Opinion | Use psychology to transition smoothly back to in-person classes

By Dalia Maeroff, Senior Staff Columnist

It’s understandable that students have a wide range of emotions about the return to in-person classes after more than a year of attending lectures from bed. Some are excited about socializing again, some have gotten so used to the online format that in-person seems daunting, and others are terrified because Pitt hasn’t mandated vaccines for its students or faculty.

If you’re like me, you’re probably a mix of all three. This past year has been stressful enough, I want to make sure that everyone’s transition back to in-person classes is as smooth as possible.

Adaptability, flexibility and accepting lack of control are key

When we originally began this journey through COVID-19, we quickly realized it wasn’t going to be short, and we all adapted. We all went through that adjustment period in the 2020 spring semester, whether that was as drastic as changing our work and study habits or just letting ourselves accept that we are living through a pandemic. 

We now need to adapt in the other direction 一 back to an in-person setting with safety at the forefront of our minds. Be flexible with plans, and be ready to cancel or reschedule — whether that’s dinner with friends in a week or traveling for winter break in a few months’ time.

It’s important to remember that the University’s reaction to this pandemic have been and will continue to be unpredictable 一 nothing is for certain and anything can happen. Returning to online classes midway through the fall semester is a real possibility due to rising case numbers and the Delta variant. Learning to accept a lack of control will help you more easily transition back to in-person classes.

Find your space

During the pandemic, our stomping grounds were reduced from a large city campus to houses and bedrooms. Eating, socializing, relaxing and studying all occurred pretty much in the same place. Now is the time to reestablish separate spaces for separate activities.

This helps you reestablish your associative learning patterns, which is how your brain essentially differentiates what mode to be in. If you nap in the same chair on the ground floor of Hillman as you study in, you’ll start to associate studying with being sleepy. If you make a point of eating meals in that same chair, you will not only start to be sleepy when you open your textbooks, you’ll also get hungry. Not to say that snacks are out of the question, but try to keep each of these sectors of your life separate 一 not just in action but also in location. 

If you are one of the lucky ones that got to have some time in real school before the pandemic hit, you can go back to your old haunts and adjust as needed. Go back to Thursday night yoga, Therapy Dog Tuesdays, and rejoin your old clubs and social life. Hammock in front of the Carnegie library next to those tight rope walking people. Return to your favorite study spots 一 unless of course, they’re the first and second floors of the Hillman library 一 in which case you will have to find somewhere else to hit the books.

If you were unfortunate enough to be a first-year during COVID-19, then you get to discover everything you never knew about campus and the City! Explore your heart out, and don’t be afraid to try new things and join clubs you never thought you would like. Find your favorite mental breakdown spot before finals week so you have it ready to go.

Start getting into a routine

Sleep, workout and eating schedules went out the window last year. Not a bad thing, but also just not conducive to a productive existence back in real life with in-person classes and jobs and social lives. 

I like to write out my schedule for classes, then identify blocks of time that will be designated sleeping, eating and exercise times about a week before classes start. That way, I never get to 1 a.m. and suddenly remember that I forgot to eat dinner or work out that day, it will always just be scheduled in. Having set times for all three of these things can help stabilize physical health and mental health and improve cognitive functioning 一 which you need to be at peak performance to study and retain information.

In-person classes

I’m not going to sugarcoat it — in-person classes are going to be hard to navigate. Workloads were lessened in many courses due to the stresses of the pandemic, and for many, doing work online was just simpler. I got used to multitasking, and so did many others. I usually could get a lot done during a Zoom class 一 make and eat a meal, go on a walk in the park, make jewelry, do homework and rewrite notes.

The point is, I got used to doing mindless work when my camera was off. Even with the camera on, I could always work on a small project beneath the view of my Zoom camera, but in-person classes are not so forgiving. In large lectures, almost anything goes 一 my large lecture staples used to be a snack and watercolor paints for in between taking notes.

In smaller discussion classes, usually students don’t feel the need to take notes, especially when we were all online, because it’s a discussion rather than information being presented on Powerpoint slides. Don’t be fooled, taking notes in these smaller discussion-based classes will not only leave you with, well, notes, but also a way to limit distractions and really absorb the material. An added bonus of having notes on the discussion — that really long, horrible term paper at the end of the semester will be a lot easier if you have a written record of which ideas worked in class and which didn’t. If regular note taking is too boring for you, try using fun colors and images!

Go slow

The need to say yes to every club, outing, event and class will be strong at the beginning of the semester. We’ve all been stuck inside with severe cabin fever for almost a year and a half now, but remember to go slow and take things at your own pace. With pandemic stress still looming, it will be exhausting to readjust to new schedules and prepandemic levels of social and mental exertion. I personally had the luxury of being able to schedule my earliest class at 1 p.m. this fall, to allow for a slow waning of my sleeping-in habit and to readjust to a commute. Allow yourself time and extra self-care to get back to being a real-life student again instead of a virtual one.

Dalia Maeroff writes primarily about issues of psychology, education, culture and environmentalism. Write to her at [email protected].