Toolbox: Going off to College in the age of Covid-19
This year, thousands of freshman will begin their college careers on campuses across the country. While some universities (Harvard, MIT, etc.) closed their campuses fall semester, many are opening their dormitory doors in the hopes that some semblance of campus life can be created, even in these challenging times.
But this year will be different. Freshmen/women will have another layer of stress to combat. In addition to the normal challenges of transitioning to university life, they have to contend with COVID-19 . Here are some tips to help prepare and succeed this year:
- Make a schedule and keep to it. For many, college is the first time where there is no one to make sure you get out of bed and go to school(even if it is online). Also, it is the first time where you are not attending classes every day, and have bells to tell you when it’s time to stop and go. It may seem simple, but it is likely something you take for granted. This is especially true in the time of COVID-19, where many of your classes will be online, and there is even less structure to classes than in-person instruction. So do yourself a favor, and make a schedule. Include class time, TA meetings, and times to study, eat, sleep and workout.
- Attend all your classes online and in person. There may be a real temptation to skip classes, as attendance may not be taken. College moves at a much quicker pace than high school, and missing one class can put you far behind. Success in college , as in most things in life, requires you show up.
- Plan on doing all your reading/studying most days, at least the first term. Getting behind can put you in a very difficult position and create unnecessary anxiety. Also, find your best study environment. Is it your dorm room? Common areas? The library? Do some exploring as to what space is available given COVID-19 restrictions.
- Get a good night’s sleep– there is a temptation to stay up until 2 am every day, chatting and playing video games. But sleep is what restores your body and helps your mind to function properly. Sleep helps regulate your mood and stress level, and keeps your “freaks outs” manageable. In addition, sleep also keeps your immune system strong, as your body can repair itself during slumber. In COVID-19 times, this is incredibly important!! Aim for 7-8 hours a night.
- Eat regularly and watch your caffeine intake. Keep your body and mind fueled( tip: proteins help you think). Watch caffeine intake, as it can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
- Exercise and get fresh air regularly. Exercise is a great stress reliever and mood manager. While the fitness centers on campus are likely closed, outside activities are available. Running/ walking/ biking are excellent options during the pandemic. Even when the weather gets colder, it is good to look for online fitness options to keep your stress levels down and mood up.
- Figure out the best fit for you to meet people. Are you more comfortable one on one? Then focus on introducing yourself to folks one at a time. In small groups? Ask if you can join in. If you are invited to join in, even if you are a little anxious, go. This may be the first time in a long time you’ve had to make friends. It’s normal to be anxious. But just like going to class, you have to show up to make friends. So Go.
- You may be wondering how you are supposed to manage the above while sticking to your pandemic protection plan( mask-up/6ft apart). It is more than possible. In fact, everyone at college will A) be making friends a priority and B) be more than willing to find a safe way to connect regardless of COVID-19.
- Know where and how to access Campus support: Do you know where campus health center and counseling center are located and how to contact them? During the pandemic, services are likely to be online, so make sure your laptop/tablet/phone works properly.
- If you start to struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression, do not ignore them. If the normal things you do to help yourself feel better are not working, reach out to your university counseling center. If you are struggling to get out of bed, are so anxious you can’t focus on your studies, or struggle to make social connections, call the counseling center. This is exactly what they are there for.
- If you are currently working on your mental health with a therapist at home, you may have the option to continue while you transition to college life. Insurance companies are covering telehealth sessions during COVID-19, and many plan to continue coverage indefinitely. Even if you are moving out of state, you may be able to continue your counseling, as many states are allowing out of state therapists to provide online services. Your insurance company will be able to let you know if this is possible.
- If you feel suicidal at any time, tell someone (ie resident advisor, a friend, the counseling center, suicide help hotline 1-800-273-8255 ). Suicidal thoughts are not as uncommon as you may think. When folks are emotionally distraught, it’s not uncommon to think, “I don’t want to feel this way anymore” or “This is too hard, I want this to be over”. They are a warning sign that you are really struggling and need help. Most importantly, suicidal feelings are not permanent and can be treated and eradicated. Reach out.
I wish you great success on your university adventure! Here’s to discovering amazing things in your studies and about yourself!