Suddenly, no matter the academic reputation of the college into which you matriculated, you may now be, for all intents and purposes, at the University of Phoenix. You never applied for a transfer and you are finding yourself engaged in online college experience with an in-person college price tag. This can cause all types of stress. The learning is more difficult. The lack of interaction is isolating. The return on investment is infuriating. If you choose to write the check and stick it out, the spring may be no different. Colleges are starting to release their spring semester plans, and the start of 2021 looks bleak -- more masks, more virtual classes and clubs, more restrictions and likely, more shame and blame.
If you are thriving in a virtual university, stay the course. If you are like the many college students I talk to, the struggle is real. What can you do to make it better, physically and mentally?
Acknowledge you have a choice. Feeling trapped without options creates fertile ground for resentment and bitterness. You are paying for college. You are the customer. A semester off to experience other things would not be the end of the world, the end of your career path or the end of your education. If you stay in college despite the restrictions and the shortcomings the coronavirus has created, take a step back and realize you made the choice to be there. Empowerment combats dissatisfaction.
Repeat after me. This too shall pass. Make this your mantra. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We are a social species, we thrive in a tribe, and the instinct that attracts us to each other will prevail. Somehow, we will get back to a world where teachers teach, students learn in classrooms, and college is enriching and enjoyable again. Believe this is temporary, and it will be more tolerable.
Speaking of tribe, find yours. In normal times, you would be interacting with your peers and making connections on your way in and out of the classroom, in small groups and when borrowing notes or a pen. In these abnormal times, human connection takes a little more effort. You are up to the task. Reach out to your classmates, form a group chat and engage with classmates outside of the zoom. We all need support from people going through the same struggle.
Reach out to your teachers. Now, more than ever it is important to advocate for yourself. If something is unclear, if the expectations are too great, if you need help or simply to make a connection, contact your teacher outside of class time. You are not getting what you are paying for, but by developing a relationship with your professor, you can up the quality of the education and experience.
Get out of your own way. When you are feeling frustrated, angry and overwhelmed, step back and look at the big picture. Take a few minutes to acknowledge what you are feeling and also, this is important in our judgmental culture, your right to feel this way. Then, move on. By letting your emotions, valid though they may be, get in the way of your work, you are only hurting yourself.
Get dressed. Maybe not every day, but a couple days of the week, get out of your sweats or PJs. Shower first thing in the morning and put something on that makes you feel productive -- yes, bottoms too. If nothing else, it will be a break in your routine.
Make plans with yourself and keep them. Just as you wouldn't stand up a friend, respect your time. Actually schedule into your day things that make you happy -- a run, a Netflix hour, a latte. Having even a little something to look forward to will decrease your stress and increase your focus.
Focus on ergonomics. The last thing you need is a sore neck, back or hip. Invest in a good chair, sit up straight as often as possible and stretch when you can. Before starting your class, move -- shake, dance, jump, do some pushups or squats -- anything to get the blood flowing. Sitting is the new smoking, so if you can, buy a stand up desk to provide another option. Your eyes and your sleep patterns are also suffering from all the screentime. Look away from the screen and into the distance at least six times an hour. Blue light glasses are inexpensive, and at least anecdotally, will help.
Spruce up your study spot. Invest in great lighting, buy a live plant (cactuses need almost no care) or a colorful fish (these you will have to feed) and surround yourself with bright, positive energy. On the positive note, reach out to positive people and limit your interactions with negative people. Both are contagious.
Change your location. It is easy to become complacent, but staring at the same four walls will make you stir crazy and can worsen anxiety and depression. Move spots. While the weather is nice, or if you are in a warmer climate, get outside if you can. Even if you can't do a virtual class in a different location, make it a point to get out of your room and into the real world as often as possible.
Finally, pay attention to how you are feeling. If you are feeling down every day, if you are having trouble sleeping, if you have lost interest in doing things you used to enjoy, if your work is suffering, talk with someone. Get comfortable with your vulnerability and open up to a friend, a parent or a professional.