarizes the news (primarily German-language news): https://www.angstselbsthilfe.de/angstfrei-news/

The rules in Berlin: What am I allowed to do right now and what not? What does “contact restrictions” mean? Answers in different languages can be found at: https://fluechtlingsrat-berlin.de/news_termine/corona/

And here: https://www.berlin.de/corona/en/faq/

University news: Lots of things are also changing right now as far as your studies next semester are concerned. That’s why you should check the University’s websites on a regular basis and especially those of your academic chair. You can be sure that all departments are working on solutions at the moment regarding how the coming semester will run and how you can collect your credits. Please understand that this is going to require a little more time. As soon as updates are available, you’ll be informed. A news ticker on TU Berlin’s homepage is constantly updated. Information on exams can be found on the Examinations' Office pages.

Reflect on your strengths!

Reminding ourselves of our strengths and abilities can help us to master difficult situations better. That’s the case right now too. Perhaps cooking hasn’t been your forte in the past but finding creative ideas for indoor sports has. You can learn to cook or leave it to someone else and instead think up a great plan for staying fit during this time, despite the restrictions. The questions below can help you to (re)discover your strengths. What have you always liked doing? What are you good at? Whom do you like being in touch with and can talk to about difficult matters? What problems have you mastered in the past? How did you do it? The answers to these questions can give you the strength to master the current situation too.

Handling emotions

The current situation can trigger very different feelings: Fear of infection, insecurity, being alone, the worry of not seeing your family for a long time, fear of financial difficulties or anger at being shut inside, having to stick to rules you don’t like, trouble with the people you share a small apartment with or who don’t abide by the rules. Sadness at having lost people close to you or because you can no longer meet up in a group with your friends. Some things might make you happy – like a canceled exam or finally having time to read a book or play on the computer undisturbed.

What helps?

  1. Often it’s not so easy to know which feeling predominates at a specific point in time and what it even is. Taking a moment to find out can already help. It’s easier to deal with something that has a name.

  2. Even if you can’t find a name for it: Think about the following: Where can I feel it (stomach, ears, head...)?

  3. Write down all your immediate thoughts without filtering them. Some people find it helpful to keep a journal. You can even do this together with other people.

  4. Exercise and daylight: Despite the restrictions due to the current rules, we should still get some regular exercise in the fresh air – best of all three times a week for an hour. There’s no need to overdo it; going for a walk is quite enough and proven to have a positive effect on our mood.

  5. “Talking helps” – this follows on from 1). Express what you’re feeling. You can naturally do this by yourself, but also with others. Sharing thoughts and feelings can offer solace and hope.

  6. Don’t forget your breathing: Breathing exercises help to calm you down, whatever you’re feeling. Above all you should breathe deeply. Place a hand on your stomach and breathe into your stomach so deeply that your hand noticeably lifts. When you breathe out, do so as slowly as possible. Imagining that you’re blowing on soup to cool it down can help.

Marina Weisband provides some good advice for dealing with anxiety in this video (only German available): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYy4BjluJug

What doesn’t help, even if it might seem so at first:

  • All types of drugs, including alcohol! Of course, many drugs initially have a short-term calming effect, but in the longer term they don’t work. A higher dose is soon needed in order to achieve the effect. This damages the whole body.

Violence is not a solution – Handling conflicts

Maybe your relationship is going through a bad patch right now and you can't avoid each other because your apartment is so small. Your parents and siblings are getting on your nerves and have a totally different daily routine. Your housemate is listening to techno or Helene Fischer at full blast the whole time. This can lead to arguments and violent behavior, especially when everyone might be a bit thin-skinned right now.

Important:

  • Create a clearly defined space for yourself where you can retreat. Try to make it possible for everyone in your household to spend some time alone.

  • “Talking helps” also applies here. If something annoys you, say so before the situation starts to escalate. Remind yourself and others: “No means no”.

  • If you’re not in isolation: Go outside.

  • If you experience violence and need help, please contact: https://www.big-hotline.de/node/305 or: https://www.hilfetelefon.de/en.html (counseling in various languages and forms e.g., via chat). These services are for women only. Men can seek help at: https://www.big-berlin.info/node/151 . You can always also phone the police. The telephone number is: 110.

Continue to seek help for mental illness!

Despite the rules in force nationwide, people are still allowed to attend psychotherapy sessions. This applies not only for people already in therapy but also for those who want to start. In addition, it’s meanwhile allowed to conduct all therapeutic consultations and the first consultation sessions of a therapy via video calls. Perhaps the new situation is too much for you or perhaps it aggravates mental problems you already had. Starting therapy can then be highly advisable.

Finding a therapist is particularly easy via the websites below. Just enter your zip code:

www.therapie.de or www.kvberlin.de (please select the tab “Search for Psychotherapists” at the top). You can also inquire at psychotherapy training institutes. Here’s a download list.

You can find further information on different types of therapy at our website about psychotherapy.

In the meantime there are also various writing-based online therapy formats and apps. These are mostly behavioral therapy programs with no contact to qualified psychotherapists or only upon request. It’s important to make sure that the therapies offered have a sound scientific basis and that data privacy regulations are respected. Programs exist which have been developed in cooperation with, among others, health insurance funds and universities. You should therefore please consult the Internet or inquire directly with your health insurance fund when seeking online therapy programs. The consumer organization Stiftung Warentest has published an overview of online therapies for the treatment of depression.

The Psychological Counseling team at TU Berlin in times of Covid-19

We ourselves are also confronted with new challenges as a result of the coronavirus crisis. How can we, despite contact restrictions, continue to help and offer counseling? We’ve already been in touch with some people via video. This has worked quite well so far. It’s not the same as talking face to face, but we think it’s still better than not seeing you at all. Especially at a time when many of you are struggling with major difficulties such as uncertainty, lack of structure, social isolation and boredom.

We remain contactable and can offer personal consultation sessions via a certified and secure video call (RED medical) or on the phone. Just send us an email: .

In an acute crisis

  1. Berlin Crisis Service continues to offer personal advice, under consideration of hygiene rules. Anonymous as usual and over the phone if preferred. You can find the telephone numbers and addresses under: https://www.berliner-krisendienst.de/en/

  2. The studierendenWERK runs an emergency telephone hotline. Its psychologists can be reached from Monday to Friday between 10:00 and 12:00. https://www.stw.berlin/en/organisation/themen/corona-faq.html

  1. Should you experience a crisis so acute that you can no longer cope by yourself, you can go to the emergency department of your local hospital or – during the daytime – contact the Social Psychiatric Service where you live. The addresses can be found under our Emergency Plan

  1. If you have acute suicidal thoughts, phone the Berlin Fire Department at: 112

Sources:

WHO's Coronavirus Mental Health Considerations WHO

Guidelines Psychologische Hochschule Berlin

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