Intentionality & Context

May 12, 2020

Dear Students, 

I’d imagine with such an abstract title, what the heck am I talking about. Well with the constant changing news about the virus and other news (“murder hornets” amirite?!?!), it may be easy to feel as if life is being blown around by whatever information, fears or challenges that bombard us on a day to day basis. It would seem that sense of unpredictability is very unsettling, at least it has been for me to some degree.

This is where I think intentionality and context comes in. While we do not have control over what life is throwing at us, we do have the ability to control our intent of managing ourselves in this ever changing world.

Intentions are different than goals – goals are about being productive and getting things accomplished; intentions can involve tasks, but primarily are about our attitude and focus.  Do we want to focus our intention for the day on being kind to those around us? To practicing gratitude? To engaging our mind in creative activities instead of allowing our anxious thoughts to dominate, or self-pity which creates feelings of depression? Setting intentions each day can help to differentiate the days from each other, help us center our thoughts on our own values and the aspects of life we can control and improve our mental and physical health. 

I imagine too that with all that is going on it is tough to “do things as before”. It can lead to frustration and that is where being mindful of context matters. This experience we are going through is very novel. It is easy to go in with the best of intentions, dare I say a certain standard, to then not have the follow through that one expects. At this point I think it is important to contextualize the situations and have that flexibility to recognize that one is going through this experience for the first time. Self-compassion comes to mind. I would argue that even those days when our intentionality does not bear fruit the way we expect, it still informs us in a way that we can then adjust our intentions for the next. Something that I read on a wall while I was running on a rainy day a week ago was “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sail”. My intentionality determined what I wanted to focus on that day. Instead of focusing on how dreary a day it was and how we were still stuck in quarantine, I decided to focus on the warm rain and how appreciative I was to be able to still be able bodied enough to enjoy spring, albeit in a way I normally wouldn’t (e.g. outdoor patio brunch on a sunny day sounds pretty nice).

As I think about intentionality I think about values. I think if we can lead our day to day lives more by the values we aspire to as opposed to goals, we can become more appreciative of the moments we have and be able to grasp at what is important to us in the moment. Something that has struck a chord with me is a story about 2 children who were going to Disney. Both wanted to get to Disneyland, but one was values focused vs goals focused. The one who was values focused was intent on having a good time so he tried to enjoy the car ride seeing what novel things he could glimpse, enjoying the conversation with the family, while the other child was goal focused so all he could say was “are we there yet?”. Both eventually got to Disneyland, but who do you think had a better overall experience?

As always I welcome any thoughts and questions. As always feel free to contact Counseling and Psychological Services.

 -Dr. J

Xenophobia, Racism: Masks That Are Taken Off

April 21, 2020

Dear Students, 

With recent events surrounding COVID-19, there has been an undeniable rise in xenophobic and racist attacks on Asians and Asian-Americans in the United States. I have heard in the news of stabbings, spitting, verbal assault all in very public places. As an Asian American, it is quite disheartening to witness this, but it is a reminder that we have a long way to go in the country.

It begs an interesting question, one that a colleague and I have discussed, which is whose responsibility it is to remedy these types of situations. Is it the one in the dominant culture/ethnicity to educate themselves or is it up to the minority culture to step up and inform those that are not aware. While I can understand idealistically it up to those less informed to educate themselves, I think that collectively we all can play a part.

As someone who may face some overt racism, this video could help give tangible steps that would be helpful. What I took from it is to ask a bystander directly. It is okay to ask for help. The vast majority of inaction on the bystander part is caused by uncertainty, so giving direction in the form of asking can be helpful.

Those who are allies or who may not have this xenophobia and racism directed against them can also play a part in reducing this narrative. The video above also addresses what allies can do. The messaging I took from it was simply: see something, say something.

I also wanted to note that while there are blatant aggressions made that make the news, there are many more microaggressions that happen on a day to day basis. Personally, I am starting to wonder whether or not the actions people are taking around me are because of the color of my skin or the precautions they are taking with anyone around them. A few weeks ago I was with my 1-year-old son picking up a coffee at a grocery store. When the lady in front of me turned around and saw my son, she proceeded to clutch her scarf up to her mouth and nose. Part of me thought it is very possible that she sees little children as moving germ machines and given that COVID-19 does not seem to harm young children as much as older adults, she reminded herself to pull up that face covering. Or she was just being racist and doing a microaggression.

While I understand it is human nature to find a way to attribute or label something as the cause of one's discomfort, I think with all of this, some awareness and introspection is always helpful. I would encourage people to always ask what caused you to think and act in a certain way. It is always helpful to gain more clarity into the automatic thoughts we have and the assumptions that come with it. Once again, this isn't trying to guilt-trip anyone, we all have made assumptions at one point or another, but I think during times like these, it's helpful to take a closer and second look at them. I believe the vast majority of people have no malicious intent, but when everything in our world is going through so many unknowns, we rely on shortcuts (schemas) to help us simplify our lives, sometimes at the cost of accuracy. Not to get too longwinded, but I hope this once again gives some food for thought.

I also wanted to also endorse that there is a support group for those having experiences of these matters above. It will be running at 9 am EST on Tuesdays with Ashleigh Hala director of wellness and prevention. I will also be there as a supporting member and hope that we can be a processing place for those that would like it. As always I welcome any feedback and feel free to contact Counseling and Psychological Services if you have questions.

 -Dr. J

Physical Activity while Sheltering in Place? An Oxymoron

April 2, 2020

Dear Students,

In our current state, physical activity may be the furthest thing from what you may be doing. Routines upended, trying to find a sense of normalcy in these novel times. Yet, we all know that there is a strong link between physical activity and your mood/mental health. A recent study done by Karmel Choi, a research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found a 26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measure physical activity. Great, you probably already knew that, but what do we do in a time where the latest catch phrases are “shelter in place” and “social distancing”.

During these times, I would argue that routine takes a backseat and creativity comes to the forefront. I have heard many people, including myself, lose the physical activity routine that we are accustomed too, but as my clinical self has discovered time and time again, the greatest growth comes from discomfort.

For those that don’t know even where to start, know that you don’t have to figuratively hit the ground running. The same study above found that walking briskly for an hour a day has the same protective factors as running. The key is movement versus stagnation. Furthermore, it is possible that you don’t have a full hour to spare in our time of quarantine. Breaking it up throughout your day is perfectly fine. I would like to also emphasize thinking outside the box. There is where creativity comes it. It could be taking a few flight of stairs a day especially if you live in an apartment complex. Since we are not confined indoors, at this point, being outdoors and moving will play dividends to your overall mood.

For those that had a routine already, losing the gym, the box, or the mats can feel devastating. All that progress, feelings of mastery, can feel like they are slowly leaving you. Yet during these challenging times, we are fortunate enough to have technology to help us.

For those that enjoy the group exercise scene some examples that I have found are here and here. Even Peloton, the group exercise/training bike company has extended their free trial to 90 days to help those get through this unique period. Even our own RecFit Center has offered free fitness classes through an app. The instructions are right below:

  1. Download the app “WELLBEATS” or log into
  2. Enter the invitation code “b27fdf55” in the ‘Enter Username or Email’ field after selecting ‘Login’ on the app or in the “Register via Code” field on the website.
  3. Start enjoying your free virtual fitness classes!

Youtube can be a good resource too. There are many home/bodyweight exercises that one can cobble together for a new and fresh routine. I recognize that there can be a lot of misinformation so always taking what you can from the videos and discard the rest. An example that I have found (with varying levels of difficulty) can be found here.

During this time, some of us had a routine in a specific sport. For me it was Brazilian Jiujitsu and I have found that the community has come together and offered a free tutorial for training drills specific to the sport here. What I want to encourage is to look broadly around for potential resources that could help you during this difficult time and find an angle that would help improve an aspect of the exercise you usually engage in. Even if there are specific techniques you cannot practice, maybe there are mobility/agility exercises that help you once you are able to go back to that sport.

Wishing you all the best and hopefully this gave you all some food for thought. These times require some creativity, but as stated before this challenge can be an avenue for personal growth which undoubtedly will be helpful for your mental health and overall mood! I would also encourage you, if so inclined, to do these types of physical activities in a creative manner with friends and family such as sharing new routines or even challenges with each other. 

As always I welcome all feedback and if there are any other topics that you would want a quick post about please let the team know at

- Dr. J