The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
My first class of the new semester was at 8 a.m., but the first day of school is always exciting for me, so the time was not the issue. What I realized as I walked up to my destination was that, not only were my palms sweating, but my heart could have been seen beating through my top—I was nervous. Actually, being nervous would have been an understatement if you would have asked me at that moment. How, and why, was I so nervous?? I’m a senior in college, not particularly shy and on top of it all, I was practically incognito due to wearing both a hat and a mask.
I passed it off as jitters (from my new ADHD medication and the coffee I had shortly before). Then, in my following class, we were asked to talk to one of our peers nearby; getting to know them so that we could give a one to a two-minute presentation about them in front of the class. As my classmates went around the room introducing each other, I happened to check my Apple watch and saw my heart rate had soared beyond my resting rate. It was up to 113 beats per minute! Over a two-minute presentation that was not even about myself! Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that a two-minute presentation is a walk in the park for everyone, but I have done countless presentations in my schooling career, so it was very out of the ordinary that I was this worked up. I kept trying to think deeper, past the anxiety and into why I was feeling this way, and how to resolve it, or at least get a grip.
It has been 17 months since we have attended in-person classes on Illinois State’s campus. Almost everything in our day-to-day lives changed dramatically in that time. We are different people than we were when we left for spring break in 2020. Different wants, needs, habits. Different people in our lives; you get the gist. So many incredibly substantial events took place while we were in our homes, and this semester is the first time in 17 months that we are unable to hide in our (literal and metaphorical) comfort zones. Our comfort zones filled with camera-off Zoom classes from bed (come on, we all did it at first!) and the people that we chose to be around. There was no forced interaction with strangers; we couldn’t even smile at someone in passing at the grocery store! (That is until we collectively learned to over-compensate with our eyes—which had to have prematurely aged us in the eyes at least five years, but I digress). Going from that to suddenly being in an auditorium with 150 other students who I wasn’t even sure I knew under their masks is daunting.
I talked this over with some of my friends, and we all agreed how normal it is to be feeling this way right now. A certain level of anxiety on any given day is pretty normal for a college student. It’s just something that you have to try to look at as a concept if it becomes overwhelming.
When you feel yourself drawback, your heart begins to race and feel like you can’t get a breath, close your eyes, take a step back, and ask yourself “what is causing my nervous system to go into overdrive at this moment?” When you do this, you are recognizing the situation for what it is, addressing it, and resolving it in the way that best fits you. For me, it was taking that step back and realizing that I was, and still am, being thrown out of my sweet, relaxing comfort zone, accepting that, and remembering when I wished we could go back in person. Once I have my thinking leveled out, I try to take 10 deep breaths to calm my nervous system, while I recite the order to which I closed the restaurant I worked at every night this summer. This grounding technique of thinking about the order to which you do something that you know how to do very well does wonders for calming yourself down.
Not only was my comfort zone being violated, but I had to begin the process of putting a new routine together. I do not meditate as much as I should, so I try to go to the gym four to five days a week to get some of the stress and anxiety out through exercise. I also need to set time aside for schoolwork, working, writing and brainstorming for Her Campus, and somewhat of a social life, all around our, now, in-person classes. Trying to put this routine together in the first week resulted in about 500 calls to my mom and what felt like endless tears. What I learned from that brutal, mentally draining first week, is that you do not need to figure it all out right away. Sometimes, a routine comes naturally when you take it day by day. Write down the tasks you have to complete that day, like school or work, and when you find yourself with downtime go to the gym, meditate, hang out with friends; anything that helps balance you out and keep you from falling behind, mentally or academically. My mom also kept harping to me, “Sometimes, spending your time just thinking about how stressed you are and all of the tasks you have to complete as a whole can make you more stressed.”
Which is where I come back in with my advice of just taking these next couple of months day by day. Our lives continue to change and adapt every day, and being able to adjust to those changes is an incredibly crucial life skill. Make sure you remember to take it easy on yourself, and others around you who are also learning how to navigate this new world.
If you take anything away from my article, have it be this: almost everything in this life is temporary—the good and the bad. No one really knows what our new “normal” will look like in a year, a month, or even next week. Make sure you’re not drowning in your fears and anxiety of leaving your comfort zone, and take the time to appreciate what we finally have back. One way or another, these anxieties will leave and others will arise, so choose your battles and try to be easy on yourself. Treat yourself with patience and gratitude, the way you would treat someone that you love.