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Social Adaptation, the Secrets of Communication, and Animal Therapy: Psychological Welcome Week Comes to a Close

Social Adaptation, the Secrets of Communication, and Animal Therapy: Psychological Welcome Week Comes to a Close

HSE University Volunteer Centre

In a series of events that ran from September 13–21, psychologists from the HSE University Centre for Psychological Counselling spoke to students about communication traps and establishing trusting relationships, the challenges of adapting to a new environment and the resources required to do so, the university’s emergency psychological service, and animal therapy. The event programme also included English-language events.

The HSE University Centre for Psychological Counselling put together a wide-ranging programme for Psychological Welcome Week. Topics included asserting personal boundaries and reading the emotions of the people you talk to, the challenges of adapting to student life, and how spending time with animals can combat stress and anxiety.

Irina Makarova
Director, HSE University Centre for Psychological Counselling

‘In 2020, Psychological Welcome Week was centred around the fact that the academic year was starting off in a blended format. A lot of students weren’t able to come to Moscow, and had to start their student lives remotely,’ explained Irina Makarova, Director of the Centre for Psychological Counselling. ‘We needed to make an extra effort to introduce them to the university and the services available to them, including the Centre for Psychological Counselling. Last year’s experience shows how necessary and important it is to tell students about how the counselling service works, how it can help them, and how to arrange an appointment.’

This year’s event was devoted to helping HSE students and staff to improve their psychological wellbeing. It was held in a hybrid format, meaning that attendees were able to listen to the centre’s counsellors and ask them questions both in person and online. Some lectures were given in English. Guests of Psychological Welcome Week also learned about some new changes to how the Centre operates.

© Daniil Prokofiev / HSE University

‘This year, we have changed the appointment system for students wanting to see a counsellor. Frankly speaking, we received a lot of complaints in the past about long waiting times, with students having to wait 3–4 weeks to see someone. The new system is based on self-registration, where students can choose a counselling venue. Online appointments are also available—students can select a suitable time slot,’ Irina Makarova explained.

Welcome Week is an opportunity to introduce students to the centre, its counsellors, and the new appointment system

The event ended on a very relevant topic for current first-year students: ‘Adaptation: How to Support Yourself in Times of Change,’ given by Dina Zafesova, the Centre’s Leading Psychologist. ‘Adaptation is the process of adjusting to a constantly changing environment. It is also the result of how successfully someone is able to adjust to such an environment,’ she explained at the beginning of the meeting. ‘We keep adapting as long as our environment is changing. But sometimes, when the changes are extreme, we get knocked out of this process and experience adaptive stress. This can be accompanied by fluctuating moods, various kinds of aggression, and loss of motivation. This can often happen when we undergo big life changes, such as finishing school and starting university.’

Dina Zafesova, Leading Psychologist, HSE University Centre for Psychological Counselling, pointed out that difficulties are a normal part of the adaptation process, as people need time to adjust to new social settings. And the more changes there are, the harder it can be to adapt. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to our feelings, as well as changes in our behaviour and psychological state.

Dina Zafesova
Leading Psychologist, HSE University Centre for Psychological Counselling

‘We need to be able to see when we’re struggling and when we’re in a state where we don’t know what to do. And instead of chugging along like a train towards goals we’ve set ourselves, we need to pay attention to our difficulties and work to help ourselves.’

She also emphasized that people experiencing a difficult adaptation process need to keep a close eye on their physical and mental reserves. Given the close connection between the body and the mind, it is vital to keep a regular schedule of eating, sleeping, and resting.

If you want to manage your productivity, you first need to take care of your physical and mental wellbeing

Help and support are also important resources. According to Dina Zafesova, simply telling someone else about your problems can help you feel better and reduce stress.

The most important thing is to be aware of how you’re feeling. For example, if you feel like something is wrong, sit down and write about which aspects of your new life are troubling you. ‘You can’t do anything about the situation until you deal with your emotions and worries. But once you figure out what’s making you feel that way, you’ll be ready to work on it. It’s very important to figure out the cause of uncertain and anxious feelings.’

Ms. Zafesova also emphasized the importance of acknowledging when you’re having a hard time, not comparing yourself to other people who might find it easier to adapt, and not setting yourself deadlines to change. It is important to temporarily lower your expectations of what you want to achieve and to allow yourself to relax. ‘You need time to relax and do nothing, otherwise you run the risk of burnout and exhaustion. Our physical and mental reserves are all we have—we can’t get better without them. You should always pay attention to yourself and your immediate reactions to what’s happening,’ she concluded.

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