On September 9, 2020, Active Minds@YU (AM@YU) held its kickoff event, “How to Get Excited For the Unique Upcoming Year,” a Zoom session featuring insights and tips from mental health and spiritual experts on how to navigate the twists and turns of what will surely be the most daunting academic semesters YU students have ever faced.
AM@YU is a chapter of Active Minds, a national nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for young adults. A core goal of AM@YU, according to co-president Rivky Terebelo ’21SB is “to change the conversation about mental health and mental illness where people can talk about how they are and get help if they need it, in the process creating a more warm and caring community in our school and beyond.” Some of their more prominent activities have been the annual Stomp Out the Stigma, which in February of this year drew a standing-room-only crowd in Furst Hall, and The Breather, an online publication that offers advice and guidance on how to find balance in a chaotic world.
At 8 p.m., over two dozen people logged in to hear Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff, instructor in Jewish Studies at Stern College for Women, and Shira Silton LCSW, a clinical social work therapist, dispense wit and wisdom about how to manage the coming year of COVID, college and career choices.
Their counsel fell into two broad but interrelated categories: how to maintain good physical health while at the same time making emotional, mental and spiritual efforts to anchor the self in positivity and hope. As co-president Sarina Hilowitz ’22S, who emceed the evening, put it, “we want to be all about thriving rather than just surviving.”
Both Silton and Rabbi Hajioff recommended grounding the body in steady routines of sleeping, eating and exercising to fight off lethargy and monotony. Hajioff suggested something as simple as getting dressed for class, even if “class” means sitting in front of a computer, because “good clothes can make you feel good.”
They also recommended engaging in a variety of non-academic activities outside of the class schedule to keep the mind fresh and creative. “You definitely need to establish ways to get unstuck from your desk and computer,” said Silton, “through activities like being involved in chesed [charity], learning a new instrument, cooking – anything that allows you to focus on keeping your focus.” They both advised the participants to seek out those things that are uplifting, like music or an inspiring shiur, and to “spy out” their positive traits and do what they can do to cherish and nourish them.
Silton especially stressed the importance of establishing modes of connecting with others as critical to their level of happiness. “Even introverts benefit from and need socialization,” she observed, “and while it is more challenging currently amidst the pandemic, we can find creative ways of establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships.” (Taking a break from social media, they both mused, might be helpful in establishing these re-connections.)
Just as the body needs to keep a slow and steady pace to stay vigorous and productive, so does the heart and soul. Both Silton and Hajioff counseled that the best antidote to the fear and uncertainty everyone is feeling is to practice what Silton called “attributional reformulation”: know that what is happening won’t last forever, focus on the positive of every experience to acclimate and adapt to the present, and accept that everyone is going through the same steep learning curve and should be treated with patience and compassion.
“People are grieving over what has been lost,” Silton noted, “and we need to give them, and ourselves, the benefit of the doubt.” Rabbi Hajioff suggested “taking the foot off the accelerator” and practicing a saying that he personally found soothing and liberating: “Let go, let God.”
This event, the first of several planned for the semester, demonstrates the passion and commitment the members of AM@YU bring to their work of raising awareness about the mental health issues of young adults. “Since we are starting a school year in the midst of a pandemic,” said co-president Aaron Purow ’22YC, “we felt it would be beneficial to create an event around the idea of remaining positive while we maneuver through these difficult times. It has been such a privilege to work with some of the nicest, most driven, and most compassionate people I have ever met.” Hilowitz concurs, feeling lucky to be pulled “toward a club that is so raw, personal and genuine like Active Minds,” while co-president Benji Morris ’21YC, is drawn toward the way Active Minds “offers resources and education about topics that people may otherwise feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek out otherwise.”
As Yael Berger ’23S put it, “When I think of Active Minds’ mission, I imagine a world where mental illness is understood and where people are no longer ashamed of their struggles. I imagine a future where stigma is no longer attached.”
Towards that end, AM@YU has started Humans of Active Minds, riffing off the Humans of New York, a photography project started by Brandon Stanton in 2010. As Terebelo describes it, Humans of Active Minds “gives people the space to share their stories with their peers about what they have gone through so that others can not only understand the challenges that people have faced but also become aware that these challenges affect the people they know, whether a friend, a family member or a classmate. Humans of Active Minds shows YU students and others, even anonymously, what peers and friends are going through so that each person can have an understanding of and more sensitivity to those around them.”
Find out more about AM@YU.