Q & A: How To Survive Being Home

Christopher Caceres , Contributor

For many students, college is their first time away from their family. The coronavirus pandemic created a need for remote learning, which can be challenging for some.

Sure, it’s nice having cooked meals and perfectly folded shirts that smell like a cross between lavender and childhood, but losing the sense of independence that comes from moving away to college is irreplaceable.

It’s a weird feeling experiencing the first day of college from the dinner table while your mom makes dinner and tells you to sit up straight, and your little brother keeps asking your help with fractions, all while your dog barks at the neighbor’s dog outside.  

If any portion of this hits home, here are some tips from Dr. Jonathan Pohl, Coordinator of Wellness Education at Central Connecticut State University.

Q: How do students maintain their sense of independence while living at home? 

A: Students, more often than not do not maintain independence unless living in a space that has its own entrance, such as a “mother-in-law” apartment.  Often students find themselves being treated less like an adult and more like a high school student.  I encourage students to have a sit-down meeting with parents to review an updated set of rules to living in the house.  The students describe their capacity to accept responsibility and try to get freedoms to match.  Some parents will not budge, but most will make accommodations.

Q: How should students deal with feeling anxiety during an unprecedented semester? 

A: The first step would be to monitor their anxiety level.  The average person during the pandemic has been feeling more anxious, and this has led to difficulty sleeping, eating and organizing.  I would want the person to place their anxiety on a scale of 1-10, one being the least anxious and 10 the most — monitoring the anxiety several times a day.  I would also want them to make a list of activities that would reduce the anxiety (a toolbox for emotional health), with indoor/outdoor activities, activities with others via the web and alone, and hopefully a number of them being free.  Then pick the peak times and use the tool in the toolbox and monitor whether or not the tools worked.

Q: Just because there is a pandemic does not mean the desire to socialize and be a typical college student has gone away. How should students deal with the feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) and depression? 

A: To deal with FOMO, remind yourself that today’s sacrifice is tomorrow’s freedom.  Be realistic, you will miss out on some of the college experience, as everyone is missing out on socializing and events in life.  However, know that you are preparing yourself for when the pandemic is over and we go into Normal 2.0.  For those who are taking a semester off, they will be in college with a slightly younger crowd.  For those who are still partying, you are “socially cheating” yourself and others.  You are able to socialize now but it is costing everyone else more time in the midst of the pandemic.  The more people socialize now, the longer we have to wait for the pandemic to become manageable.  The pandemic has brought a level of depression to everyone, how much depends on the person.  To work on the depression, find small things that are pleasing to you and focus on them.  Make time for friends and family if only in virtual life and make plans for when this is all over – even if for 2022.  If the depression persists, seek out Counseling 860-832-1926.

Q: Being back at home may feel like moving backward in life. How do students deal with thoughts like this? 

A: Especially, if parents are treating you like you are back in high school, checking on homework, etc,  always react as if you were out on your own — “no need to check on homework – it’s done”.  Try to make it feel more like going home to save money for an apartment, put some money in the bank toward that for when this is over.  Remind yourself of your ultimate goal, the degree, and then think about when that will happen.  Even print out a calendar for May (fill in the year) and put it up where you can see it. If family needs you to help around the house, see if you can get the specifics such as watching the rest of the family on certain days for certain hours and not letting that become every time you are home. Keep your eyes on today and tomorrow.

Q: How can students stay motivated while remote learning? 

A: You won’t be able to stay as motivated at least not in the same way as before COVID.  I would encourage thinking about how you get motivated and then working off that create new ways.  Look to completing the next assignment so you can move closer to your degree, or to complete the class.  Do an activity countdown for the semester so you can see your progress.  A major factor in motivation is to thinking about most things as shifting, as fluid.  The reason for this is everything is changing, the times of classes meeting, the format, the syllabus, the professor’s passion for teaching and especially technology and accessibility.  Allow yourself the opportunity to move with the changes, as fighting them will only impair your motivation. Keep a journal of your life so you can let it out and return to it when facing adversity.

Q: How do students stay focused on schoolwork when there are so many interruptions and distractions, like siblings and parents? 

A: These are out of the normal distractions.  There isn’t anyone running through your class yelling about needing a bowl of Cheerios, except maybe the virtual-acting class.  Try to find the humor in this.  Nobody will believe this world existed, but it does.  The next thing is to try to set boundaries.  My children have their schedules on their doors, so I know when not to interrupt them.  There are perks in being home and allow those no-rent, free food perks to be the focus when ultimately frustrated with interruptions.  If you can set regular school times, that will help avoid some interruptions, but not all – family members will adjust to your schedule.

Q: Can you share tips for mediation when there is a dispute with a family member?

A: The first step is to have weekly family meetings to share the ups and downs of the week and create a forum for mediation.  Know there will be times when everyone is frustrated and this may be the time for a game of Monopoly or baking cookies — anything just to get rid of some of the tension.  The mediation needs to occur when everyone is at their best, or at least willing to listen.  If nothing works, have people repeat back what they just heard the other person say so communication is clear.

Q: What should students know about how their parents or guardians are feeling during this pandemic? 

A: They should know parents and guardians are just as lost as they are in muddling through the pandemic.  The added pressure of having to have answers when there are none can be anxiety provoking.  Also know, if the grandparents are still alive this creates an added burden as they are not able to interact with them as they normally would — fearing that COVID could strike at any time.

Q: How can students connect with someone at CCSU to help them through this stressful time? 

A: They can connect to Counseling, which is extremely helpful, to get tips on reducing anxiety and have someone who is not biased to talk to about problems or concerns.  There are clubs and events still taking place on campus and everyone should keep on eye out for things to do, taking necessary precautions.  Professors can help with projects that could forward the academic career.  There are a number of resources available to find ways to manage.  In Wellness we have tips on managing emotionally, behaviorally and socially while coping with COVID. I have a twitter account under @janothapohl2 and there is an Instagram account @ccsuwellness.

Q: Lastly, any closing thoughts on this semester and whys students can get through it.

A: Stay focused and know there are others out there struggling as well.  We need to be a community.