Promiti Debi | Senior Staff Illustrator
Was I acting awkward just then? Are these hives a symptom of COVID-19? I should check WebMD again.
Over the past few months, I have developed the most severe anxiety of my life, making thoughts like these a common occurrence. I assumed it would naturally dissipate when I could enter the world again — I was wrong. As it turns out, those hives were actually just from stress. And believe it or not, convincing myself I had COVID-19 did not help them go away.
Developing health anxiety during a pandemic is not an easy thing to unlearn. No matter how many times I repeated the efficacy of the vaccine to myself, I still felt uneasy as I began seeing friends again. Normal body quirks became intrusive thoughts I couldn’t shake. I had a panic attack when my best friend slept over for the first time in a year. And it seemed like I was the only one this was happening to.
It is no surprise that the pandemic has taken a toll on mental health. The isolation, lack of control, grief and fear have affected all of us in some way. And while there is certainly an initial relief that comes with getting vaccinated, the reality of reentering social life is different for everyone. Our bodies might look different now. We might have a lower tolerance for irritability or stress. We might notice ourselves having to force facial expressions in conversation after wearing a mask for so long.
This culminates in the biggest reentry of all — stepping foot on campus this fall. Whether you are a high school senior who was able to sit in a classroom this year, or a college first-year who attended Zoom university, you might be a little nervous. So, anxious and vaccinated reader, here is how you should spend your summer while awaiting your arrival at Pitt.
Catch up with friends
Practice makes perfect. You could be experiencing a social learning curve right now, and that’s okay. Besides most of our interactions being limited to our computers, many of us have spent the past year at home with our parents. That is a very different dynamic than the one we share with our friends. So if you catch yourself silently picking apart everything you said to a friend over coffee, remember that it can take some time to adjust to social life.
Pace yourself when scheduling social events
Having said that, you don’t need to be Gatsby-ing it up right now. Everything in moderation. As things reopen, you will probably get texts from people who want to see you. You might feel obligated to meet up with someone because “it’s been so long,” but I’ll tell you a secret — you don’t have to. It’s important to set boundaries. Maybe that means swapping a brunch with your eight hometown friends for a walk with someone you’re really close with. Doing this will also improve your social stamina — once you’ve dipped your toes in the water, then you may feel more ready to widen your circles.
Limit your social media intake
Turn off your phone. I mean it. You’re going to see lots of pictures of people who you think are having a much better time than you this summer. Just as we romanticized disgusting parties when we were shut inside, remember that it is entirely possible to take three cute Instagram photos over the course of one terrible night. You know what you’re not seeing? Someone throwing up all over a couch because they were so excited to stand around and listen to music from a Beats Pill+ again that they forgot to pace themselves. Also not pictured — at least two fights between friends and at least three people crying in the bathroom.
Don’t be too critical of yourself
It’s okay if you don’t have a summer internship. It might feel like you’re steps behind everyone else if you didn’t do as many extracurriculars last year, didn’t get to make connections on campus or took a gap year. But you survived a pandemic and that is more important than any resumé builder. You’re telling me that after a year containing so much stress and change, you want to go to more Zoom meetings or sort mail in an office? You deserve a break and giving yourself a summer to decompress is not wasted time. There will be so many future opportunities, you don’t want to enter your first or sophomore year of college already burnt out.
Spend time rejuvenating
But give yourself a real break. Scrolling through TikTok in bed is not self-care. Find things that are fulfilling to do. Maybe that means finding a community garden or local charity to help this summer. Maybe that means spending lots of time outside. Maybe that means reading for pleasure or journaling. Maybe that means going to therapy. Did you know someone who didn’t care about keeping others safe? Did you lose a loved one? Did you miss out on a milestone? Reconnecting with yourself after a year of being scared and working through that trauma is necessary.
Most importantly, as we prepare for our introduction to campus as vaccinated and anxious people, we should remember to be kind to ourselves. So fill that Target cart up with cute dorm supplies and reach out to a friend who will be starting college too. This is a life change for sure, but if you got through this past year, you can get through anything.
India writes primarily about politics for The Pitt News. Write to her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @indialarson_.