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Friday, December 3, 2021

Feeling anxious about physically returning to university? Here’s what you can do

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While there is a significant amount of necessary focus on school-aged students returning to campus, it’s also important to highlight the reintegration of university-level students.

Most students in Qatar took part in online courses from the beginning of the pandemic, only resuming in-person classes this fall semester. For some students, online learning provided the advantage of taking courses from the comfort of their homes.

However, this also means that students were prone to social isolation due to the restricted social life brought on by restrictions and lockdowns due to Covid-19. 

Try to connect with friends and colleagues: Many students relied excessively on social media for personal and non-personal interaction, which is a primary tool for interaction. 

As Dr. Raian Ali, Professor at College of Science and Engineering, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, states: “Reliance on technology and social media has increased significantly during Covid-19. In our recent study, which obtained smartphone usage data from participants who installed a digital wellbeing application, we noted that on average it increased by around 45 minutes a day.” 

According to Dr. Ali, this increase can be interpreted by the Social Compensation theory, where people use social media to compensate for the undesirable characteristics of their offline life.

In this case, the social isolation of the lockdowns made it difficult for students to have much of a social life. Incorporating more social interaction within limits can be helpful for students to enjoy their university experience and feel more of a connection with those around them. 

Incorporate practising mindfulness into your schedule: Mindfulness is very helpful in managing anxiety and stress, which is especially necessary for the workload that comes with being a University-level student.

Mindfulness training, according to a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, is a type of cognitive-behavioural therapy that encourages people to “pay attention to and accept their current physical experience” rather than trying to avoid or ignore it. 

Mindfulness can include taking a walk outside while focusing on enjoying the details of your walk, practising deep breathing in the morning and at night, fasting from social media and your screen every so often, and even turning on youtube to practice yoga.

The Five senses exercise is also a helpful way to practice mindfulness, it includes: be aware of five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Engaging in this exercise allows you to feel more mindful by becoming present in a shorter amount of time.

Come up with a simpler routine: Transitioning to a different routine can sometimes feel overwhelming. Whether students are looking to create a study routine, meet up with classmates, or look forward to their favourite snack at the end of the week- having a schedule can give students something to look forward to and alleviate some of the pressure of feeling overwhelmed. 

According to a Harvard Professional Development article, it is important to be aware of your morning routine and to make some changes if you can to enhance your energy and mood so you can give it your all for the day ahead. It is also helpful to take breaks throughout the day, especially when studying, to retain information better and lessen the pressure associated with having a busy schedule.

Recognise the difference between online and in-person interaction: Dr. Ali states that students who spent one year and even more without face-to-face interaction will face more realistic and, at times, less exciting experiences when coming back to real-world interaction.

Interaction in the online world is done through the “like” button and other variations of it as well as brief comments and relatively quick conversations. This is arguably not the natural way humans are created to interact when they support each other.

To better adjust to the change, Dr. Ali recommends, “paying attention to details with regards to the body language, face expression, tone of the voice, and gestures is a necessity in the case of face-to-face interaction. In addition, students need to recall that this is an important part of their social interaction, especially when providing peer-to-peer support.”

Communicate your needs to a counsellor or your professors- If you are concerned about resuming in-person courses or feel like you are struggling with the adjustment, try your best to speak to a counsellor or let your professors know how you feel. Remember, they are there to support you.

Although the university experience has been affected by the pandemic, there are ways to make it a valuable period of time and even one day be able to fondly reminisce over it.

Chereen Shurafa is a mental health counsellor


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