May/June 2020 Issue
April 25, 2020

Feeling stressed? Your union is here for you

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United

It’s not a dystopian novel. It’s no science fiction movie. It’s real life, today, right here: A deathly worldwide pandemic.

School social workers, counselors and psychologists are helping students cope by staying in contact remotely via phone, online — even drive-by home visits.

Support is also available for the adults — health care professionals, K–12 teachers and School-Related Professionals, and higher ed faculty and staff — whose lives have been upended.

NYSUT’s Social Services provides information on a host of available resources. Social Services specialist Ani Shahinian has been fielding calls from members initially focused on primary needs, such as safety, staying healthy and getting food. As the school building and business closures and state pause has progressed, this has been followed by a concentration of more calls relating to financial concerns, including unemployment of spouses, and some substitute teachers and contractual workers.

“The dominoes are falling,” she said. “Every aspect of our lives is impacted.”

Shahinian shared helpful tools:

Pay attention to the effects of isolation. Continued isolation for people with mental health issues can be toxic. “Your perspective can become very clouded,” she said. If you know someone who lives alone, check in by text, phone or email.

Choose one or two reliable news sources. Do not overdo the news; do not get news from social media.

Set up a routine. “Sleep patterns and self-care are really important right now,” Shahinian said. Exercise can be done alone or with family members and classes on the internet.

Play music. Visit sites such as to watch performances of dancers, singers and storytellers.

If you live alone, try connecting with pets. Lack of human touch can be alienating and disorienting.

Post a paper calendar. This will help avoid disorientation about day and time.

Write letters and cards to connect with others. Making homemade cards will tap into your creativity.

Breathing exercises and relaxation apps are helpful.

Be cognizant of what is going well and cultivate gratitude.

Children may be concerned their parents will die. Members may also be concerned about their own mortality.

“We’re all anxious,” Shahinian said. “Believe you’re going to be okay if you do what we’ve been told.”

She encouraged generating a sense of calm — and doing your part to reduce risk.

“Educators are trying to manage caring for and educating their own children while not sacrificing for their students. These stressors have come upon them very quickly,” said John Garruto, president of the New York Association of School Psychologists and a member of the Oswego Classroom TA. “It’s a reminder of the importance of taking care of ourselves.

If we do not, we become less successful in helping others.”


  • Contact NYSUT Social Services at 518-732-6239 or email
  • In response to the pandemic, the American Federation of Teachers is providing grief counseling at no cost to all members, active and retired, if a death occurs in the immediate family as the result of COVID-19. Access dedicated counselors via video, phone or text. For more information, visit
  • The AFT offers several mental health resources at national union partnered with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America on a host of mental health-related resources, including pro bono therapy for health care providers; and videos and podcasts on managing anxiety and uncertainty. Resources also include Taking care of yourself in difficult times, a publication that shares helpful tips including how to recognize changes in your behavior and methods to get realigned.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s National Helpline is 800-662-HELP.

Marshaling mental health resources is vital to staying mentally, emotionally and spiritually fit during this time of great challenge. Licensed clinical psychologist L. Kevin Chapman puts it succinctly: F.I.G.H.T.

Focus on what you can control.
Identify negative thoughts.
Generate alternate thoughts.
Highlight adaptive behaviors.
Teach someone else the same.