How to Cope with Back To School Anxiety After Covid

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm. Most people currently living have never experienced anything like it, and likely (hopefully) won’t again. Now, a little over two years past the beginning of the pandemic, many places are just getting back to “normal.”

COVID protocols took an emotional toll in many ways, and young people had an especially hard time adjusting to lockdown and quarantine. School was either completely virtual or under strict mandates. Some institutions still have precautions in place, but for many others, this is the first time in two years that they don’t have any. 

Back to school jitters happen to everyone—even teachers. But combine these normal feelings with the added anxiety of re-learning how to integrate with your peers, and it’s a lot for a young mind to handle.

Who Is Experiencing Anxiety About Returning To School After COVID?

Even before the pandemic, a study conducted in the fall of 2018 from the American College Health Association showed 63% of college students reported overwhelming feelings of anxiety during the school year. 31% said they felt overwhelming anxiety in the last two weeks. 

Clearly, feeling anxious about school is a real concern.

This is especially true for those entering colleges and universities. For most students, college is the first time they experience living on their own. In taking this major next step toward adulthood, students navigate career choices, relationships, and a lot more at 18 than they’ve had to in all their previous school years combined.

General Post Pandemic Anxiety

The COVID pandemic was scary. In addition to the seriousness of the illness and economic impacts, many felt that their world got “turned upside down”. Virtual learning was brand new to a lot of people. Events were canceled left and right, and some goods were nearly impossible to get. Even now, things might feel a bit unstable. 

While we spent a long time wishing for it, lifted mandates and freedom to do things in public again was tough for some. If the upheaval of first being afraid of certain actions, then being told they were okay caused you distress, you aren’t the only one. 

Anxiety After COVID Can Affect Students (And Parents) Of All Ages

College students weren’t the only ones that had to reorient when coming back to school after COVID. Kids of all ages, and their parents, were affected. It’s okay for them to feel a little nervous returning to in-person activities. 

Social anxiety has increased across the board, but what exactly does anxiety after COVID look like? 

Symptoms of Anxiety After COVID

No matter what age or what caused the anxiety, the symptoms remain fairly consistent. Some common signs include:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness and worry
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and muscle tension

You might be familiar with these feelings, or they might be new to you. Anxiety after COVID doesn’t affect those previously diagnosed with an anxiety disorder anymore than those who weren’t.

Post Pandemic Anxiety By the Numbers

According to the World Health Organization, 2020 saw a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide. The National Center for Biotechnology Information found that those ages 21-40 were most affected. The NCBI also found that the pandemic caused a 50% increase in cases of severe depression. 

Not only is anxiety surrounding re-entry rising, but many folks are still dealing with mental health struggles that came about during the height of lockdown. Half of adults in 2021 surveyed were nervous about resuming in-person activities. Re-entry Anxiety is a very real thing.

Managing Post Pandemic Anxiety

Luckily, there are ways to cope with anxiety after COVID. It will take time to get back to that ‘normal’ baseline after feeling isolated for so long. Take it slow if you need to. 

Do What Makes You Comfortable

While we’re over perhaps the worst of the pandemic, COVID hasn’t been eradicated.  Many people are still considered vulnerable, or are close to those who are. Some just don’t want to deal with getting sick or taking the time off of work.

No matter the reason that you might still be taking extra precautionary measures, you are allowed to. Feelings surrounding your personal safety are valid. Re-entry has definitely been more difficult for some.

Don’t let anyone else pressure you into doing anything you aren’t comfortable with. If you aren’t comfortable going into crowded places yet, that’s ok. You can still have a successful school year doing as much as you feel comfortable. 

Be Respectful of Others

Remember that everyone is coming back from isolation. This may be the first time in two years that they don’t have any mandates to follow at school. 

No matter where you’re at in your re-entry journey, be supportive of those around  you, and let them do what feels comfortable. If they’re still wearing a mask indoors, don’t make comments about it. If they ask you to use hand sanitizer before entering their dorm room, listen to them.

Most things people do in the name of COVID safety have little-to-no impact on you. Respect the boundaries of your fellow students.

Utilize Your On-Campus Resources

Nearly all schools will have counselors that are specially trained to talk to students about school difficulties, or anything else weighing on them. Take advantage of these resources. Parents, if you notice your children showing signs of anxiety as they go back to school, note that this might be a good resource for them. 

Sometimes finding a group of like-minded friends will help as well. Join clubs as you feel comfortable. Coping is easier with a support system. 

Be Supportive of the Little Ones

Humans are not inherently skilled at knowing what our emotions are and how to verbalize them. It takes time to learn and regulate emotions. Keep an eye on younger students this school year. They went through a crazy time period before they really understood what "normal" is. 

Also as parents, no matter how old your child is, they pick up on your demeanor. Stay calm, even if you are stressed about re-entry as well.

Do What You Can to Lower Stress

Anytime you are feeling stressed or anxious, you can take steps to lower it, or get ahead of it. Stay active, get fresh air. Do things that calm you down like reading or crafts. Do breathing exercises or meditate.

Journaling can do a lot to regulate emotions. Many people find that “getting it out” on paper instead of fighting or stuffing emotions proves to be helpful.

Inner Balance Is Here to Back You Up

In the best of times, returning to school can make you a bit emotionally volatile. Any type of change can present challenges. Anxiety about returning to school after COVID is certainly not uncommon. There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

For college students and parents, Inner Balance Counseling can help you cope with these anxieties. You’re not wrong for feeling the way you do during this time of year, especially now. Reach out for a consultation, and together, we’ll make this transition a little easier.

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC

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