Katie Gordon: Emotions of Returning to Campus

Headshot of Katie Gordon
Katie Gordon, wellness promotion manager for the Gallogly Recreation and Wellness Center.

In some ways, the reality of COVID-19 is finally sinking in for me. I have spent many months surrounded by close family and in control of my actions and risks. I am privileged to be able to work from home, mail-order groceries and other necessities, limit interactions with others, and spend ample time outdoors.

This control over who I see and when, what I do, and the comfort of my own safe home has eased a lot of my anxiety around COVID. However, with the semester starting and life returning to a somewhat more normal flow, I am now facing my own discomfort around returning back to the “old ways,” the risks, and the loss of control. 

I want to say that I am happy we are going to be back on campus. I miss my coworkers and friends. I love interacting with students. I love collaborating on projects with colleagues across campus. However, it would be obtuse to avoid that fact that returning to campus is bittersweet for me and the excitement is mixed with fear of the unknown and grief of the loss of this slower-paced lifestyle with my loved ones. 

In examining these emotions, I recognize that I am probably not alone. Most of us have never faced such a substantial life overhaul as the one brought on by COVID-19. Although this pandemic has us missing so much about life – sports, hugs, celebrations, and more – it has given us a valuable lesson in slowing down. So, how do we return to the way things were? What can we do to ready ourselves and transition back to lives on-campus? Here are three tips to support your mental health in the coming weeks. 

Three tips to support your mental health in the coming weeks

1. Manage your expectations. 

As I mentioned, I’m excited to return to campus. Usually, the first day of class is my favorite day of the year. However, this year will look different.  The kick-off events that energize me for the year will be smaller, more socially distant, and different than before. The class I teach will look very different than how I imagined it last February. My own workload has changed and some projects will need to be sidelined due to funding issues or simply other priorities needing more attention. Being realistic with your expectations about campus, work, and even your own abilities is critical to maintaining a positive attitude through the changes. 

2. Be flexible but know your boundaries. 

As we all know, “the only constant in life is change.” This has been especially true over the last few months as our world and the rules that govern it have changed seemingly daily. Keep an open mind to changes and remember that many are occurring to better protect our community or enhance operations and functioning of the campus. However, it is also important to know your limits and boundaries for your personal safety. Communicate these to your supervisor and be open if you feel your boundaries are being crossed.

3. Seek support if you need it. 

This PSA by NAMI says it all. It’s okay to not feel okay right now! CU employees can all seek free professional help through the Colorado State Employee Assistance program. In addition to professional care, make sure to surround yourself by loved ones (either in person or through more creative, socially-distant means). Talk to coworkers and friends about your concerns and be open with how you are feeling. Remember that you are not alone and that many people are feeling heightened anxiety and experiencing conflicting, confusing, emotions.

Katie Gordon is the wellness promotion manager for the Gallogly Recreation and Wellness Center.