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Staying in Control When the World is Out of Control: How to Manage Returning to School During COVID


By Laura Miller, LMSW


The transition from warm and relaxing summer months into cool September mornings and structured school days is always a difficult change. So much so, that many students experience anxiety as they return to campus for another school year. In fact, nearly 30% of both adolescents and young adults experience anxiety. This school year’s start prompts another set of unique challenges; managing the unknowns of the continued COVID-19 global pandemic and its consequences on school; remote learning, a hybrid of in-person and virtual classes and the ongoing thought; “When will this end!?” Feeling anxious? Keep reading for tips on how to manage your stress!

Acknowledge Your Stress (and Especially Why it Makes Sense!)

It’s natural to want to avoid situations that make you anxious. Perhaps you’ve thought about sleeping in and skipping that calculus class that seems particularly difficult, or you still have yet to review (and purchase!) your course load’s required textbooks. However, this can actually contribute to a vicious cycle that keeps your anxiety around longer. Instead, acknowledge and validate why you're feeling stressed and then later return to the task. For example, you might say, “Of course this is difficult for me, I haven’t ever had to take an online class before, and this is something new to get used to. It’s okay to be feeling nervous right now.” Then, follow your validation with a “coping statement”; “I’m going to try my best and I’ll ask for help when I need it!” Remember that you’ve never been in a global pandemic AND had to go to school- this is hard, and it’s perfectly okay to feel stressed.


Build a Supportive Network

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the amount of people we can physically be around, however building and maintaining positive and supportive relationships is still critically important for our mental health. Make a concerted effort to connect with other students in your classes and around campus. This may look different from past years, however there are creative ways to “hang out” with friends; check out https://www.netflixparty.com/! Create virtual study groups and email professors to attend virtual “office hours” when needed. The library may not be packed with students this semester’s finals week, but it’s still possible to find ways to ask for support. Additionally, talk to your loved ones about how you’re feeling, it’s likely that you’re not the only one feeling extra stressed this semester.

Take Back Control, Make a Routine….And Be Flexible If It Needs to Change

COVID-19 has brought continuous change, which can certainly contribute to a feeling of total lack of control. While the world keeps changing, it’s helpful to gain back some sense of normalcy by controlling what you can control. You can start taking back control of the school year by establishing a regular schedule and then sticking to your new routine. Are all of your classes online? Do they not begin until the late afternoon? Get up in the morning just like you would for an early morning class, get dressed, make or purchase a nutritious breakfast, and then start off the day by getting some exercise too. Then, create a separate and private space for you to get your work done. Dorm rooms especially are filled with distraction (Hi, friends!), so make sure to find a space where you will really be able to focus on your professor’s lecture. It’s helpful to still be in a “normal” school frame of mind, and recreate a space as if you were in class. Creating this daily schedule will foster some predictability for yourself and therefore reduce stress and help alleviate some the anxiety related to the unknowns of what your day may be like. While sticking to this routine will be helpful, also be open minded and flexible about any necessary scheduling changes as they arise.

Make a Pledge to Use Self Care

As your school assignments pick up, make sure you don’t stop participating in other

pleasant and self-care daily activities that you enjoy! Self-care has been found critical to student success, and engaging in different pleasant activities (and taking a break from school!) will keep you centered and balanced in the midst of so much change. Make an effort to take breaks in between classes and go get a snack or stretch, before returning to your work. Furthermore, get enough sleep to feel rested, exercise, eat nutritious foods, and overall take care of your physical health-- this in turn will boost your mood!


Be Mindful of Your Stress

As the school year ramps up, continue to evaluate your stress level. Be mindful of how you’re feeling and try not to put too much on your plate or pressure on yourself. Communicate with others about your feelings and make sure to ask for help when you need it. Work on developing a growth mindset- there might be a few bumps this school year and that’s okay, you will learn to handle these challenges! Be nonjudgmental toward yourself and take time to enjoy a few rewards as you accomplish your goals!

Stay tuned for our next article highlighting how parents can adapt and help support their children’s transition back to school during the pandemic!

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