WEBINAR: Santa Clara Professor Dale Larson, PhD, Helps Students Cope During COVID19

WEBINAR: Santa Clara Professor Dale Larson, PhD, Helps Students Cope During COVID19

Dale Larson, PhD
Dale Larson, PhD

Santa Clara University professor of counseling psychology Dale Larson, PhD, is on the front lines of helping students cope with COVID19. “We have lost our safety, we have lost our sense of security, our social connections,” he says in an interview with the university. “Stress and loss are inseparable.” In addition to the immediate effects of COVID19 including isolation, fear for their health and the health of people they love, and day-to-day financial challenges, Dr. Larson points out that graduating students are experiencing the additional stress of evaporating job prospects: “Jobs will not necessarily be available,” he says. On May 20th at 9am PST, Dr. Larson will join the Digging Deep team for a conversation exploring the mental health challenges students face during COVID19. If you have a chance, you can preview some of his suggestions here, and then join us on May 20th to follow up with any question you have. CLICK HERE for free webinar registration! Here are Dr. Larson’s suggestions for how to cope with COVID19 – suggestions that are applicable to all of us.

First, Larson suggests we keep in mind the difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is like driving your car and worrying your brakes won’t work, he says. And fear is pressing the brakes and finding they don’t work. Between these two is “a fear reaction that is not warranted by the realities of our situation,” he writes, calling this an amygdala hijack. In this state of constant activation, we run the risk of creating a state of constant fear, a kind of chronic condition that can be hard to deactivate once the danger is over.

According to Larson, the first step is to deal with this chronic fear response in your body: “You can recover by slowing down and listening non-judgmentally to yourself in that moment. Try to relax, pay attention to your breathing, follow the rising and falling of your abdomen, in a meditative and mindful way,” he says.

Once you are working to deescalate the acute experience of fear, it’s time to look more long term, importantly by fighting to stay connected despite the physical isolation imposed by the virus. “Whether it’s over the phone, or through Zoom, or by email or social media, reach out to someone,” Larson says. In humankind’s past, it was not horns or wings that kept our ancestors alive, but our ability to build community to tackle problems collaboratively. Forcing ourselves to stay connected even though COVID19 makes this difficult is an essential coping strategy.

“If you feel lonely and isolated, that is a message from within telling you to reach out, and all of our research in psychology shows that social support, and feeling loved and valued, are among the best antidotes for stress,” Larson says. Instead of wondering what you will do today, Larson suggests scheduling your time, including setting specific times to connect with others.

He also suggests building connections with yourself, for example, by writing about your experiences and emotions in a journal. “The research has found that there are immediate kinds of effects [from writing in a journal], from immunological benefits to fewer trips to the doctor, and your brain improves,” he says.

If we can stay connected with others and with our selves, Larson sees opportunity in these times.

“This can also be a time when we can reconnect with family members and friends we are not quarantining with, find creative ways to do good in the world, and to reflect on what is really important in life,” he says. “If we do these things, we will be made better, and not be reduced, by the pandemic.”

— Material in this article is used with the gracious permission of Dale Larson

CLICK HERE for free registration to May 20, 9am PST webinar.