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Navigating College During COVID-19

What’s been good, what’s been bad, and 4 tips to reduce the stress.

By: Frani McDermott

     Three years ago when I was just starting my freshman year of college, my professor for my Organizational Communication class assigned what I thought was the most ridiculous group project ever: each group had to create a crisis management plan for a fictional company…and we were to do the entire project without meeting, or even talking, in person. Instead, we could only communicate about the project online through a video chatting software, called Zoom.

     Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at the irony of this situation. Freshman-year me thought that this project was absolutely absurd. “When, in real life, would I ever be working with a team and not be able to just talk to them in-person?” I thought to myself. And Zoom? Who ever heard of Zoom? No one in the real world uses that.

     Clearly, while I was sat there complaining about this “unrealistic” group project, my professor was way ahead of the times. Who would have ever dreamed that just a few years later, as I began my senior year of college, Zoom would actually become the primary medium for communication as the whole world tries to navigate through a deadly pandemic.

     Now, having been in this unprecedented semester for over 7 weeks, I would say that I have comfortably settled into what I would consider a “new normal.” While things are certainly not how they used to be, there have actually been some unexpected benefits to this semester that I wouldn’t have had in a normal year. For example, the flexibility of online classes allowed me to take on a virtual internship that I would not have had time for in a normal semester. In addition, I have been really impressed with the understanding and accommodations from all of my professors this year. Although under weird circumstances, I think the pandemic has allowed for a much more open environment where students feel more comfortable expressing their struggles or concerns with their professors, which was definitely a much-needed improvement. 

     While those things are going surprising well, there are still many aspects of this new environment that have not been as easy to adjust to. The most glaring obstacle I have had to face this semester is the lack of in-person interaction with professors and peers. As someone who strongly benefits from face-to-face learning, the online format that I have for most classes has been super draining on my motivation. Even when I try my hardest to stay focused, I wind up clicking through 20 different tabs on my computer while I’m supposed to be listening to a lecture. It’s definitely been something I’ve struggled to adjust to and still find difficult.

     The campus environment in general has also become a ghost town. You can almost feel the lack of energy and excitement that used to encompass the university. Gone are the days where I would spend hours upon hours in the student union doing homework or just spending time with friends. Instead, I spend a majority of my time alone, at home, talking to people through a screen. As an extrovert, it has been really hard for me to miss out on all of these things I love about being on campus, and I’ve noticed how it takes a toll on my mood.

     With all of the highs and lows that have come with this school year, I have had to find simple but effective ways to keep myself happy, energized and motivated. Here are some of my little tips to keep your positivity levels high and your stress levels low.

  1. Find a (socially distanced) study spot away from your room. With the increased amount of virtual work I do these days, I quickly realized that having separate spaces for work and for relaxing is very important to remain productive. Personally, I love going to a local coffee shop, or even renting a private study room in the library, to do my work. It’s a fun and easy way to change up my scenery and keep me focused.
  2. Create a consistent weekly schedule. For this one, Google Calendar is going to be your best friend. I have found that setting specific times aside each day to do homework helps me stay on track with all of my responsibilities so things don’t fall behind. Lay out what you want to do every day of the week on your calendar and refer to it throughout the day.
  3. Talk with your friends, family or someone you trust about how life’s going. Even though sometimes how I’m feeling doesn’t even make sense to myself, talking to my friends about it reminds me that I am not going through this alone. If talking to someone else isn’t really your thing, consider writing your thoughts down in a notebook, just to get them out of your head.
  4. Self-care is KEY! With your phone or laptop constantly at your fingertips, it’s super easy to feel like you are working non-stop. Try to take at least 15 minutes a day to completely unplug, whether that’s with a quick scroll through Tik Tok or a walk outside. You’ll be surprised at how much more energized you will feel when you go to tackle your next item on the to-do list.