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Back to (in-person) school: Do we have to be excited?

To say that being a university student the past two years has been a rollercoaster would be an understatement. Navigating the shift to online school in March 2020 within a matter of two weeks, not to mention during a global pandemic, to then jumping (what feels like headfirst) back into in-person classes and exams only to go back to online and then switch right back to in-person, has definitely been an adjustment for me and I know many of us are in the same boat.

It may feel like going back to in-person classes is something you should be over-the-moon excited about, but it’s important to remember that being anxious or distressed about it is perfectly normal, as anxiety and fear are typical human responses to change (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2021). Heightened anxiety and uncertainty surrounding school is present for students of all ages and is not an isolated phenomenon (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2021). With some students returning to live near campus only to be informed that their classes will remain online and others still stuck at home, this is a time riddled with uncertainty, and teens and young adults are disproportionately impacted by mental health concerns (Ellis, 2020). For instance, a survey conducted by Active Minds, a mental health advocacy group, found that 80% of students have been mentally negatively impacted by the pandemic (Ellis, 2020), a number which sadly does not surprise many of us.

For many youth who struggle with mental health issues, school routines can be significant coping mechanisms (Lee, 2020). When school transitioned online, many students were essentially stripped of their daily routine, which may have served as a powerful form of self-accountability. An interesting way to describe the feelings some students experienced during the switch to online school is the “grief of losing your sense of normalcy, routine, and social connections,” as discussed by a young university student in Florida (Ellis, 2020, para. 7). For many individuals who struggle with depression, for example, the complete loss of their school routine led to extreme depressive episodes, locking themselves in their rooms, refusing to eat, shower, or to get out of bed (Lee, 2020). These traumatic experiences, therefore, may make it extremely challenging for certain individuals to go back to in-person classes (Lee, 2020).

While going back to school may feel thrilling for some, as it resembles a return to their regular social and academic lives, it could be quite terrifying for others, as they may have just experienced extreme declines in their mental states and are now expected to transition back to “normal.” Although this may seem like a pessimistic view of the return to school, it’s important to shed light on the fact that if you are feeling uneasy about this current transition (for the second time!), you are not alone. To make the situation easier for yourself and for fellow students and friends, you might want to casually approach the topic during a conversation, listen to them carefully, and keep the conversation alive by sharing your own worries. Putting someone on the spot and asking them why they aren’t excited about going back to school will not only make them feel isolated in their very valid feelings but might also discourage them from further sharing their emotions (Mental Health Commission, 2021). Instead of “diminishing a fear you see as exaggerated, for example, offer validation. Acknowledging a young person’s fears can go a long way toward allaying them” (Mental Health Commission, 2021). Although it might be easier said than done, try to treat yourself with compassion. Remember that how you feel is valid and that you are by no means alone!


Ellis, S. (2020, August 31). The growing mental health effects of COVID-19 for young adults. Health Central.

Lee, J. (2020). Mental health effects of school closures during COVID-19. The Lancet: Child & Adolescent Health, 4(6), 421.

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2021, September 27). Supporting youth going back to school during COVID-19.

Cover Photo credit

Kristenson, M. 2017. Auditorium [Picture]. Unsplash.

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