In this interview with WRAL, counseling professor Dr. Dominique Hammonds explains why people may feel a variety of emotions during the coronavirus pandemic and how to effectively address them.
WRAL: If you feel unproductive, overwhelmed, exhausted and irritable during this shutdown, well you probably should and that is OK. One Appalachian State University professor shared that message in an email and it has been copied and forwarded across the country. Many are saying it is just what is needed right now. We wanted her to share that message with you at this moment. Joining us via the phone is Dominique Hammonds, she is an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling. Dr. Hammonds, good morning to you.
Dr. Hammonds: Good morning.
WRAL: And first we want to ask you, we know that Boone’s population drops pretty significantly when students are not on campus, what is it like there in town right now?
Dr. Hammonds: Yeah, Boone is home to many college students and tourists, and interestingly I left right before break and said goodbye to my students and I haven’t been back since, so I imagine our students have experienced the same thing. Many of them have actually gone home-home at this point, and so yeah, I think Boone is eerily quiet right now.
WRAL: What an interesting time. Your email we were talking about shows a famous triangle in psychological circles. Could you start by telling us what it is and what the tiers we see there represent?
Dr. Hammonds: Absolutely. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s really a pyramid, it consists of five tiers constructed almost like a food pyramid except, in this theory, it represents human needs and things we work to satisfy over our lifespan. The bottommost tiers represent security and things that sustain life, like food, water, rest. And then there are basic needs, our psychological needs, so things like peace, love and belonging. And at the very top there, that you see, that represents self-fulfillment and self-actualization. But it’s also important to note this theory is not new — it was developed in the 1940s, and since, many postmodern approaches across various disciplines have actually used it as their theoretical foundation or the building blocks.
WRAL: Dr. Hammonds, in your message you put a label reading “you are here” by the tier right above the very bottom there, the one for safety. Tell us why that is so significant.
Dr. Hammonds: The progress towards the top of the pyramid is often hindered by failure to meet the needs near the lower tiers. And this pandemic has threatened both our physical and our psychological safety. So, for many people, what is going on right now, it kicks up a lot of emotions and questions. Questions like, how do I care for my loved ones, or what will tomorrow look like, or even, can I count on life being the way it was before. So people are experiencing uncertainty right now, anxiety, depression or even trauma because of COVID-19, and then there are those correlational factors like isolation, routine change or constant exposure to news and unsettling images. And all these things reinforce our sense of helplessness to change what’s going on right now.
WRAL: Yes, certainly a lot of people are there at this moment. So the next big question becomes, what can we do, what should we do?
Dr. Hammonds: I think first it’s important to acknowledge your experience. So we’re all struggling to maintain, I like to say a pre-COVID pace and level of productivity, and remember that we’re all human. We’re all experiencing some type of trauma on a global scale right now and our bodies are really good at reminding us what we need to focus on. Our bodies might be sending us messages that hey, right now is a good time to focus on maintaining our sense of physical and psychological safety and our emotional bandwidth, it only goes so far. So you need to be kind to yourself and remember that it makes sense that you’re experiencing difficulty doing the things that you might have been normally done before. So yes, the first thing I would say is acknowledge your experience and then that gives us permission to be compassionate toward ourself. Practice self-care and do what I call an internal check-in. You can ask yourself questions like, what do I need right now, where is that need coming from, and then how can I healthily meet it? And if you’re able, meet with a counselor online.
WRAL: And Dr. Hammonds, we mentioned at the top that this message has been shared widely. What kind of response are you getting?
Dr. Hammonds: Yeah, surprisingly a really positive response. I never expected those words to go viral. When I wrote them, my goal was to just give voice to the experience of my friends, colleagues and students, and I think what ended up happening is that my words normalized what many people are thinking and feeling right now. So if there is nothing else that people remember from our time today, this morning, I want people to remember your psychological response to COVID-19, it’s not deviant, it’s human and you can be kind to yourself.
WRAL: Dr. Hammonds, thanks so much for your time this morning. Stay safe.
Dr. Hammonds: Thank you so much.
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About the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling
The Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling in Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education is responsible for organizing and providing instructional programs in counseling and other human development functions for public schools, colleges and universities and various agencies. The department offers Master of Arts degrees in clinical mental health counseling, professional school counseling, student affairs administration and marriage and family therapy. Learn more at https://hpc.appstate.edu.
About the Reich College of Education
Appalachian offers one of the largest undergraduate teacher preparation programs in North Carolina, graduating about 500 teachers a year. The Reich College of Education enrolls approximately 2,400 students in its bachelor's, master's, education specialist and doctoral degree programs. With so many teacher education graduates working in the state, there is at least one RCOE graduate teaching in every county in North Carolina. Learn more at https://rcoe.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.