03 Aug College Transition During a Pandemic
COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the world for certain. The sudden onset of this global pandemic has led to changes in our daily functioning. Where we were accustomed to venturing out into the world to socialize or take care of essential tasks, people now have to weigh the risks for exposing themselves, and/or their loved ones, to COVID. Its effects are far-reaching and touch everyone, with one of those effects being the toll it takes on our mental health. Although no one is immune to the impact COVID has on mental health, college students have faced particularly difficult transitions in the last several months and are venturing into a season of uncertainty. A college transition during a pandemic is very stressful.
College students have had to cope with an array of changes. COVID forced them to leave their campus community, friends, and abruptly change their daily routines. Coursework shifted from in-person to an online e-learning platform. In some cases, this change occurred without much notice. For rising college freshmen who will be beginning their first semester of college in the coming weeks, they have the added trauma of missing out on much-anticipated celebratory end of the year events, including their graduation ceremonies. Many have had to pick their colleges without being able to visit the campus. Students are trying to grapple with these changes, and it is important that they receive both support and understanding as they move through these challenging transitions.
The College Transition’s Impact on Mental Health
Reports of loneliness, social isolation, and anxiety have increased since the pandemic began. The pandemic has left many people feeling anxious and afraid while struggling to cope with an uncertain future and loss of control. Research indicates that young adults are already vulnerable to mental health issues. Trying to balance the normative stress of school with the stress that comes with COVID-19 only works to exacerbate potential problems. With restrictions in place that limit socializing, protective factors that students may have had before are no longer in place. This leaves an already vulnerable population at risk for developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Helping Them Cope with the College Transition
Giving permission to FEEL
It is okay and normal to experience a range of emotions. Sad. Angry. Frustrated. Anxious. Numb. All of these emotions are normal and expressing them is healthy. Parents can provide support by listening to and validating the emotional response of their students. Emotions come and go, so being aware of how they are impacting your thoughts and ability to function is important. If you notice that emotions are impacting daily functioning, it may be time to reach out for additional support.
Develop and utilize a ROUTINE
A solid routine can help to increase motivation and improve mood. Your routine can be as detailed or lax as you desire but should include a balance of self-care and task-oriented things.
Take care of your PHYSICAL HEALTH
Take care of your physical well-being by eating a well-balanced diet, incorporating daily exercise/movement, and maintaining good sleep habits. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily and at least 30 minutes of physical activity.
Find ways to CONNECT with others
We are social beings at our core and although COVID has significantly changed how we connect, it is still very important that we do so. Utilize social media (e.g. FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meets, Duo), phone calls, and other means to stay socially engaged with friends and family. If possible, and when you are able to do so responsibly, identify people that you can spend time with in-person.
Reach out for SUPPORT
Having a solid support system that you can lean on is always important but is even more so now. If you are having a hard time managing your emotions, or find it difficult to find enjoyment in life, reach out to your support system. It is okay to need help and there are many resources out there. At North Shore Family Services, we have a team of therapists who are equipped to support you and teach strategies that can help you cope with these uncertain times.
Amber is a licensed clinical social worker who earned her Master of Social Work degree from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Applied Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Amber has six years of experience working with children, teens, young adults and their families in a variety of settings, including residential, juvenile probation and outpatient therapy.