As college students across the world shift from living on campus to studying from home due to COVID-19-related school closures, I think back on the stress of my own experience, living for three-and-a-half years with my parents as an undergraduate.
I had to take a leave of absence after my first semester away, because anxiety and weight loss proved more than I could handle. For me, while I completed all of my course work over a five-year period, I never returned to campus life because I needed constant support to cope with an eating disorder that wouldn’t let go.
Today, a pandemic has forced students everywhere to leave school. If you are among them, you expect to return when COVID-19 is contained. Like me, however, you’re bringing home all of the challenges you faced on campus — with an additional layer of stress. I wish I’d done things differently then, but I have a much clearer understanding now of what would have helped.
Here are three lessons learned from my experience:
Reach out for support.
My college offered support options (though much fewer a decade ago than it does today!), but I didn’t make use of any of them. You can help yourself by engaging online with students, professors, and support services offered through your school’s counseling and wellness centers.
During my transition from campus life to remote study, I withdrew into isolation except for taking classes. Fortunately, my academic advisor didn’t give up on me even as I struggled with my emotions and eating. Four years later, she opened the door to graduate school. Eventually, I began to take advantage of free services offered through the university, like career advising. It’s been life-changing.
Create a balanced structure for yourself.
I took a gap year and then poured everything into my major: Health Promotion. Looking back, I would have been much better off if my life had more balance.
One way to do that is to keep a calendar for yourself. I use the calendar on my computer and phone. Color-code your calendar with different categories. That way, you’re less likely to forget important things you need to do, and more likely to maintain accountability and perspective.
I recommend scheduling things in your calendar that you can look forward to as well, like a FaceTime call with a friend, a walk outside, or a bubble bath.
Be mindful of others.
My return home placed a burden on my parents that they weren’t prepared for. It took time for them to adjust their expectations of what my college experience would be. Providing support and companionship became my mom’s top priority. My dad was a bystander because I wouldn’t let him into my life.
Today, I have a deeper understanding of the challenges my return meant for others in my family, and we have achieved a much healthier dynamic. I’m very fortunate because those I hurt most didn’t give up on me.
When you live in tight quarters, it’s important to pause and reflect on how you feel and how others in the home are feeling. There is no substitute for being open-minded and compassionate with your loved ones.
DON’T FORGET: REACH OUT
COVID-19 is changing the status quo for college students accustomed to living on campus. Now more than ever, it’s important to reach out for support, create a balanced structure for yourself, and think about others when living at home. These are new circumstances for everybody. You are not alone.