Counseling panel discusses how to combat imposter syndrome

Photo courtesy of Aaron Acevedo.

Mental health is one of the most important factors regarding how one performs in everyday life, especially for students. In trying to focus on so many things, from classes to clubs and everything in between, it can be easy to lose oneself in the fold. Luckily, there are people willing to help students with these issues.

Megan Johnston, a health educator and part of Ramapo College’s Center of Health and Counseling Services, hosted a presentation on imposter syndrome and stress management on Thursday, Feb. 24.

Specifically held for commuter students and students involved with Greek life, Johnston began the presentation with an icebreaker, inviting students to stand in a circle and share facts about themselves. 

Students, who will remain anonymous to respect the safe space created for sharing, spoke about interests in reading, hair dye and, most significantly, agreed on constantly feeling stressed. 

“It feels like the current situation will be the rest of my life,” one student remarked. When Johnston delved further into their reasonings, pointing out the balancing acts students perform during classes, homework and extracurricular activities, the shapes stress can take became much more concrete. 

“All of those are time suckers that can make us feel really overwhelmed,” Johnston said.

However, this was quickly followed by pointing out that not all stress is bad. According to Johnston, one can feel both eustress and distress. Distress is the typical negative stress that can induce anxiety or exhaustion, but “eustress is the good type of stress. It’s stress that is short-term and motivating.” 

Eustress is what motivates people to complete assignments. When eustress is mixed with the right amount of distress, peak performance is achieved. The key to life is to find a balance and not let either side of stress completely take over.

From there, Johnston brought up imposter syndrome and its basis in social cues. Defined as the belief that one’s accomplishments are undeserved, Johnston posited that it can stem from both personal factors like self-criticism and societal factors like racism or sexism. Left untreated, it can discourage people from reaching their full potential and worsen their mental health, among other things.

Following Johnston’s discussions of stress and imposter syndrome, she began sharing a handful of methods to treat both phenomena. She encouraged students to practice leisure activities like listening to music in order to relieve stress, but also pushed the importance of breathing exercises. 

She brought to attention some of Ramapo’s resources that are available to students. Ramapo students have access to Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) Connect, an online platform that, according to Johnston, “[has] a library of free breathing exercises and mindfulness modules, as well as other things for mental health.”

To provide hands-on experience with TAO’s materials, she concluded the presentation by playing one of the many breathing exercises available for use. With it, calming music flowed through the Pavillion as colorful visuals sprouted on screen. The voiceover encouraged all in the room to breathe deeply and mindfully, focusing on their physical reactions and setting aside their worries.

By the time the video concluded, the mood in the room felt noticeably lighter. Johnston provided a link to TAO Connect and encouraged students to reach out to Counseling Services as necessary.

This presentation was a pleasant breakdown of stress’s double-edged nature and how important it is to ground yourself when dealing with stress and imposter syndrome. No matter how bulky your workload is, it is always important to self-monitor your stress levels and step back when necessary, and Johnston reinforced this point in spades. 

When you manage both your stress and your time, your life will be better off for it. For more information on Ramapo’s counseling services and how to take advantage of TAO Connect as a student, contact the Counseling Services office at (201) 684-7522, and either visit the Counseling Services office in D-216 or their website.