Whether you are starting your college career or returning to campus, the prospect of what’s next is daunting. The uncertainties are as vast as the speed with which our lives are changing. As summer comes to a close, schools are still finalizing whether classes will be remote, in person or a hybrid. Questions about what dorm life - and your social life - will look like come fall may be buzzing through your mind. As you think about your life in the fall semester, here are some tips to help you manage in navigating the uncertainty in going back to campus.
Acknowledge Feelings of Loss: There are many disappointments that you may be feeling as you face the fall semester. Perhaps you are feeling sad because you will not be able to be reunited with your friends as you were expecting at the end of spring semester. Maybe you are angry because your parents have asked you to stay home your Freshmen year, stymieing your much longed for independence. Or you feel like you are missing out on that chance to start anew with a different community. Your experience of loss and change may be quite different from what I have stated here, but a first step in managing the stress is to name it for ourselves rather than keep it pent up inside.
Stay Informed: As news changes quickly, it’s important to not only stay up to date with guidelines posted by the CDC, but also to reach out to your college administrators. Finding out how classes will be taught to whether you will need to be regularly tested for COVID-19, will help you to make the best decisions you can about the fall semester. If you disagree with a policy, this may also give you a chance to voice your opinions to those who make decisions about your school experience.
Identify What You Can Control: When we are worried or scared, our mind can spin into problem solving mode. Before we know it, we have concocted several different scenarios and found out how each can go wrong. You may be wondering if you will need to leave campus early or whether the number of cases will decrease at your school. These thoughts may stop us from sleeping, impede with concentrating on important tasks, and simply take us out of the present. In times of uncertainty, these stress reactions may get ramped up a few notches. While we do not want to ignore what is going on around us, ruminating on what we cannot control only serves to increase our anxiety. In these moments, it can help to consider the aspects of your problem that you can control. You can limit the amount of energy poured into reading or watching the news, develop a plan for interacting with friends in class or find new, creative ways to connect with others. By focusing on aspects of the problem that you can control, you will stop the worry cycle in its tracks.
Take a Break: While it’s important not to dismiss what is happening on campus, we also need to remember that dwelling on concerns can make us feel like we are trapped in an endless cycle of worry. Take a step back and take a breath. You might try this breathing technique (Box Breathing). For some, taking a break may be diving into a cozy book, going for a nature walk or laughing with a friend. Other people may benefit from taking stock of the parts of life that we can control. Doing this can help grant a piece of stability when the ground feels like it is spinning underneath us.
Talk to Someone: The need to air out your worries, sadness or anger is very normal. If you find that you are frequently stuck in a cycle of worry, feel immobilized by what’s next, are no longer interested in the things that you typically like to do, or are feeling down a lot of the time, it may be a good time to find someone specially trained to listen to your problems. Your school likely has a student health center or mental health center that can offer counseling or help you find a counselor.
At Response for Teens, we have a team of licensed professionals who offer a non-judgmental space to listen to what is troubling you. If you find yourself getting more stuck, unburden yourself and give us a call at 855.275.5237.