After over a year of attending online school in a global pandemic, students are facing anxieties about returning to an in-person education. Questions about vaccinations, masks, social distancing and more float in the air, but the Daily Lobo spoke with the University of New Mexico’s Student Health and Counseling center about how students can cope with all of the unknowns as we enter an in-person fall semester.
“The permeating anxiety will alter the atmosphere of the campus; it will just be a different environment,” SHAC case manager Margaret White said. “So I would say drop the expectation of normal, whatever that was, and embrace that this (environment) will be new, it will be different.”
Unanswered questions and unknown factors provoke increased anxiety, and SHAC counseling director Dr. Stephanie McIver said students should go directly to a reliable source for answers about the pandemic on both University and state levels. McIver said social media can misinform individuals and students need to be careful to steer clear of that “noise.”
“There are people who are in the know, who are staying on top of information, staying on top of what is official for our campus, for our county, for our state — that’s where you go for that information and that can help to alleviate a lot of that anxiety,” McIver said.
The Campus Mental Health Team recently developed a cumulative impact scale after sending out a survey in August 2020 and again in January 2021, which lines up 15 impacts that people have experienced in the past year due to both the pandemic and “social and racial strife,” according to McIver. This study, which is still being analyzed, revealed an inverse correlation between age and impact, meaning the younger you are, the more impacts you experienced over the past year.
“We’re aware that our students are coming back with a variety of impacts that include not just losses of people but losses of jobs, losses of income, all kinds of losses, so there’s this cumulative impact that our students are coming back with that we need to contend with,” McIver said.
While there is societal pressure to deal with these problems swiftly and independently, McIver said this can actually negatively impact individuals. She encouraged students to take time to process the past year and a half and take advantage of the resources available to them.
In addition to this, White emphasized that students still need to socialize amid a confusing time, and that there are ways to do it safely.
“This is an historic time and it’s also changing by the day, and you need to be able to say, ‘Oh I know other human beings and I can talk to them,’ and you just have to do it with a little more care,” White said.
Schools provide an important socialization factor, according to Lumen Learning, which sociologists label as the “hidden curriculum” in formal education. White encouraged students to continue to make friends, even if it’s awkward during the pandemic, and said the Lobo Social Packs, which provide “small communities” for students, are a good resource available to do so.
The type of grief felt over the past year and a half is new for many students, White said. McIver added that many people have been unable to attend funerals or sit with loved ones at the hospital during the pandemic, whether it pertained to COVID-19 or not. That physical interaction, McIver said, usually provides a kind of necessary process to cope with loss; now, after being denied those processes, students may need to think about how to get closure.
“There may be some very important observance or ritual that can help (students) to process (loss) and they have a right to take a moment and to gather some support and some ideas about how to do that,” McIver said.
White said that loss not only pertains to human loss, but also the loss of time and experiences.
“You don’t really get over it so much as you learn to walk forward with it,” White said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has often been compared to conversations about sexual health, which McIver said is a healthy process — even if it is an “awkward conversation” — that we need to continue.
“‘Can we engage? Do I have to protect myself? Maybe I should protect myself. Have you been tested?’” McIver said, providing examples. “It’s the same kind of conversation; it’s an analogous conversation.”
“The more students that are vaccinated … the more they can socialize and have closer distances, closer space together, safely,” McIver said. “That’s what really enables students to be able to socialize with great confidence.”
Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @fabflutist2716