I thought my last year of college was going to be relatively easy. Since I completed all of the intensive coursework in the previous years, I expected to relax, for just a moment, and focus on my nonacademic responsibilities. Like most other students, solidifying summer and postgraduate plans were at the top of my to-do list. I knew that planning and researching for my future were going to be immensely stressful tasks. However, I was not ready for how quickly I would become exhausted by the transition to postgraduate reality.
Things grew especially challenging during the second semester of my senior year in Spring 2020. I could sense a full-scale burnout approaching. My friends and college mentors noticed how exhausted I had become. They encouraged me to consider taking a leave of absence to focus on my mental health. I assured them things were going to be OK, despite being consumed by fear, uncertainty and sadness on a near–daily basis. The thought of interrupting my education only contributed to these crippling feelings. Once the pandemic hit, my stress and anxiety soared to an uncontrollable level. I suddenly found myself trapped in the middle of an existential panic that I could barely make sense of. I stopped attending classes and turning in assignments. I found myself unable to get out of bed. That’s when I realized it was time for me to set my books aside.
The process of coming back to the Ithaca College campus for Fall 2020 proved to be more difficult and intimidating than choosing to leave. The individual circumstances that necessitated my leave of absence were complicated — made even more so by the pandemic. The amount of mind-boggling bureaucratic technicalities I was required to steer through, primarily upon my return, was excruciating. Thankfully, I had a strong support structure to help me navigate this bewildering process.
The most challenging part of my return was knowing that I’d be forced to readjust to an entirely new college life, thanks to COVID-19. This deadly virus radically altered the academic, social and institutional dynamics of almost every college and university across the country. I worried if and how the pandemic-induced changes would exacerbate my pre-existing mental health issues. Until this very moment, I still question if I’m psychologically prepared to live through this unconventional college experience. Merely thinking about the strangeness of it all is enough to plunge me headlong into another abyss of emotional paralysis.
Now more than ever, tending to our mental health is incredibly crucial as college students. We have a lot on our plates. The fact that we’re forced to stay on top of our academic and social responsibilities right in the middle of a worldwide pandemic is frustrating, to say the least. How can students struggling with mental health issues move forward during this time? Here are some quick suggestions: Focus on practicing self-care. Your physical, mental and emotional well-being are more important than all other things. So do whatever’s necessary for you to stay healthy and well. For me, going on short walks throughout the day — especially around scenic areas of the campus — helps me clear my head. Don’t be afraid to take a break from college if needed. Putting a pause on your education is not an easy thing to do. However, I realized it can be impossible to simultaneously take care of yourself while continuing to study. Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, especially when it comes to seeking clinical care. The most unnerving aspect of my journey was recognizing that I need help and then asking for it. These tips may not solve everything, but it will pay off in ways that made a huge difference in my life.