News • September 22, 2021

Counseling Center director discusses how to cope with a pandemic

Counseling Center director discusses how to cope with a pandemic

Riverside, Calif. (Sept. 22, 2021) – As students at California Baptist University settle into the new school year, life almost seems back to normal while dealing with a pandemic. Students are busy with classes, school activities and socializing.

Dr. Jeff Biddle, director of the Counseling Center, discusses what the Lancer community may still be coping with emotionally and mentally. 

A lot has happened in the past 18 months. What should students expect?
New students are experiencing a flood of emotions, but a predominant one is anxiety resulting from a loss of normalcy. Their entire senior year in high school during the pandemic was not normal, with canceled dances and football games, a confusing graduation experience and the online learning experience. The accumulation of losses has interfered with social interactions and their sense of belonging, as well as created loneliness and magnified anxiety, thus creating a vicious cycle.

Normalcy fosters equilibrium in our daily lives. It creates a sense of predictability, routine and rhythm, which can stabilize our emotions through knowing what to expect. Normalcy doesn't mean we don't experience the ups and downs of life, but the pandemic has additionally forced us to maintain an "expect the unexpected" state of mind.

Now, as new students step onto CBU's campus, they are still holding the “expect the unexpected" mindset. Although college life can be an amazing and fulfilling experience, it is new and requires time for adjustment, even without taking into account all the changes from the pandemic.

Meanwhile, all students may experience a mixture of "I'm excited, and I'm apprehensive." Then they ask, "Can I give myself permission to be excited because I can't trust what's going to happen?"

With that much loss, there is a corresponding need to grieve. I see many students trying to navigate how to put words to their feelings and thoughts and maybe not even understanding that they need to process and grieve.

Why is it important to grieve?
A good definition for grieving is acknowledging the loss of precious things of significant meaning, such as people, environments, relationships and, yes, even normalcy. Grieving well is identifying and sharing these losses with another person, whether it’s a therapist, friend, professor, Bible study leader or anyone you respect who is safe and listens well. Barriers to grieving can be our belief systems that say, "You're too sensitive," or "Just get over it," or “Other people have it worse than me," or “You don't have time for this."

But if we don't grieve, our emotions will begin to manifest physically, such as through headaches, body aches, migraines, gastrointestinal issues and sleep issues. The body keeps score. Physical symptoms may be signaling emotional pain going on underneath the hood of our hearts. In a sense, students might be duct taping over that blinking red check engine light while the body begins to malfunction.

What emotions or thoughts would be considered normal, and when should students seek help?
It's normal to feel abnormal. We do not live in a world with just healthy people and unhealthy people. We live in a world where at some level we're all broken. We’re all entering a crisis, in a crisis, or recovering from a crisis. The sooner we admit that the better chance we have of healing.

I love to look college students in the eye and say, "You're not crazy. In light of what you've been going through, it's normal to feel this level of pain.” Normalizing for a person in distress and offering them hope is often the beginning of recovery. I also communicate that it is not normal to try to heal in isolation: God always intended and designed us to heal in community.

On a practical note, if a student is experiencing emotional pain for two weeks or more, with no relief in sight, it's time to seek help.

Why is it important to reach out?
Studies show 80% of people who suffer through a mental health issue will heal if they seek help. It doesn't have to be counseling; it could be just reaching out to a safe person who deeply cares for you. 

There's something transformative and healing in simply communicating our pain to another person.

If you are a friend of someone in crisis, congratulations, you have now become a first responder! It is your privilege to listen, encourage and assist them in finding help.

Another statistic is that 40% of university students who are struggling with mental health issues do not reach out. They are the ones that have isolated themselves and that's the 40% that worries me most. 

What services are available for students at the Counseling Center?
In addition to in-person or telehealth counseling sessions, the Counseling Center provides anonymous online assessments that can help students determine their emotional state. The WellTrack app (free to CBU students) is a self-help online therapy option that allows students to track their mental health. The Center, which has 26 counselors, also offers support groups focusing on processing loss and dealing with anxiety due to the pandemic.

Anything you would like to add?
I encourage students to be courageous enough to reach out. Realize that it is normal to struggle with emotions, and it's essential to be in a supportive community.

Contact CBU Marketing and Communication

Vice President for Marketing and Communication:
Angela Meluski

8432 Magnolia Avenue
Riverside, CA 92504