As we return to in-person learning, university and college students across the country are facing a range of emotions from excitement to anxiety. For many of us, getting back on campus means we can finally reconnect with professors and other students. The smell of morning coffee, the hallway rush between classes, secluded study halls and a bustling social scene are just some of the things students familiar with the campus environment may miss.
For those of us who are new to university — whether as first year students or second year students who missed a first year on campus — the unfamiliar student environment combined with uncertainty of social norms may seem like even more of a challenge than the course load itself.
Students will need to readjust to campus life and learn how to rebuild lost social connections. There is still the looming uncertainty of whether or not it is appropriate to approach classmates. Do students sit next to one another and strike up a conversation after class or do they now keep a distance? Will it be appropriate to sit next to someone in the cafeteria or will small-cohort tables be the new normal? How do we make new friends when we’ve spent so long staying apart?
According to the VeryWellMind, a 2021 study found that social anxiety symptoms have significantly increased during COVID-19. Referred to as the “COVID-19 Anxiety Syndrome”, researchers have said that despite the wide distribution of vaccines, people will continue to display avoidance behaviours. Some of these behaviours may include the avoidance of public transportation or isolating from others when it isn’t necessary.
For students unsure of how to approach social life after our in-person learning hiatus, here are a few helpful tips…
1. Be mindful
If you are unsure of how someone may feel, avoid hugs and handshakes when rekindling old university friendships or starting new ones. It’s to avoid hugs and physical contact on campus until you feel comfortable.
2. Find safe spaces
If you are feeling anxious after a long day of packed hallways and busy classrooms, find calming spots near your classes and activities. Whether it be a library cubicle, a quiet classroom, chill lounge, or a desk tucked away from other students, use a safe space when needed. Scope out your options early on to prepare.
3. Communicate clearly
Be open with your instructors and classmates on your level of comfort. If you feel unsafe in a particular classroom environment, let your instructor or peers know. Listen when others share the same.
4. Be patient
Understand that (re)building lost connections and (re-)entering the university environment might be overwhelming at times. Be patient with yourself and (re)build connections at your own pace. There’s no rush: take your time to get to know people.
5. Take things step by step
When ready to engage in social interactions, join a club that’s within your comfort level. For example, if you aren’t ready to be in close proximity with other classmates yet, avoid contact sports and instead choose a club that can remain more physically distanced. Adapt as you go, but don’t push yourself too quickly.
6. Get Support
Most importantly, if you find yourself struggling with stress, anxiety or depression in the wake of COVID 19 or at any other point, don’t hesitate to access student resources. Canadian campuses have mental healthcare workers for therapy, group counselling sessions, helplines, peer support and so much more to help you get through this vital time in your life.
Remember, if you feel your social skills are out of tune you’re not alone. According to a release published by Health Essentials, it’s normal to “worry” about doing the “right” thing. University students across the country are relearning how to establish healthy interactions and understanding their own boundaries at the same time. We’re all adapting together, and we’ll continue to develop new ways of coping and connecting throughout our academic life.
“Coping with Coronavirus (COIVD-19).” N.D., https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-coronavirus-covid-19-4800265
“Coping With Back-to-School Uncertainty and Anxiety with Dr. Ethan Benore.” August 5, 2020, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/podcasts/health-essentials/coping-with-back-to-school-uncertainty-and-anxiety-with-dr-ethan-benore