With the start of the fall semester, Hokies have had their first taste of pre-COVID-19 college normalcy since March of 2020. With in-person classes, football games and other social activities in which to look forward, there is much to be excited about this school year. However, it is important to remember not all students share such excitement. While some may embrace this transition with open arms, other students may struggle to adapt as the world begins to reopen.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of the world has spent their time sequestered at home in quarantine, distancing themselves from others in hopes to contain the spread of COVID-19. For college students, quarantine came with additional baggage such as online classes, recorded lectures and little to no social interaction with our classmates. Due to being sheltered at home and separated from others for so long, it can be hard to make the transition into pre-COVID-19 normalcy. With this transition can come anxiety as well as other mental health-related issues.
Director of the Cook Counseling Center Dr. Ellie Sturgis describes why students may be feeling anxious as pre-COVID-19 life resumes.
“We (Cook Counseling) are seeing a surge in students and among that, we’re seeing a real surge in anxiety … there is some COVID-related anxiety,” Sturgis said. “If, when (people) tended to be a little more introverted over the last year and a half and more isolated, that became much more comfortable and now that’s not the expectation of other people. Many people have just been waiting to be able to connect with others, but for some, being a little isolated was really very helpful.”
While in-person classes allow for a more collaborative and hands-on learning environment that Zoom lacked, it may also mean sharing a crowded lecture room with your peers. This can come as an uncomfortable shock to students who found solace in the independence of Zoom. More social activities are also starting to resume, including athletic events and club meetings. According to the Virginia Tech vaccination dashboard, 95% of students at Virginia Tech are fully vaccinated. While this is reassuring, it may still take time for students to feel completely comfortable being around others at campus events.
“We have a lot of people that are comfortable being back, and I think they are wanting their peers and their friends to be able to resume the level of activity that is most comfortable for them,” Sturgis said. “I think there is also that message that your college years are the best years of your life and we talked a lot about getting back to normal. I think the idea that we are more fully open this year gives the implicit message that ‘we want you to be out, connected, and in classes with each other.’”
As with any mental illness, anxiety can be isolating. It can be hard to watch the rest of the world move forward after the COVID-19 pandemic when one’s anxiety may prevent them from doing the same. This can cause students to feel as though they are outsiders and question whether their feelings are justifiable. It is therefore essential that students take care of their mental health and check in on those who may be struggling. Just as eating well and regular exercise are essential to a healthy lifestyle, so is prioritizing mental health. In support of mental wellbeing, the Virginia Tech community must continue to recognize that students will adapt to this new environment at their own pace and students shouldn’t be afraid to excuse themselves from something that makes them uncomfortable.
“It is important to honor your anxiety,” Sturgis said. “It’s important to recognize, ‘This is where I am at right now and that’s normal. Maybe this isn’t where I want to stay, so how can I slowly start increasing things that feel comfortable and that are moving toward a more social aspect?’ Do it in small steps.”
If a student is struggling with their mental health, the best thing they can do is honor themselves. Anxiety is not something that should be shameful or feared, but respected. Whether this means slowing down and taking time to prioritize oneself, or making small connections with those who feel similarly, we have a responsibility to take care of our mental wellbeing. Students who do feel anxious about resuming pre-COVID-19 life should take baby steps and find ways to ease themselves into social activities and campus events at a comfortable pace.
Although mental health issues have become less stigmatized throughout quarantine, according to Sturgis, society needs to acknowledge that there is no one right way to reintegrate into society after the pandemic. Individuals must do what’s best for themselves and prioritize their mental health despite pressures to resume pre-COVID-19 normalcy.