By Alexa Dumas
Last Friday, SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury and SUNY Adirondack hosted the Anxiety and Learning: From Research to Practice Conference via Zoom. This annual conference was designed for students, educators, faculty, administrators, service providers and members of the Plattsburgh and Queensbury communities.
Each conference the Queensbury campus plans has a theme connected to growing concerns in the community. Previous conferences have included the opioid crisis, climate change, veteran career opportunities and nursing.
“We select topics that are going to best serve our community, students, residents in the region, faculty and staff,” Stephen Danna, dean of the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury campus said. “Our goal is to put research into practice, and that is in the title of the conference.”
Although the organizers originally planned the conference’s anxiety theme last October, it became a pressing issue amongst students with the pandemic.
“Within the last few years, we’ve had more students reach out with concerns of anxiety, which is in line with the growing national trend of mental illness among young adults,” Emma Bartscherer, academic adviser at the Queensbury campus said. “We wanted to cover this topic on a larger scale with a larger audience.”
The conference covered how learning affects anxiety and trauma in students. A wide range of sessions regarding managing anxiety to learning about brain research regarding anxiety, and even guided practice yoga and meditation were offered.
“I think the more we can expose people to those techniques and understandings, the better it is for everyone,” Danna said. “To learn strategies for dealing with anxiety because they feel that it’s a problem that is not dealt [with] well.”
With students, educators and service providers in mind, the welcome address by Danna asked attendees to write three personal goals to accomplish during the conference.
The goal for students was to become more grounded, whole and empowered, while also fueling growth, learning methods to allow the mind to relax, become calm and be at peace.
“The conference can be used as a part of a personal journey as it relates to one’s anxiety and learning, or of a professional tool to be more mindful in addressing anxiety in the classroom,” Bartscherer said.
The goal for educators was to learn how to connect with students who have increased mental health concerns and attend to their difficulties with virtual learning.
“If they are an educator looking for ways to connect with their fifth grade students, I’m hoping they leave with strategies and understanding with how to lower the stress level in the classroom,” Danna said. “To connect with students at a deeper level, to let them know it’s OK, and to bring some joy into the classroom.”
The conference had 155 registrants, including the 23 presenters, and keynote speaker, Dr. Nancy Rappaport. Her keynote address was titled, “Dancing with Prolonged Pandemic Anxiety: Strategies for Supporting Students & Families.”
Rappaport discussed many aspects of anxiety such as ambiguous loss, growth out of trauma or post-traumatic growth, and how the pandemic is challenging the ways people cope.
“She’s a child and adolescent psychiatrist. She’s got an amazing background, and I think she will be able to address both anxiety that is going on with the pandemic and how that has impacted learning, as well as tools to build resilience,” Bartscherer added.
The conference was another way to bring attention to mental health and the stigma still surrounding people who suffer from these afflictions. The Queensbury campus’ main goal for the conference was to promote resources and services that can benefit community members who may have anxiety. The Anxiety and Learning conference was also planned before World Mental Health Day, which was Oct. 10.
Money raised from the $5 registration fee went to support the Northern Rivers Family Services in Albany. This organization serves more than 18,000 citizens in the Capital Region who struggle with mental health challenges such as anxiety, neglect, abuse and trauma.
“I think that you know until mental health is talked about as publically and as regularly as our physical health, then there is an on-going incredible need to continue to promote mental health resources, services and our shared experiences,” Bartsherer said.