How to Manage Pandemic Re-Entry Anxiety
Many college students have not been OK since they've been away from campus. Rates of anxiety, depression, and stress have soared over the past year, reflecting the pandemic's toll.
As the COVID-19 pandemic eases and campus life resumes this fall, psychologists believe some students will start to feel better. Settling into a new environment, establishing routines, and interacting with others will help them find their bearings.
But other students may find it difficult to reacclimate to "normal" life. For them, it may take longer to overcome feeling anxious about being around other people after more than a year of isolation and social distancing.
It's called "re-entry anxiety," and behavioral specialists like Steven Rosenberg say it's a perfectly normal reaction to the pandemic.
"We've been quarantining for over a year and in that time, we have developed new habits," Rosenberg said. "These new habits, such as mask-wearing and staying six feet away from people you don't live with, have become the new normal. So, it isn't like we can just flip a switch and automatically do what we did before the coronavirus arrived."
Mental health experts interviewed by TheBestSchools.org agree that re-entry anxiety will start to go away for most students after they return to campus. But others may find it more difficult to readjust to the college environment.
Here, we cover management strategies that you can use to make settling into a new "normal" a little easier.
Take It Slow
It's easy to get caught up in what students "should" be doing and forget that everyone handles the pandemic differently. Remind yourself that it's OK if you're not settling in as quickly as your peers. Go at your own pace.
- Don't feel bad if you aren't up for socializing as much as you did before COVID-19.
- Give yourself time to acclimate to being back on campus and going out.
- Start with one person and slowly add more people to your social pod.
Connect With Others
Quarantine caused feelings of isolation for many people. Some may not be as eager or ready to socialize again — especially first-year students who haven't made campus connections yet. However, social support is still one of the keys to being happy and lowering stress. Strengthening your relationships can help you feel more comfortable.
- Talk about your feelings with a considerate, empathetic, and skilled listener.
- Join a virtual club at your college to meet new people while you're still getting used to being back in public.
- Write down a list of the people you want to chat with regularly, then follow through by reaching out to them.
Start a Routine
The pandemic threw everyone off. One way to get back on track is to start a new routine. A routine will help your body and mind find stability and overcome the feelings of anxiety you've developed during the pandemic.
- Start your day at the same time every day.
- Set daily goals, such as getting outdoors, finishing assignments, or hanging out with friends.
- Use your campus recreation center to unwind, exercise, and build a social network.
Treat Your Body Well
Diet and exercise can make an impact on your anxiety. Studies show that poor diet in particular can be detrimental to mental health. While you don't necessarily need to treat your body like a temple, making some healthy dietary decisions can help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. However, remember to chat with your doctor before making any drastic changes in what you eat.
- Eat fresh fruit rather than sugar-laden junk food to give yourself more energy and less stress.
- Do 30 minutes or more of physical exercise — yoga, running, cycling — once a day for 3-5 days a week.
- Avoid certain foods or drinks that can aggravate feelings of anxiety, such as coffee, fruit juice, or fried food.
Ask for Help
It's normal to feel intimidated by the idea of returning to campus and pre-pandemic activities. Millions of other people are experiencing similar anxiety. It's also normal to ask for help to better process and manage your emotions.
- Anxiety isn't a taboo subject like it used to be, so it's OK — and even encouraged — to be open about your feelings.
- Campus resources, such as on-campus counseling, are a good place to start seeking help.
- Many communities, schools, and places of worship also offer mental health support, some of which can be accessed online for free through state governments.
Evan Thompson is a Washington-based writer for TBS covering higher education. He has bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, and others from his past life as a newspaper reporter.
Header Image Credit: Westend61, Paper Boat Creative | Getty Images
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