You may be an incoming first-year student with normal back-to-school woes amplified by the abnormal nature of the world right now. You may be an upper-level student who had established a comfortable routine before abruptly packing your bags last March and are afraid you won’t recognize the place that once felt so much like home. You might not know what to feel, and that’s okay.
The return to in-person learning for fall 2021 is going to be full of changes for every single student, and we recognize that even though this is a positive thing, there are some not-so-positive emotions that may come with it. And that’s okay too. In this blog, we hope to address some of the anxieties you may be feeling and discuss some ideas to keep in mind if the weight of the semester starts to feel too heavy.
Start where you are.
It’s all about taking it easy. No, that doesn’t mean dropping all of the classes for your major to sign up for Basket Weaving 101 (although how fun would that be?). It means being kind to yourself.
As the semester gets started, you may feel like you have a million things to figure out and no clue where to begin. Start where you are. There’s no need to change your routine to make it “better,” more productive, or more like what that one kid in your calculus class is doing in order to be a successful student this semester.
Focus on what you are accomplishing each day. Did you make your bed this morning? Did you start that grueling calculus assignment, even if you only finished two problems? How about starting your term paper, even if you only wrote one paragraph?
Setting small, everyday goals helps keep you on track academically and gives you momentum to tackle bigger obstacles when it feels like you might just be treading water. Whether you have a semester or two (or 20, no judgements) under your belt, returning to in-person learning is new territory. Even if it seems like everyone else around you has their footing, you don’t need to sprint to catch up. Life is a journey, not a race. So start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can to make it through.
Establish a place of rest.
Since a lot of us were living at home and taking classes from our beds last year, the notion of maintaining a school-life balance didn’t really exist. Pixelated versions of classmates and professors infiltrated places we once used to take refuge from stress, leaving us without a space to recharge. But with in-person learning returning in the fall, there is an opportunity to reclaim your place of relaxation, so take advantage of it!
Establish a place of comfort and stability on campus. This could be the place you call home, like your residence hall, apartment, or hobbit hole. But if rowdy roommates or tough circumstances exist in the place you live, it could be one of the many peaceful spots on campus, too. A quiet place like the library, your favorite tree to sit under, or even a coffee shop where you meet with friends can do the trick.
Wherever it is, make it somewhere without stressors, where you can turn off the noise of the world around you. Having a physical space completely separate from classwork to decompress may make all of those assignments and projects seem a little more manageable. Leave your worries at the door!
Take time for yourself.
In the past year, we’ve been reminded how important it is to take care of our health, both physical and mental. All the time spent isolated undoubtedly also taught us to find comfort, reprieve, and release in the small activities we enjoy. Keep that with you.
Your schedule will probably look a little different next semester, but it is so important to make time to connect to something other than your latest homework assignment. Remember those goals we talked about? While it’s important to set goals to keep you on track academically, it’s equally as important to set goals to keep you grounded mentally and emotionally.
As you develop a weekly routine this semester, include time for yourself as part of that schedule. Making space for your hobbies gives you something to look forward to and a break from whatever is stressing you out. Schedule an afternoon nap, finish the next chapter of your book, go for a run, and you may find you feel a little bit better.
Ask for help if you need it.
Admitting you can’t overcome an obstacle in life all on your own can be a hard, and sometimes downright scary, thing to admit. Especially when the “obstacle” is supposed to be something good—the end of pandemic-style learning you’ve been waiting for since last March. But remember this: No matter what your circumstances were, you’ve lived through a period of great change in a short amount of time, and it’s okay not to know how to handle it.
When in-person classes resume, don’t hesitate to reach out to those around you. Whether it’s your parents, friends, a trusted professor, or other resources, there are people around you who care about your well-being and want to lighten whatever is weighing you down. A burden shared is never as heavy as one shouldered alone. And, as you come to campus, trying your best to keep up with everything life throws your way, remember that you are not alone.
We could write blogs about the transition back to in-person learning until the cows come home, but the bottom line is that this change is something we’re all going to have to get through. And while everybody handles stress in different ways, one thing we could all probably use right now is a positive reminder that no matter what, everything is going to be okay. Take this as your sign to smile, breathe deep, and remember that you can do this.
See you in the fall, Illini.