Coming Back onto Campus During COVID-19

Daniel J. Alonzo, Psy.D.
University Counseling Services


  • COVID-19: Review of where we have been
  • Our personal experiences now
  • The effect of this stress on our minds and our bodies
  • Moving back into the world and managing our anxiety

Common Courtesies

Diverse, Inclusive, Accepting, Welcoming, Safe Space, For Everyone
  • Keep This a Safe Space
  • Confidentiality Should Be Honored
  • Speak for Yourself: No One Has to Be a Representative for Any Group
  • Agree to Disagree: Listen with the Goal of Understanding
  • Honor Other People’s Opinions
  • All Communication Should Be Respectful

Where Have We Been? At the Beginning...

Where Have We Been? At the Beginning...
  • Over the space of two weeks in March 2020, the world came to a halt
  • The world changed overnight
  • An invisible terror
  • No clear answers
  • A later of dread
  • No clear end in sight

From Empty Streets…

From Empty Streets… From Empty Streets…

To Overwhelmed Hospitals…

To Overwhelmed Hospitals…

Where Are We Now?... The Current State of Affairs

Where Are We Now?... The Current State of Affairs
  • As of August 2021, number of deaths due to COVID-19 in U.S. = 637,000
  • However, 68.3 % of U.S. population has received at least one dose of vaccine
  • 49% are fully vaccinated
  • However, this is the Pandemic that won't go away
  • The spread of "variants," such as the Delta variant
  • Moving forward, then taking a half-step back
  • Will there be more steps back?
  • An uncertain future...

An Evolving Pandemic: How Do We Move Back Out There?

  • Whether in academics, jobs, careers, family relationships, friendships, or romantic relationships, there is one generally observable truth:
  • It’s very difficult to relax and move forward when the picture keeps changing!
  • And it’s very challenging to enjoy the moment, deepen your experience, and continue growing if you can’t relax!

Our Current, Personal Experience

Our Current, Personal Experience
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness around social interactions - work places are odd; social situations are not the same
  • Ambivalence
  • Awkwardness
  • "I really don’t know – Is it safe?"
  • Frustration – “I want to move forward, but...
    • "Other people are afraid and cautious
    • "I hear that virus continues to infect people..
    • "I have moments of being afraid or cautious myself!"

More on Our Current, Personal Experiences

More on Our Current, Personal Experiences
  • Still some shock and denial
  • The pandemic has shattered people's assumptions of safety and security
  • For some, an actual loss of a person - which is a tremendous, personal loss
  • For everybody, a huge loss:
    • "Everybody lost a year of their lives..."
  • Re-opening is stressful:
    • Even a good change is stressful! Stress is stress!

Stress on the Mind and Body!

  • Centers for Disease Control: During these 18 months of COVID…
    • 41% of U.S. residents struggle with mental health or substance abuse
    • 31% report symptoms of anxiety or depression
    • 26% report symptoms of trauma or a stress-related disorder
    • "COVID-19 Stress Disorder" - has elements of PTSD: Fear of infection; fear of socio-economic impacts of COVID; fear of other people, sometimes fear of people perceived to be “foreigners”; compulsive-checking and reassurance seeking; significant distress; and impairment of day-to-day functioning

Bessel Van der Kolk: "The Body Keeps the Score…"

Bessel Van der Kolk: The Body Keeps the Score
  • A prolonged state of anxiety for a year-and-a half!
  • Activation of the Central Nervous System
  • "Fight or flight!"

“Fight or Flight!”

Fight or Flight!

“Now, They Say, We Can Move Back into the World!”

Now, They Say, We Can Move Back into the World!
  • But even a good change is stressful!

The Effects of Stress on Our Bodies

  • Headaches
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Stomachaches
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Tense muscles
  • Increased risk of
  • Rapid breathing
  • Missed periods
  • heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Weakened
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Low sex drive
  • immune system

So! How Do We Begin to Move Back Out There?

  • First, acknowledge what has happened and what you have been through personally...
  • Second, acknowledge what has happened and what we have all been through!
  • A chance to practice self- and other-compassion!

Normalize Your Anxiety!

Normalize Your Anxiety!
  • It’s okay if you are feeling anxious!
  • It's okay - You are "normal"!
  • Remind yourself: Other people are feeling the same things!

Think About What’s Most Important in Your Life

  • What is most important to you?
  • What are your values?
  • What are your social priorities?
  • Don’t discard the behaviors that were most important to you before the pandemic!
  • And, hold on to the things you discovered that you enjoyed during the pandemic!

Set Realistic Expectations

Set Realistic Expectations
  • You’re not going to change your life overnight!
  • You won’t be completely free of anxiety in just one day!
  • One step at a time!
  • Start with small activities that you used to enjoy
  • Try some new activities that seem within your comfort zone
  • Listen to the guidance of health experts - but don’t waste time trying to find the final, definitive answer

For Students...

  • Start slow…
  • Attend all your classes...
  • If there is an in-person, on-campus component, give it a try...Follow guidelines...Keep a social distance…Wear your mask...
  • As much as possible, focus on the instructor and the learning experience - The more you focus on the learning, the less you will worry about COVID!
  • Stay engaged! If attending virtually, keep your camera on. In person, make eye contact with the instructor. Raise your hand! Ask a question! Take notes!

More for Students...

  • If meeting in person on campus, practice reaching out to other students...
    • Ask a student sitting close to you a question
    • Ask a student if they want to study together - even if it is a virtual study group
    • Practice making small talk before and after class - Check in and ask how they are doing!
  • Practice taking small steps when you are ready: Go to a food outlet on campus...Arrange to do 1 hour of studying at the library...Walk around campus...
  • Get involved with a club or organization...Start with a virtual meeting at first, but when you are ready, attend an in-person gathering
  • Reward yourself for getting back on track!

Practice Patience! Practice Compassion!

Practice Patience! Practice Compassion!
  • Breathe deeply
  • Remind yourself it is okay to be human!
  • Make a gratitude list
  • Be gentle with others
  • When you find yourself being judgmental, remind yourself to let other people be themselves
  • But Also: Be compassionate with yourself!

The More Compassionate You Can Be with Yourself...

The More Compassionate You Can Be with Yourself... The More Compassionate You Can Be with Yourself...
  • The More Compassionate You Can Be with Other People!

University Counseling Services

  • University Counseling Services - Bayramian Hall, Suite 520
    • (818) 677-2366
    • 8 AM - 5 PM, Monday-Friday
    • Call and press Option 1 to make an appointment
    • During regular business hours, if you need to speak to someone urgently, call and press Option 1
    • After hours, call same general number but press Option 3 to speak to a crisis counselor
    • Crisis Text Line, 24-Hour Crisis Line: Text HOME to 741741


Thank You!

Thoughts and Comments?
Experiences You Want to Share?

Daniel J. Alonzo, Psy.D.
(818) 677-6317