After spending 14 months cooped up in our homes and attending class from the comfort of our bedrooms, the thought of going back into the real world can seem scary. On average, it takes 66 days to form a habit – and we’ve definitely spent more than 66 days getting ourselves used to muting ourselves in lectures, chatting with friends on Facetime and avoiding large groups of people in public. Especially as an incoming student, college itself can be daunting due to the large number of unfamiliar faces and new environment. However, after not being in a classroom setting for more than a year, it presents an even tougher challenge for incoming students to cope with anxiety while making the most out of their college experience. Here are some tips and recommendations for how to deal with ongoing anxieties as we re-enter society. Regina Kakhnovets Ybarra, Associate Professor of Instruction at UTD’s School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, provides some advice on how to cope with these anxieties as a college student.
Attend events on campus
“This is a great opportunity in life to meet people who are in the exact same place as you are,” said Ybarra. “People are happy to be back, and you get to meet people who are interested in what you are interested in.” Now is the time for incoming students to feel what it is like to be a Comet. Attending events is a great way to feel increasingly connected with the university and peers. UTD has over 300 student organizations on campus. If you are interested in absolutely anything, there is probably a student organization that relates to your interest. Make sure to take a look at the Comet Calendar to find out about upcoming on-campus events.
Taking small steps
While facing social anxiety, it’s best to ease into a social setting. Ybarra recommends that students make the most out of their experience by devoting their attention to a handful of events. “Have little experiences and be present in those moments so you can actually enjoy them,” Ybarra said.
Recharging your social battery
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been able to shut down our laptops after class is over and take a break. As we transition back to in person, students can start to feel emotionally and socially drained while being on campus for prolonged periods of time. After a long day of studying, attending classes and interacting with others, students should implement self-care by taking time for themselves throughout the day. Whether it be cooking your favorite meal, watching a new Netflix series, putting on a face mask or winding down with some music, making time for yourself can go a long way in reducing feelings of anxiety.
Remember that everyone is feeling the same way
It’s important to remember that everyone is going through the same anxieties as us about meeting new people and getting back on campus. “We’ve gotten used to seeing people in this online format as little circles in our screen rather than human beings in front of us,” Ybarra said. “It can be nerve-wracking to remember the social skills we once had.” You are not alone in feeling socially awkward when chatting with a group of people or feeling worried if attending a public event is safe or not.
Tips for health-related anxiety
While Covid-19 rates have been drastically decreasing over the last month, the virus is still not fully gone. Students struggle with health-related anxieties and while people are getting vaccinated, there are individuals who have not yet taken the vaccine or are extra careful because they have children at home who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Keeping this in mind, if you find yourself worried about attending public gatherings on campus, take safety protocols such as wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer or avoiding large gatherings altogether. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel comfortable and at ease. “Anxiety tends to come in waves. If you wait for it to subside, you will be able to enjoy those experiences which you take part in,” Ybarra said.
Seek help if needed
If you find yourself becoming too overwhelmed by your anxieties, please reach out to the UTD Student Counseling Center. “If you allow for a professional to intervene when problems begin, it is much easier to overcome those issues,” Ybarra said. “The university has these resources because everyone needs them sometimes.” If you find yourself struggling in class, notify your professors or reach out to the graduation help desk. Don’t be afraid to reach out and use these student resources if needed.