When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, staying home and minimizing social interaction seemed like the only sensible thing we could do. This was after all the most effective way to limit the spread of the virus.
Now, with more people getting vaccinated, and the subsequent lowering of infection rates, restrictions have loosened across the country. Most of my friends, family, and colleagues are happily reclaiming their freedom to move about freely and reconnect with others. I feel a pang of freedom and a beckoning of the open spaces too.
At the same time, many are anxious about returning to social situations and are unsure what to expect. As the parent of a college-going son, Derek, who struggles with anxiety all his life, I can understand their concerns. College students are no strangers to anxiety-Prone. Grades, finances, homesickness, social life – these are common factors that affect student mental health and well-being. But the pandemic has amplified the negative effects of these factors and marred the college experience.
What is Anxiety?
According to the American Psychological Association, “Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure” ( See Chapter 14, Psychological Science). The symptoms of anxiety can be emotional, physical, cognitive, or behavioral, and are often a hindrance in day-to-day activities.
Besides, college students everywhere are living through an incredibly uncertain time; we should know that it is completely normal to feel anxious about living on campus. Students tend to worry about health, socializing in the post-pandemic world, and future prospects. If you’ve been particularly stressed or nervous about college, you’re likely experiencing anxiety. I witnessed Derek go through intense anxiety as the date of returning to college inched closer.
This is a list of coping mechanisms and strategies that have helped my son overcome his (sometimes extreme) anxiety. The strategies have also enabled him to recapture a sense of normalcy. I hope it also helps those of you who’re not yet ready to socialize like it’s 2019!
Strategies to Help Your Child Deal with Back-to-College Anxiety-Prone
Recognize and Address their Fears
Like most of his classmates and peers, my son quickly became accustomed to virtual learning over the last year. After a prolonged period of social isolation, the sudden switch to on-campus classes meant having to interact with many people. This was understandably anxiety-inducing.
For him, as for other young people who suffer from anxiety, adjusting psychologically to the new environment took time. Parents have to understand that returning to the campus is not the same as it used to be. Today, students also have to grapple with the continued need to take COVID-19 precautions. Parents also need to understand and address their child’s concerns about contracting the disease.
Help Them Prepare for the Change
One way in which I helped my son prepare emotionally for on-campus learning was by focusing on what changes he could expect. Doing so prepared him to handle any challenges he might face. Here are some things that were especially helpful:
- Asking the college what safety precautions they were taking to protect students. My son suffers from asthma and is at higher risk if he is infected with Covid and needs additional safeguards. I also packed extra masks and hand sanitizer.
- I suggest making a COVID care kit with FDA-approved KN95 masks, sterile disposable gloves, disinfectants, wipes, and bottles of hand sanitizer. Make a different self-care kit too. Include chamomile tea, a cozy blanket, a journal, soothing candles, quality chocolates, and anything else that brings your kid comfort. While a self-care kit may not eliminate anxiety, your child will be comforted by your thoughtfulness and care.
- Since he has social anxiety, we practiced politely asking others to maintain physical distancing. After all, even though the pandemic seems to be receding, personal safety takes priority when it comes to social interactions.
Make Positive Self-Talk a Habit
I won’t lie. Transitioning back to on-campus learning had its challenges, but my son was willing to adapt. This is important since the situation could change at a moment’s notice. A certain amount of anxiety during these times is to be expected, but I encouraged him to practice positive self-talk. We also highlighted the need to be mindful of what is within his control and what is not. He constantly reminded himself that he was taking precautions to safeguard himself and was prioritizing his physical and mental health. Given his anxiety, he demonstrated great strength and resilience, and he did not lose sight of that fact.
Seek Help Proactively
Much of my son’s success in overcoming anxiety was thanks to the support he received from his school’s mental health services. And he didn’t have to wait until he got back on campus. His school partnered with telehealth providers to give students access to mental health professionals and physicians. Regardless of his location, he could see a counselor via a virtual video appointment.
Many schools have also provided 24/7 access to counselors, as well as expanded mental health services. They also host virtual events and workshops on a variety of mental health issues. You could also check with the school’s counseling center or student office if they have a crisis hotline on campus.
But the most important thing all young, anxiety-prone college-going adults and their parents need to know? We’re all in this TOGETHER! Sharing our experiences allows us to heal and support – and that’s a goal worth striving for.
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