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Blugolds remain resilient through COVID-19 crisis

| Jesse Yang (story + video)

If you listen closely enough, you might be able to hear songbirds singing along to the trickle and flow of Little Niagara Creek as it passes through lower campus out to the Chippewa River. The sweet sounds of spring are in full bloom, but missing are the students, faculty and staff who make UW-Eau Claire the most beautiful and Blugold-spirited campus in the Midwest.

The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, causing spaces and places that should be bustling with people and traffic to be at a standstill. UW-Eau Claire is no exception.

Blugolds have had to navigate these challenging times like never before, says Dr. Mary Beth Leibham, professor of psychology.

“This is tough, but the Blugold community — students, faculty, staff and alumni — are demonstrating the power of resilience,” Leibham says. “Humans are capable of coping and being resilient, meaning we can bounce back and maintain well-being under stressful situations.”

During difficult times, people rise to the occasion, says Dr. Michael Axelrod, professor of psychology and director of the university’s Human Development Center.

“I think that’s what we’re seeing with the Blugold community. I’ve been impressed with how people are reaching out and being supportive of each other, trying to make the best of what’s going on,” Axelrod says.

Leibham and Axelrod say challenging times can often hamper people’s psychological and emotional well-being, causing them to feel fearful, distressed, frustrated, worried and depressed.

“There will be multiple ripple effects,” Leibham says. “This, in turn, can take a toll on our mental health, having to deal with this day-to-day sense of not knowing. Some people might feel a lack of control — knowing there is something going on but not knowing what to do about it. Some people might feel social isolation. We’re humans and crave human connection. It’s important to remember that and be forgiving of ourselves.”

A simple adjustment one can make is changing the language used to describe social distancing. Instead, use the words “physical distancing,” Axelrod suggests.

“It’s the physical distancing that makes things difficult for people,” Axelrod says. "I feel in some ways more connected to my friends and family who are not living under my roof because we reach out and use the different telecommunicating mediums available, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. We’re talking about physical distancing; we can still stay socially connected with one another."

Leibham suggests reaching out to those around you to see how they’re doing.

“We are all in this together,” Leibham says. “Check in with each other and seek the resources around you — friends, family, faculty and staff support. It’s also important that we maintain the mindset of optimism and knowing that we can get through this. We can, and we will. We’re capable of coping, adapting and being resilient.”

Despite these challenging times, one thing remains true: Blugolds fly together — always have and always will.

“COVID-19 has triggered flexibility and resiliency in us, so that when we come back together again, we are going to be more united and stronger individually and collectively as a community,” Leibham says.

Watch the video above to hear more from Axelrod and Leibham.