Being back on a full, in-person campus is exhilarating and wonderful, right? After so long of being stuck at home (or even stuck on a ghost-town-like campus) wouldn’t any other emotional state besides joy and peace would just be ungrateful? After all, it’s everything we’ve been looking forward to for what feels like years, right?
While yes, it is thrilling to be back in the hustle and bustle of real college life, it is also overwhelming and scary. Many of us, however (myself included), are ashamed or embarrassed to admit that being back in person is completely and totally anxiety inducing. It almost feels as if I have forgotten how to function in the “real world.”
I don’t know about you, but balancing a “busy” schedule was much easier when I could end one meeting and start another while staying in the same (butt imprinted) chair. Difficult questions were easier to avoid with my camera off. Coughing was less embarrassing with my microphone muted.
Readjusting to “normal” life is even more intense than I thought because we aren’t re-adjusting at all. We are simply adjusting to an often uncomfortable and often intense new normal. A new normal that is tinged with the trauma of the last two years. Much like the aftermath of 9/11, life continues, but not without frequent pangs of terror in crowded spaces and airplanes. Life continues, and we are expected to produce per usual with smiles on our masked faces.
Evidently, I’m finding this difficult, and maybe you are too.
In this first month(ish) of school I have been working hard to keep myself calm and keep myself sane. Here is a list of the Top Five things I’ve been doing to ground myself in ungrounded times.
5) Decluttering My spaces
One thing that has really been helping me is staying neat, tidy and clean. My bedroom in particular has become a sanctuary. But cleaning wasn’t all there was to it. I began throwing or giving away everything that didn’t serve a purpose, with purpose being a broad category. For example, the Buddha statue on my windowsill and the incense in the corner don’t hold my books or my pencils; I can’t sit on them; but they calm me down and that’s a pretty great purpose. I threw away papers I didn’t need, objects that didn’t excite me, quotes hung on my wall that didn’t speak to me and even a decorative table that was holding nothing. Call me a minimalist or call me Marie Kondo, or call me genius but it reduced my anxiety so I’m going with it.
4) Walking/ Being In Nature
I have been walking, and walking and walking some more. To class, to the grocery store and just aimless wandering when I have the time. I try to walk in open, natural spaces where I feel uncompelled to mask-up. This one may be cliche, but long walks have been a go-to to clear my head and really breathe. I strongly encourage the use of masks for every person in every crowded space (yes — even if you’re vaccinated!). However, while we must take this precaution to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, we all need time to take some deep inhalations, unmasked and outside. If walking isn’t something that sounds fun or accessible for you, just sitting outside in nature and taking a few long breaths can also fulfill this need.
3) Making Comfort Food
Many people are very anti-turning-to-food in times of anxiety or any kind of emotional distress. While I agree that the compulsive over-consumption of food (binge eating) is destructive and unhelpful, mindfully making one of your childhood favorites is therapeutic. Light a candle, play some nice music and get your hands into making a delicious (and possibly nostalgic) comfort meal. A go to for me lately has been a classic grilled cheese. It’s easy and quick, but it’s something I ate as a child that I had forgotten about for a long time. I prefer to make it myself, rather than buying it, because I believe that engaging in the process of nourishing oneself is extremely important in difficult times. Assembling a meal is basically saying to your body, “Hey! You’re safe, I’m here and I’m taking the time to take care of you.”
2) Decluttering My Schedule
I know that this isn’t something everyone can do, since there are many obligations that simply have to happen. However, until recently, I was of the mindset that I had to stick out every single thing I signed up to do. I thought staying busy would snap me back into functioning well in a post-pandemic era, but it was too much. Having too many obligations was exacerbating my re-adjustment anxiety, not alleviating it. I decided to drop a class and I may even drop another. I know this might mean I don’t graduate on time, but I have decided to prioritize my mental health and not my timeline. Again, I know that for many reasons dropping classes is not a possibility for many people. However, if you feel like things are “just too much,” I encourage a decluttering of schedule in whatever area possible.
At the end of the day, the thing that helps me the most in this time of (re)adjustment is going to therapy. Having a weekly session to process my high anxiety has become an absolute necessity. I will say that the psych major in me believes in therapy for everyone, all the time; not just in crisis or adjustment. Why? It is a truly unbiased and trained professional to allow you to uncover, voice and process every facet of our inner worlds. Even the facets that are sometimes too scary to witness in the presence of our friends and family, or even alone can be accomplished. If finding a mental health professional is inaccessible, SUNY New Paltz has some great resources to assist you such as Oasis, Haven and the Psychological Counseling Center.
I hope that you can find peace through all of these things, and best of luck to all of you as we get through this weird semester together!