News • October 09, 2020

Coping with anxiety during a pandemic

Coping with anxiety during a pandemic

Riverside, Calif. (Oct. 9, 2020) – More than six months ago, the coronavirus pandemic changed people’s lives. For Dr. Erin Smith, associate professor of psychology at California Baptist University and a self-described control junkie, it was an adjustment.

“I am a planner—really, an over-planner,” Smith said. “At first I felt pretty well-prepared to handle [the pandemic]. … Control via planning is a way of saying, ahead of time, that I can bend the world to my will if I just research enough to make it so.”

“But in the past six months I’ve recognized a fairly pernicious cycle of anxiety, resignation, indifference and optimism, rinse and repeat,” Smith said. “I have incredibly high standards for myself and my family. It has been really difficult to adjust these expectations to the reality of the moment.”

Though she may try, Smith acknowledges she is powerless to grasp control her life and trying to increases anxiety.

“We can see in this moment the truth that God has equipped us with the power to act without giving us the power to control the outcomes. This is a truly difficult tension, especially for someone who repeatedly grasps at control through planning,” Smith said.

Early in the semester, Smith wrote a blog to encourage students to more than just survive the current situation.

“We can thrive if we think clearly and intentionally about what God’s plan for thriving looks like. That is not dependent on any circumstances,” Smith said.

Jeff Biddle, director of the CBU Counseling Center, said he often shares with students that anxiety is not unusual.

“Consider the stresses the average college student goes through: new life adjustment, college expectations, academics, social life, money, time management,” Biddle said. “Then add COVID-19, systemic racism, politics, even wildfires, and anxiety can become the new normal.”

People need to understand the difference between anxiety and fear, he said.

“Anxiety is a generalized response to an unknown or perceived threat or danger and is usually future-oriented. Fear, on the other hand, is a reaction to an observable, specific threat, a real danger,” Biddle said.

For example, contracting COVID-19 is a fear for many people, while constant anxiety about loved ones dying from COVID-19 may be connected to a deeply ingrained fear of being left alone in the world, Biddle said.

Smith advises students to realize not everyone has had the same experience during the pandemic. She encourages students to learn from each other and also to makes personal changes they may want or need to make.

“Use this time to address habits that have always bothered you but you didn’t have good reason to address. How can you practice setting yourself up to succeed academically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually?” Smith said.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help from professors, friends and from the Counseling Center. Knowing things intellectually is different than living them,” she added.

Biddle encouraged students to seek help when anxiety symptoms last for two weeks or more. Symptoms include excessive worrying, agitated or irritable mood, panic attack symptoms and sleep problems.

“Anxiety is like a check-engine light alerting us to the problems under the hood of our lives. To ignore anxiety is to allow it to get worse. To recognize anxiety and seek help is the best way to diminish it,” Biddle said. 

Students can contact the CBU Counseling Center (951-689-1120 or calbaptist.edu/counseling) to set up a time to speak with a counselor or learn about other options for improving mental health.