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Counselors, students give advice for managing anxiety during COVID-19

Abbie Hagen, a senior technical theatre major, sits drawing in a sketchbook. Hagen said she uses art as a way to destress. Photo courtesy of QW. Image description: Abbie Hagen, a white woman with blond hair, draws in a sketchbook.

As the Spring semester begins with a flexible start, students said they experience high levels of anxiety, with 75% of respondents saying their anxiety was a five out of ten or above, according to a poll conducted on The Forum’s Instagram page Jan. 12. 

“Can 12 be an appropriate answer?” asked Kylie Palmer, a junior history major and one of 16 participants in the Instagram poll. 

Cory Shipp, a counselor in Westminster College’s Counseling Center, said anxiety is a common response when people experience uncertainty.

“I think one of the things that I would do is to normalize [anxiety] when things feel uncertain,” Shipp said. “When things feel unpredictable, parts of us become anxious. […] This is a very difficult time and so giving yourself permission to normalize ‘this is difficult right now’ can be helpful.”

Erin Gibson, the director of the Counseling Center, said she agreed and brought up resiliency. 

“I’ve come to frame resilience as being able to be present in your life with the presence of the unknown also being there,” Gibson said. 

A man holds his phone, decorated with a green and black case, showing the screen which is filled with many alarms.
Truman Madsen, a first-year intended theatre major, sits with his phone screen visible, showing many alarms set. Madsen said he uses alarms in his phone to manage his schedule. Photo courtesy of QW. Image description: Truman Madsen, a white man, holds his phone, decorated with a green and black case, showing the screen which is filled with many alarms.

Here are some ways Gibson and Shipp said people can build resilience:

  • Increasing tolerance for discomfort
  • Accepting that unknown factors are a constant in life 
  • Taking a break, however short, when feeling overwhelmed

Shipp also shared some of his personal strategies for managing anxiety. He said feeling grounded when he starts the day helps him. 

Shipp and Gibson said gratitude journaling, acknowledging emotions throughout the day and participating in activities that bring joy are other techniques for managing anxiety. 

Both Gibson and Shipp said self care and managing anxiety looks different for everyone. 

Truman Madsen, a first-year student intending to major in theatre, said he relies on his schedule and checklists as a way to manage anxiety. 

“I think humans feel better after accomplishing something, regardless of what that task is,” Madsen said. “If I write down what I need to do […] even if it’s as small as ‘make sure I wake up on time,’ I feel good about myself because I accomplished something.” 

Abbie Hagen, a senior technical theatre major, said her schedule is vital to her success every semester. Hagen also said having a creative outlet has helped her. She also said it’s important to remember that not every semester has to be perfect.

An open bullet journal shows a hand drawn gratitude log with a purple title and light blue lines.
An open journal shows a gratitude log. Cory Shipp, one of the college’s counselors said he recommends gratitude logs as an act of mindfulness. Photo courtesy of Q W. Image description: An open journal shows a hand drawn gratitude log.

Hagen said, “Even if it’s not your 100% best semester, it’s still going to be the best semester you could have given.”

Here are some mental health resources and support. 

Burnout prevention and treatment

Counseling Center

  • Mindful self compassion group, contact Cory Shipp
  • We Thrive! Women/femme identified support group, contact Christian Fritze
  • Take a breather meditation, contact Erin Gibson

1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Summary 

On this episode of the Forum Podcast, Forum Staff Reporter Q W looks into ways the Westminster community can manage the stress and anxiety of starting the Spring semester with a flexible start due to the Omicron surge. Winter talks to both mental health professionals and current students to understand coping strategies and self care practices as we approach two years in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Q W (they/xe) is a junior communication major with a minor in justice studies. When they aren't in class, you can almost always find xem crocheting, enjoying a cup of tea, and listening to a podcast.

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