Whether you’re setting foot on campus for the first time in a while or maybe even the very first time, you might be feeling excited, anxious, apathetic, or perhaps even a strange cocktail of all three.
To help ease any worries you may have about our safe return in 2022, we spoke with Swinburne cognitive neuropsychologist Professor Susan Rossell on how to ease back into life; the ‘new normal 4.0’ version, that is.
According to Susan, for most of us, our brains have been running high on stress hormones for close to two years. That’s a really long time. And the ways that sustained stress effects each of us can be wildly different.
Here are her top five tips to help transition back into ‘normal’ life and your rich on-campus experiences. Key message: be kind to yourselves and to one another.
1. Set realistic plans and expectations
If there’s one thing you can plan for at the moment, it’s uncertainty. But Professor Rossell says making plans are still important because they help you map out your week and give you things to look forward to; a welcome change from when visiting the grocery store was the major highlight of our weeks.
‘Making daily and weekly plans will help you map out your week. Accept that some things are out of your control and your plans could change at the last minute. However, work out strategies for how you will best deal with changes to your plans.’
Yes, some of your plans might change. But at least you’ll have things to look forward to.
2. Accept your emotions and make space for them
Having big feelings in the comfort (and privacy) of your home is one thing. Having them creep up on you in a public setting, is quite another. But Professor Rossell encourages making the time and space to unpack how you’re feeling and why. It’s this practice that will help you identify any triggers and work through them so that they don’t fester. Plus, when we’re looking after ourselves, we’re better placed to help others.
‘A myriad of emotions are possible as we pick up activities outside the home – from euphoria to continued stress and anxiety. Understanding your emotions and how you will best deal with them is really important. Make space for your emotions and those of the people you are close to. Understanding we are not all on the same journey and being kind to others is important.’
Everyone deserves to get back to feeling happy and at ease. Making space for your emotions can help with that. Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash
3. Manage your contact with the outside world, and make adjustments as needed
If you’ve recently felt that the world outside your front door is a lot louder than it used to be, you wouldn’t be alone. And that’s because in many ways, our brains have adapted to processing a lot less sensory information.
‘We have been isolated for large chunks of time for nearly two years. As we venture out into the world we need to be reintroduced to many types of physical, environmental and emotional stimuli. For some the transition may be easy, for others they may feel overwhelmed or over stimulated. Reintegrate at your own pace, reviewing how the transition is going. Consider your return as “work in progress”.’
Finding a tram’s bell louder than usual? Adjusting to sensory inputs outside the home can take time. Photo by Daniel Pelaez Duque on Unsplash
4. Get information from the correct sources
That means sticking to government and reputable sources. Plus, it also pays to set some boundaries around not just what, but how and when you consume your news content. Starting the morning with doomscrolling or deciding to dip in right before bedtime are both inadvisable.
‘There is lots of conflicting information about COVID-19. The news can often be inconsistent and overwhelming. Stick to trusted sources for the most up to date information.’
Try to keep your news consumption between the hours of 8am and 8pm so that you can ease into the morning and get a better night’s rest. Photo by Sayo Garcia on Unsplash
5. Prioritise self-care
For some of us, the pandemic offered a chance to think deeply about what helps us recharge and what leaves us feeling drained. You may have discovered, or rediscovered, a love of walks in nature, a creative pursuit, the surprising joy of solitary time or forging deeper connections with your family and certain friends.
‘Being able to socialise again is exciting. But also tiring. It’s important that you prioritise your energy levels and look after yourself. Find a regular time that is just for you. Don’t abandon any positive habits or behaviours that you know work for you.’
As life gets busy again, consciously carve out time for the activities that recharge your batteries. Photo by BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash
There you have it, our top five tips on navigating a return to campus from Professor Susan Rossell.
We’re looking forward to giving all of our Swinburne community a very warm welcome back for 2022.
Please remember, if you need help, your Swinburne community is on hand. As a student, you have access to a range of health and wellbeing services, and for employees there are a range of resources, including Mental Health First Aid, COVID-19 resources, and you can always make an AccessEAP appointment.