Mental health tips for the transition back to campus

By College Relations | July 20, 2021

"COVID-19 Return to Campus" text on blue background with illustrated students hanging out around the letters and graphics.

Just as none of us had ever lived through a pandemic before COVID-19, none of us have ever emerged from one either. OC’s Counselling Services team has compiled these tips to help you prepare for the transitions that lie ahead.  

  1. Don’t compare yourself. Not with other people and not with where you think you ‘should be’ at this point. We just lived through a global pandemic! If you had times of feeling not so productive or you’re feeling tired now, you’re not alone and that’s completely valid.  

  1. Acknowledge that this period of transition may be tiring and stressful for you. Some of us might have less ’social stamina’ than we used to. “The more that we can normalize the real costs of coming out from [more than a year of covid restrictions], the better. Make these conversations a normal part of your planning with those you will reconnect with,” says Dr. Doreen Dodgen Magee in her article: In person life is exhausting: post-pandemic socializing. 

  1. However you feel, it’s okay. The pandemic has been a really challenging time filled with anxiety and loss. So, whether you feel celebratory, exhausted, anxious, or a little bit numb, it is important to acknowledge what is true for you, and to allow for how you feel to change from day to day. Self-compassion and mindfulness exercises can be very helpful in making space for what we’re feeling.    

  1. Anticipate some discomfort. Change is hard, even if the changes are positive. Be realistic about how it might feel a bit bumpy as you get used to the new normal. Our nervous systems have been ‘retuned’ by the pandemic, and it might take you a while to feel safe and comfortable around other people again. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, just that it takes time to get used to new situations.  

  1. Have compassion for those around you.  We all will have our own experience of the transition. If we can be understanding and gentle with each other, that will contribute to a shared experience and help us to rebuild safe connection with others. (Note that this doesn’t mean we have to drop our boundaries to satisfy someone else, e.g., the COVID huggers, but we can still respond with kindness and suspend judgment.) 

  1. Only you can know what feels comfortable for you. Listen to how you feel when you are around other people. Know that you have a right to ask for more space or to say no to an invitation. Likewise, consider asking others for consent before entering their physical bubble or initiating physical contact such as a hug, handshake or high five.  

  1. Reflect on how you can best support yourself in these times. You might want to envision the shift to post-pandemic life as a trip to an unfamiliar place and consider what you want to bring with you on the journey. These might be actual things you bring with you, or they might be more metaphorical. Here are some examples: 

    • A playlist of songs to boost your energy or soothe your stress 

    • A photo (maybe on your phone) of your pet(s) or other source of comfort 

    • A quality you want to bring with you this semester. Maybe courage, compassion or...? 

    • Your favourite snacks or tea 

    • A mantra or other comforting message  

    • Essential oils or something to help soothe you if needed 

    • A good luck token or comfort object such as a small teddy bear 

    • Your ‘why’, or the reasons that motivate you to reconnect with others 

  2. Visualize the spaces you will be in and consider how you might navigate your interactions on campus. When we are doing something new – or new again – it can be helpful to mentally prepare. If possible, visit your campus before orientation day to help you start picturing what it will be like to be learning in-person again.  

  3. You might feel like a first-year, even if you have taken courses at OC during the pandemic or were on campus before COVID-19 began. Allow yourself to ‘be a beginner’ again and see things with fresh eyes.  

  1. Rehearse any situations that you might feel awkward about as we re-enter in-person learning. Maybe it’s meeting your classmates on the first day. If so, figure out one or two lines you’d like to say (It could be: “Hey, my name is ___. Have you taken an in-person class at OC before?”). Or maybe, for you, it will be navigating being close to other people again and you might want to be prepared to draw a boundary. In that case, something like “I’m still keeping a bit of distance from people. I’d rather not _______.” 

  1. Talk or write about what you’re going through. It can be really helpful to put what we’re feeling into words, whether with a trusted friend, a counsellor, or even in a notebook or journal. 

  1. Keep taking care of yourself! At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about the importance of self-care, and we think this continues to be essential. As you make the transition back to campus, it’s a good idea to have a plan for how you will continue to take care of yourself. You could note down 3-5 activities that help you to feel well and commit to doing them on a daily or weekly basis. These are your wellness non-negotiables.

Tags: COVID-19 students



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